By Sudabeh Sarker Contributor
It’s no secret that for the past decade, networks have struggled to attract viewers for their annual awards shows. However, the real question isn’t why Americans no longer watch award shows, but rather why there are still people who bother sitting through three hours of worthless programming. Major awards shows, like the Oscars, promote themselves as valiant saviors of the film industry that “recognize and uphold excellence,” according to their website. In reality, the Oscars are just a bloated, pointless ceremony that award greed and lack critical analysis.
Behind the lush, velvet curtains, the Oscars are essentially three hours of pretentious commercials. They are about as impactful as Flo from Progressive or Ronald McDonald. The Academy sit in their ivory towers boasting they have “high standards” for membership yet there is a lack of intellectual reasoning behind their decisions at times. For example, take the reason behind an anonymous member’s decision to vote for “Maleficent” for Best Costume Design in 2015, published by the Hollywood Reporter: “I voted “Maleficent” because I watched it with my kid and I liked it and I thought, ‘Well, what the hell, man, it's got no love anywhere else in the whole deal.’” To make things worse, members are not even required to watch the movies they vote on. ]
Movie executives like Harvey Weinstein spent millions of dollars courting Academy members at ritzy viewing sessions, according to Vulture. The news outlet Quartz says it thus comes as no surprise that Weinstein was thanked as often as God when winners received their awards. Production companies know that the Oscars have credibility and executives take full advantage of that. Even if viewership is declining, people often use the Oscars as a measure of quality. The main reason why people even bother seeing the Oscars is to gain insight into what masterpieces the film industry is churning out this year. Really, an Oscar just indicates how much money someone spent lobbying for their film.
That is not to say that the movies nominated are universally awful. But, with the exception of a few select films such as 2016’s “Moonlight,” the Oscars have an incredibly narrow definition of what they consider to be the “best.” Their website claims that they represent “the world,” but someone needs to show these poor Academy intellectuals a map. As established earlier, major production executives are the ones who call the shots at the Oscars, so only mainstream films are really ever considered. How can the Academy claim to award and uphold excellence when they often only consider mainstream films? How can viewers actually trust their opinion?
Of course, there are other reasons people watch the Oscars. There’s the fashion, the hosts, the opening skit and the speeches - the parts that are actually entertaining. However, they only constitute a small fraction of the actual ceremony. These segments are necessary to attract viewership, even then, clips are easily accessible online. What’s left for movie lovers, their target audience, is a person “suspensefully” reading names off a card, magically assigning movies or people as the “best” whatever.
While this discussion focuses on the Oscars, the same principle can be applied to almost any mainstream awards show. Replace “film” with “music” or “television show” and the exact same principles are applicable. This is not to say that awards shows are inherently without merit, but if voting members were actually held to the high standards they boast, viewers could have access to something of actual substance. This means watching a wider variety of films and doing away with foreign films as a separate category. They could even use the Oscars as a platform for much more meaningful discourse and explore why each film won. The Oscars, with the amount of prestige tied to their name, have a chance to actually honor the best in the film industry. For now, however, viewers are better off not throwing away three hours of their life.