Positive Cynicism – Dumbing down the Oscars

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

Everyone has their own idea about how the Academy Awards ceremony needs to be “fixed.” It’s too long, it’s too bloated, it often honors films that no one has seen and the host is rarely funny. At least, these are the complaints I’ve heard the most.

The Academy seems to think that their ceremony is too long, too. In recent years, they’ve tried all manner of idiotic “fixes” meant to save time. Remember a couple of years ago when the winners of, I guess, less important awards were essentially giving their acceptance speeches from their seats? And we see more and more ingénue giving out awards every year because, apparently, more people will watch if Megan Fox shows up to badly read the Teleprompter.

And how about this terrible innovation of putting a time limit on acceptance speeches? That one’s an embarrassment, not least of which because the winners of the biggest awards — Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture — will be allowed to blather on forever while the winner for, say, Best Film Editing, who may be receiving his or her only televised honor, will be cut off by the orchestra after mere seconds, which is uncomfortable and awkward to watch. But heaven forefend that someone who is interviewed constantly by media outlets not get a chance to talk some more.

The problem, as the Academy sees it, is that ratings for the annual show have been down for years, and nothing they try seems to be able to make the ratings go up. And here’s the thing: nothing will.

The Academy Awards used to be one of the few occasions where America could see popular movie stars of different generations all gathered together, looking their finest, celebrating the motion picture. There was excitement around it because movie stars were kept in their place. They weren’t the darlings of the American media, they were fluff pieces for when the news ran short. But now, in an America with the constant hum of the Internet and a 24-hour news cycle desperate for content, even everything Perez Hilton says is cause for headline announcements and fansites. It’s not an event when the Academy Awards happen. It’s another week between the Golden Globes and the MTV Movie Awards, just one dot in a sea of countless masturbatory ceremonies worshiping the motion picture.

But the Academy thinks they should be doing better in the ratings, and are overreacting to their concerns by making a lot of ridiculous changes that don’t need to be made.

Their first announcement, a few weeks ago, was that they will expand the Best Picture nominees to 10 instead of five for the first time since 1942. In its earliest days, the Academy used to nominate as many as 12 films for Best Picture. Five was the standard for decades. But now they’re expanding to 10 to give more films a chance. Now I, like most people, have never felt that the five nominated movies are ever the five best movies I’ve seen all year. And those people complaining that there aren’t 10 great movies to nominate in a year are being precious about it. But doesn’t having 10 nominees seem to cheapen the award a little bit?

This is apparently in response to the complaint that “no one” has ever seen all of the movies nominated for the award, and also a response to the fact that more popular movies (I’ve seen the overrated, not Oscar worthy The Dark Knight mentioned constantly) should be included in the honors. Why? Making a ton of money isn’t being honored enough? Does this mean Transformers 2 “deserves” Oscar consideration this year, just because a lot of people with nothing better to do went out and enjoyed it? Don’t we already have the People’s Choice Awards for that sort of thing?

The real problem here is that people don’t understand that the Academy Awards aren’t meant to reflect the tastes of the movie audience. The audience has nothing to do with them. These are industrial awards. They reflect the majority opinion of an industry that wants to honor what it considers its best and brightest achievements. The only difference between the Academy Awards and the Best Car of the Year Award is that the Academy Awards are televised. Why should they take outside interest into consideration? You don’t work there.

And anyone who thinks the Academy doesn’t like to award big, overrated, popular films of questionable artistic value is forgetting that Titanic, Forrest Gump, The English Patient, Gladiator, Crash, Chicago, Slumdog Millionaire and goddamn Shakespeare in Love have won that award in the last 15 years.

Another of the Academy’s really stupid decisions is to take the Honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and the Irving Thalberg Award, and move them to another night, months before the ceremony, which will not be televised. That’s a mistake of epic proportions. Hollywood has always been terrible about honoring their history, and the idea that they will take awards meant to do just that and shunt them off to the side is reprehensible.

For real cinephiles, these awards have provided some of the most memorable moments in Academy Award history. Akira Kurosawa, humbled, asserting that he still had much to learn. Stanley Donen, the great director of musicals, dancing with the Oscar. Blake Edwards, the great comedy director, “accidentally” driving his wheelchair through a wall. Robert Altman revealed that he had a heart transplant. Chaplin, overwhelmed, simply said “thank you.” These moments have meant a lot to people who love film history. And now those moments will be no more.

They’re taking the luster away from the awards because they want more people to watch. No, wait, that doesn’t sound right. Let’s call it what it is: they’re dumbing the awards down. Because that’s the only way to make anything appeal to more and more and still more people: dumb it down.

The Academy has completely lost confidence with itself.

So what’s the solution?

Well, everyone has one. “Cut the montages” or “eliminate Best Song” are the two biggest. “Cut down the acceptance speeches” is another.

You know what my solution is?

Change nothing.

Nothing at all. Why should the Academy Awards change anything in order to please people who are watching it on TV? I guarantee you they don’t take those considerations into account when naming the Best Car of the Year, or when having the ADDY Awards for advertising. It’s not a night about what those outside the filmmaking community think; it’s the industry honoring itself and its accomplishments. Sure, it’s a circle jerk, and maybe it honors films that you or I don’t like, but it’s their award show. It just also happens to be televised.

None of the changes they’re making will help them with ratings, anyway. So I really just think the Academy should just stop listening to the annual jokes and complaints about how long the show is and do whatever they want with their time. Keep Best Song. Don’t cut the montages. Let the acceptance speeches go on — some of these people are accepting an award on television in front of the world for the only time in their lives, don’t force them to keep it to a minimum of time. Let taste and politeness rule, not ratings concerns. Worry about the entertainment value for those watching it in the theater, and remember that the people who blog about the awards every year — myself included — will watch it anyway.

Sometimes it seems like people won’t be happy until the award ceremony is just the starlet flavor-of-the-month reading a list of winners and showing a couple of pre-taped acceptance speeches.

Of course, then they’ll just start complaining that the awards aren’t glamorous enough, and the ratings will go down, and it starts all over again.

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

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Comments (1)
  1. Joel Murphy July 16, 2009

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