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Do You Think Steven Spielberg Is Using the Free Lipo Coupon in This $126K Oscars Gift Bag?

Steven Spielberg at 2022 AFI Fest; inset: Oscars gift bag

The Oscars are known for their extravagance and excess, from the annual parade of celebrities in designer gowns to the time they wildly overpaid for the hosting services of Seth MacFarlane. One of the more fascinating traditions is that of the Oscars gift bag, given to the top 25 directing and acting nominees each year. This year’s gift bag is worth $126,000 and includes a fairly typical assortment of absurd swag: skincare products, overpriced flip-flops, “luxury” trips to Italy and Canada, and body sculpting.

According to Distinctive Assets—the marketing company behind the bags—these are more than mere freebies. These gifts will help “a diverse and inclusive array of small businesses who meaningfully benefit” from being associated with famous people. “This,” they proclaim, “is celebrity marketing with a mission.” And the mission, should Best Director nominee Steven Spielberg choose to accept it, is getting free body sculpting from a liposuction specialist in Tampa, Florida with a 4.7 rating on Google.

Look, we all know that our culture is image-obsessed, and celebrities are like the elected representatives of that culture. It’s hardly groundbreaking to see body sculpting, hair restoration services, and pricey skincare serums and creams in a swag bag for Oscar nominees alongside free plots of land in Australia (for “conservation efforts”) and jewelry. It is pretty funny, however, that this marketing company is trying its absolute hardest to convince everyone that actually, these bags are for a good cause. When Cate Blanchett gets her free shaman reading while sipping on an ethically sourced small-batch chai infused with manuka honey on an Italian island, she’s not luxuriating in her privilege and status—she’s helping small business owners, don’t you see?!

Now, if Christopher’s trip to Hollywood in The Sopranos taught me anything, it’s that Ben Kingsley is down to clown and also that swag is mostly just stuff that ends up re-gifted to some celebrity’s niece. It’s fun to imagine Judd Hirsch cracking open his complimentary “Human Being Journal” and dutifully answering prompts like, “How comfortable are you being alone?” Or Angela Bassett retiring after a long day with an adaptogen-infused sparkling water as she lays her beautiful head atop a PETA travel pillow emblazoned with “Stop Monkey Imports to Labs.” Maybe a “chocolate box with a personalized video embedded inside” is exactly the thing Michelle Williams needs!

The thing is, these bags only really exist to get people like us (okay, me) talking about them. The marketing folks claim they’re heroically supporting small business owners, and sure, some of these brands meet that definition, but how is a free body sculpting session going to solve the economic troubles of anyone besides a board-certified plastic surgeon in Tampa? Congrats to ArtLipo, which can now add a banner to their website that reads “AS SEEN IN THE 2023 OSCARS GIFT BAG.”

Meanwhile, Bauman Medical, which is providing nominees with “comprehensive hair restoration services and hair wellness products,” is using the infamous Slap to promote their business with this exceedingly ill-conceived graphic design choice—lest you forget that Jada Pinkett Smith has alopecia, which is why Chris Rock’s joke about her hair was so insensitive:

Bauman Medical's promotional graphic depicting the moment Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars, with text that reads "Slap the $#%& Out of Alopecia." Chris Rock is labeled with "Alopecia" and Will Smith is labeled as "you"
(Bauman Medical)

Is the implication that Will Smith is actually mad at alopecia? And what does that mean for his marriage? All this, and more, on the next Red Table Talk!

That’s not even the weirdest thing in the bag. That prize goes to something called “Sweetums flavored intimate wipes,” a product that raises horrific questions, such as: Do you eat the wipes like a fruit roll-up? Are they to be consumed pre- or post-coitus? Are they free of GMOs and gluten?

And more pressing questions, such as: Which flavor did Colin Farrell get and why isn’t it mojito?

Colin Farrell says "I'm a fiend for mojitos" in 'Miami Vice'

(featured image: Axelle / Bauer-Griffin / FilmMagic / The Mary Sue)

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Britt Hayes (she/her) is an editor, writer, and recovering film critic who has written for The A.V. Club, Fangoria, and Birth.Movies.Death. She is the former associate editor for ScreenCrush and her work has been published in TV Guide, The Austin Chronicle, and SXSWorld Magazine. Britt loves horror movies, exhaustively analyzing a theme, and casual dissociation as a hobby.