Oscars 2013: The Academy Awards Have Lost Their Integrity


TIt’s that most, wonderful time, of the year ... We've entered that glittering, spectral season that warms the coldest hearts, inspires, delights, and brings folks together. Together, that is, around the familiar radiance of the television set.

That’s right — Oscar season is speeding its way into your face. Or, it will be as long as you can afford the pay-per-view. If not, elderly Britons, dip into your dwindling winter fuel allowance.

If you’ve trodden this far you’ll have probably guessed that this isn’t another drooling, apologist, predictive love letter to Hollywood, but rather, perhaps more humdrum still, another malcontented voice of dissent mixed with ambivalence from the undergrowth of the culture matrix.

I put great weight behind the term ambivalence. Interspersed with my social conscience and class prejudice lays a matured passion for the art of film. Be it auteur, blockbuster or indie — now a term meaning a mawkish, stylistic film with the humble appearance of independence from powerful private interests, but which remain in many cases inextricable from major studio investments — I appreciate it.

Married with this passion, of course, comes the inexplicable admiration of the glitterati and their annual self-satisfied Vanity Fair, The Oscars. If you live overseas, like I do, it's coming to subscription television near you this February to celebrate 85 years of direction, screenwriting, acting, and hairstyling. This last digression, I attribute to the aforementioned ambivalence.

The sensation comes just in time for Christmas, and the two overlapping totemic festivals are not without similarities. Both, for instance, can be viewed as having sacrificed the integrity with which they once facilitated the worship of a form of idol. This integrity was lost under the ebb and flow of market forces, and replaced with an agenda of commercialization and publicity for profit. The original purpose behind both of these events has taken a back seat to other concerns. 

But nevertheless, both are also saturated in a fiction so well realized that it is easy to lose oneself in the flux of infotainment and frivolity that surrounds them. It is easy to lose sight of the purpose of worship in the first place.

More importantly, we can lose sight of the adverse external social realities that they tend to eclipse, distract us from, and perhaps even perpetuate. They’re a welcome winter distraction from our daily cares and worries. But distraction doesn’t make them go away.

If not for the money involved, the Academy Awards would hardly warrant much political or economic scrutiny, aside from the obvious ideological-cultural dynamic. But there is money involved, and an unholy amount of it to boot.

William Friedkin once quipped that the Academy Awards ceremony is “the greatest promotion scheme that any industry ever devised for itself.” Millions of dollars are poured every year into PR campaigns to win over Academy voters, an elite syndicate themselves.

Winning an Oscar is a sure-fire means of boosting sales. We the consumers, of course, are at once the beneficiaries of fine entertainment, and the victims of the needlessly but inescapably expensive industry of escapism.

Of course, attacks upon the Academy will always be defensible because "they’re entertainers," and society needs entertainment. And this is where we are guilty of a kind of inane passivity, precipitated by our love affair with celebrity.

French actor Gerard Depardieu, a longtime supporter of many leftist causes, recently threatened to flee France for Belgium because of new tax increases to fund the public programs he allegedly supports. He can have his cake and eat it too, since we enjoy paying to watch him masquerade as someone he isn’t. Although, he does play these roles very well.

Is our veneration of this illustrious event healthy? On the one hand, the lifestyles of the rich and famous make for a harmless, glossy distraction from the hardship of everyday working life. On the other hand, the glossy distraction from the hardship of everyday working life is arguably the last thing society needs.

It is only because of the hardship of everyday working life for the multitudes that the rich and famous minority can lead the glamorous lifestyles they do. It is a basic principle of capitalist economics. For the minority to prosper, the majority must suffer. Fame, like economic prosperity, is a finite commodity.