Oscar Sound Off: Do the Academy Awards Actually Matter in 2013?
by Ben Pearson
February 22, 2013
This Sunday night, the 85th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony will take place at the Dolby Theatre right here in the heart of Hollywood. It's the biggest of all award shows, the culmination of months and months of speculation from supposed "experts" and millions of dollars spent behind the scenes to jockey certain films into the best position possible to take home as many trophies as they can. The question in the headline isn't meant to single out this year specifically, but instead to wonder, in an age in which technology makes award shows like these more ubiquitous than ever before, if the Oscars really still mean anything anymore.
As die-hard film fans (and let's face it, if you're reading this, you are one), we're bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of articles around this same time for months every year: whether one movie deserves to win Best Picture over another, who was snubbed, which film is the frontrunner, why this movie is better than this one, and so on. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I've read some good pieces recently from FilmDrunk, CriticWire and HitFix about the ceremony this year. It can often be fun to get invested in the Oscars by choosing your favorite underdog picks early, hyping them all the way up until the ceremony, and filling out brackets with your friends. But if you follow the movie blogosphere, seeing tons of these articles pop up for months at a time can definitely trigger Oscar overload.
Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. The casual moviegoer doesn't know about
any most of these articles, all the coverage. They don't read constant tweets predicting winners, losers, and what jokes the host will make. All they care about is sitting around a TV with their friends on Oscar Sunday, eating, drinking and watching the world's biggest celebrities all gather in one place. There are entire shows based solely around what celebrities wear on the red carpet. The ceremony itself is undoubtedly a cultural event, so I'll answer my own question: even if some of us can't wait for them to be over just so we don't have to read another think piece or prediction, the Academy Awards definitely do still matter to the average American moviegoer.
They matter for the nominees, too. For the winners, there's definitely prestige still attached with going home with the gold statue, which could lead to opportunities to tackle projects that they might not have ever been able to accomplish before. As silly as it might sound, it absolutely means something to have "Academy Award Winner" put in front of your name every time it appears in a trailer for the rest of your life. There's an air of legitimacy that it provides to audiences when they see those words above an actor's name in a fancy font. The Academy Awards matter to the losers, as well - The Guardian recently discovered that each losing nominee will receive a goody bag filled with $45,000 worth of merchandise. Wow. If regular audiences knew about that, or that this is how a member makes their decision to vote certain ways, or how insular and quasi-ridiculous the voting process is, maybe they wouldn't hold the Oscars in quite the same high regard.
Last year, the LA Times conducted a study that we analyzed which revealed some pretty interesting statistics of Oscar voters: of the 5,765 voting members, 94% were white, 77% were male, 2% were black, and less than 2% were Latino. In addition, Oscar voters have a median age of 62, and people younger than 50 make up only 14% of the entire group. Those numbers pretty much speak for themselves, meaning all of these awards are being given by a very small group of professionals with extremely little diversity to offer. That part isn't widely publicized, and to tell you the truth, I don't think the general population would really care even if they did find out about it. For them, it's all about the pageantry, the glamour, and tradition of the ceremony.
Will the "right" movie win Best Picture on Sunday night (Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty)? Time will tell, and even years after looking back on these upcoming Oscar winners, the same arguments will probably still arise about the faults and benefits of each one. The only thing that will change will be a clearer picture of our culture and what the zeitgeist currently is. When we're right in the middle of a cultural landscape, it's often difficult to have the perspective to recognize trends in relation to the bigger picture of our history.
With time to reflect, hopefully we'll at least be able to come to a conclusion as to why the Academy voted the way they did. Then again, as Princess Bride screenwriter William Goldman famously said, "In Hollywood, nobody knows anything," so perhaps the answers will always elude us. One thing's for sure: the Oscars aren't going anywhere, because as much as we like to complain about them, they still matter. Thoughts?