The Growing Irrelevancy of the Academy Awards / by Chris Weigl

It is probably the worst kept secret in Hollywood that no one really knows what a good movie looks like anymore.  Following the Oscars I was flooded with questions about what one reader called: “that movie no one’s heard of with Batman in it.”  That was the movie that won the Oscars, right?  Birdman won the Academy Award for Best Picture – a category that is almost as irrelevant as the Oscars themselves – and in the process “won” the Oscars.  This presents a larger philosophical question however and that is: if something most people have never heard about wins an award does it matter?  The answer this year is: yes and no.  In the future though this answer will probably be just a flat “no.”  The reasoning?  The Oscars had their lowest ratings in six years.  2014 was one of the worst years for film at the box office since 9/11.  Challenge any of your friends to name five movies nominated for Best Picture and if they don’t work in the film industry I’m going to give you 10:1 odds that say they can’t.

The Oscars have survived through the years as the gold standard in film.  This mattered because the film industry represented one of the largest entertainment mediums in the world.  This has changed over time as films have gotten progressively worser and worser while their competition mainly from independent cinema and outside studios like Netflix and HBO have gotten progressively better.  It may be better to think about this in a simpler way.  Which do you tend to look forward to more?  A film opening or a new release on Netflix.  Before you say that you were one of the first in line to see one of the worst films of the year (50 Shades of Grey) let me remind you that you will spend more time binge-watching Netflix than you could ever hope to spend in a movie theater.  The more accesibile programming becomes to us the more opportunities we will have to watch it.  Let’s face it if we had a computer in our brains we would probably have it set to play a video game or stream Orange is the New Black instead of camping out to see the new Star Wars film.

This isn’t to say that Hollywood is dead.  No one has been able to slay the Goliath and if you watched the Oscars you know that Hollywood thinks just as highly of itself as ever.  Consider the fact that in every year but two since 2011 the Best Picture Oscar has gone to a film that went to great lengths to glorify the film industry whether it be The Artist, Argo, or Birdman Hollywood really does love giving themselves a pat on the back which begs the question: why do we keep watching?  Well, we like to look at people who look better than we do.  It’s weird, I know, but we do have a weird fetish with famous people and not even reasonably famous people anymore – I’m talking like Kardashian famous.  We are a society that celebrates Youtube stars and reality TV stars.  This isn’t to put down the collective tastes of consumers of mass media – quite the contrary.  By consuming more streaming media than cable and film we are forcing the largest transfer of power ever witnessed in the entertainment industry.  Think about it this way: when was the last time you saw so many A-list celebrities on television?  Matthew McConaughey was on TV and then he made a bunch of ads where all they did was show us his beautiful face as he drove around in a brand new car.  We’re a consumer culture emphasis on consumer and that’s not going to change any time soon.

We can’t stop organizations like the MPAA from holding the Oscars every year nor can we stop anyone else from not holding their equally irellevant awards shows.  We like this kind of entertainment because it gives us something where we can all come together for a couple of hours and talk about something most of us have an opinion about.  As Americans we like to do that sort of thing, but wouldn’t you rather be talking about things that were changing media and culture in America not just dancing in the end zone because they were able to string two hours of material together with upwards of $100 million?  It would be nice to talk about the really good things in media instead of celebrating the mediocre or as in the case of this years Oscars: the obscurities of American culture.