Friday, February 28, 2014

The Truth About the Academy Awards

Many people look forward to the Academy Awards.  They will sit glued to the TV critiquing the choice of attire, the jokes, and the speeches.  Finally, after dragging on far into the night and beyond the allotted timeslot, the most prestigious awards are presented, and everyone goes to bed.  The same thing happens year after year.  It’s such a foolproof formula for drawing an audience that there are now 88 televised awards shows – that’s nearly two a week!

But that’s not the whole story.  For weeks before the awards, movie ads will promote the fact that they have been nominated.  The following day all primary news media outlets will broadcast or print the results, the best and worst in several categories, bloopers, behind-the-scenes looks, gossip, rumors, and “expert” opinions.  This will all be presented to us as “news.”

Not only is this not news, it isn’t even real.  It’s what Daniel Boorstin called in his 1961 book, The Image, a pseudo-event – a planned, staged, manufactured affair intended to draw and hold our attention with “a kind of counterfeit version of actual happenings” more exciting than our humdrum lives.

The truth about the Academy Awards is that, like the other 87 awards shows, it is just one big advertisement, a narcissistic orgy of people in a particular profession paying tribute to each other and to themselves as a group.  The resulting awards are used in further advertising.  In that sense it’s no different from political conventions, new product release ceremonies, press conferences, organized marches and demonstrations, even infomercials.  It is designed to sell you the stars, the movies as well as the products featured during the many commercial breaks.  The purpose of these events is to increase sales, in this case ticket and DVD sales, but in a similar case, it could be to gain votes.

Finally, they say that the movies are the best of the year as voted on by members of the Academy.  If that is the case, how do you explain comments like the following from CBS:  “Obviously, SAG and the Academy don't always agree…But the SAG Awards will give a window into support for Oscar favorites '12 Years a Slave' and 'American Hustle.'"  Should the results of one award show, rather than the merits of the movie itself, in any way influence the outcomes of another?

This is not meant to discourage anyone from watching.  Check out the gowns and the hairstyles.  Critique the presenters and recipients.  Root for your favorites.  But remember, this is not real life.  It’s not news.  It’s not anything but an elaborate sales pitch for the films nominated and for movie attendance in general.  If we remain aware of the strategy behind this show and the others like it, political as well as entertainment, we will be better equipped to resist the imbedded hype messages and be better able to make informed, objective decisions about our authentic wants, needs and preferences.

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