From a world perspective, one where political strife and starvation seemingly run rampant, the self-induced fellatio session known as the Academy Awards is pretty meaningless. For nearly three hours Hollywood congratulates itself with gold statues and standing ovations. Considering the show’s inherent self-admiration, we should refuse to watch an event that is partly infused with narcissism. So, what draws us to this spectacle? From the very beginning, the easiest aspect to peg is escapism. Outside of the show’s variety hour bits, it possesses a sterling introduction to a star-studded event: the red carpet. I absolutely hate the idea of a red carpet. Honestly, the “journalists” who cover the red carpet are annoying. This is especially true when I hear their grating questions directed to the glamorous folk making light bulbs flash like a strobe light at a rave. Of course, I choose to avoid this minor distraction, where other people use it as a tool to escape and be that much closer to the stars they idolize. Featuring handsome men delivering the smolder and radiating actresses wearing dresses that stimulate the eyes and loins, the red carpet is a place where people can indulge the finer things in life. Most notably, it opens up the possibility for a clothing moment that will penetrate pop-culture and drive water cooler talk the next day. Despite my hate for it, the red carpet at the Oscars provides viewers with a level of gossip and elegance that allows for us to easily circumvent life. It’s like reliving the prominence of prom all over again. People get dressed up and partake in a life defining moment, while we happily observe.
Once we move past the carpet, the films move into the foreground. They become the crux of the Academy Awards. After all, it’s their show. Because of the various films on display, there is one question driving viewers to the show: What’s the best film? As we know, the unknown breeds drama and intrigue. Mind you, sometimes the race is over before we reach the Kodak Theater (look at Slumdog Millionaire in 2008), but sometimes a shocking surprise can come along the way (e.g. Crash over Brokeback Mountain). Making the stakes higher is the invested interest people have in a particular film or actor. Much like the fandom behind a sports team, there are people out there that want to see their favorite film or actor get love by any means necessary. Watch your Twitter and Facebook feeds throughout Sunday night, and you will see a collection of distraught or pleased minions declaring their opinion about the fate of their favorite film. Last year, I was personally flummoxed by The King’s Speech usurping The Social Network. Silly, I know. But when you believe in a film (this year it’s The Descendants, Hugo and Moneyball for me), you undoubtedly give a piece of yourself to it. If they win, your love becomes validated. With a loss, a piece of you feels robbed. No matter how many smiles are on display, the Oscars is an unofficial competition; we prefer the winning side.
Of course, there very well could be a person watching the ceremony that has no clue what three-quarters of the films are. I expect this notion will fall upon the shoulders of The Tree of Life this year, but this represents an opportunity for the film industry to market films that would otherwise go under the radar. Through the clout and brand recognition of the Academy Awards, new opportunities exist every year for films that aren’t blockbusters. Finally, small films have a mass audience for four hours. Now, I know that the ratings for the show itself have slipped lower and lower every year, which many peg as being a result of smaller films being nominated and the Academy losing relevance. It’s a valid claim, but the constant use of the title “Academy Award winner/nominee” in marketing tools would suggest that people see a level of value in award distinctions and thus, a level of value in a potential film. By appropriating a film with nominations and putting it on a prestigious shortlist, the Academy delivers a wealth of free publicity that will drive viewers into the open arms of any given film. Oddly enough, the Academy Awards partly exist because studios wanted an opportunity to market their films and improve their reputation. Clearly, the tradition is still going strong. I can’t say that the monetary bump a film could get will be astounding, but the Academy Awards grant a large stage for lesser seen films. Filmmakers attached to the awards appreciate the publicity, as do filmgoers who might find their new favorite film.
Yet, despite the aforementioned reasons, the Academy Awards will remain significant because it provides us with winners. We want to see people reach the apex of their careers and raise that statue up proudly. Our wholehearted attempts to seek out films that give us emotional payoffs demonstrates this notion. Maybe we’re just genuinely happy for the success of another human being or maybe it’s another way for us to find inspiration in our own lives, but we absolutely love to see winners. Through their heartfelt speeches or their shocked attempts to mutter out a thank you, we grow a small connection with the successor. For this one moment, with emotion pouring out, we can feel them. Until our hearts freeze over or Mephistopheles takes control of our souls, we’ll always be invested in seeing people being championed. This is why the Academy Awards will forever be relevant and significant. Sure, the ratings may dip from time to time, but it will continuously have a place in our culture. As I mentioned before, the Academy Awards lack the ability to transcend tragedy, misfortune or disparity. But in spite of its real world hollowness, it makes the chores of life feel fleeting for a few hours.
Enjoy the glitz, fall in love with the films, but most of all, take a step back and enjoy yourself.