Why the Oscars Matter

Monday, 28 Feb 2011 08:18 AM

By James Hirsen

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With the parade of awards shows marching across our home theater screens, the question is often raised as to whether the Oscars matter to folks outside the entertainment industry.

Well, in addition to the celebrity gazing, fashion ogling and winner prognosticating, the Oscars actually have a fairly strong impact on various aspects of our pop culture.

There are, of course, the usual trend effects on hairstyles, fashion, music, jewelry, sunglasses, etc., but there is also trendsetting within the film art world, art imitating art, if you will. Movies resembling Oscar winners tend to follow. Style, tone and themes repeat. Subject matter, too, can be found popping up again in a future film.

That’s because in Hollywood the award is of prime importance to film artists and studios alike. For the individual, though, there is a deeper significance, a psychological-social one.

The truth is financial success does not necessarily mean artistic success for entertainment artists. However, an award from one’s own peers translates into “they like me, they really like me,” and even more importantly, “they respect me, they really respect me.” It is therefore as sought after as fame and fortune.

No other Hollywood award brings as much glitz, glam and gravitas to the recipient as an Oscar does.

The studio chase for an Academy Award, on the other hand, is for business reasons. And studios have been known to go after the awards hard. They have waged campaigns as strategic and hard fought as major political campaigns. They do so for their balance sheets, knowing that Oscar noms and wins mean bigger bucks rolling in.

During the pre-awards season, publicists for nominees actually perform opposition research and sometimes leak negative stories to the press about competing pictures.

Perhaps the most well known example of this was the aggressive campaign of the Weinstein brothers for Miramax’s “Shakespeare in Love.” In 1998, Steven Spielberg's “Saving Private Ryan” was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. Reports surfaced in the press, claiming that as a result of bad research the movie had departed from historical fact. Entertainment writers admitted that they had been asked by Miramax publicists to slam the flick.

After “A Beautiful Mind” received eight 2002 Academy Award noms, a piece appeared on the Drudge Report, alleging that the filmmakers had suppressed the anti-Semitic views of the movie’s subject, John Nash.

“Slumdog Millionaire” was nominated in 2009 for 10 Academy Awards. Stories surfaced in the media, claiming that director Danny Boyle had taken advantage of the impoverished child stars in the film by paying them below market wages. The studio, Fox Searchlight, countered with press releases that pointed out Boyle had set up trust funds for the young actors.

The way in which industry insiders view the Oscars is a big deal for the culture as well. Insiders have a major influence on the kinds of scripts that will be optioned and developed, which movies will be financed and ultimately what will or will not be coming soon to a theater near you.

With the “The King’s Speech” having won the major categories of actor, director, screenplay and picture in this year’s Academy Awards, there just may be some good things coming our culture’s way.

James Hirsen, J.D., M.A. in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. He is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court and has made several appearances there on landmark decisions. Hirsen is the co-founder and chief legal counsel for InternationalEsq.com. Visit Newsmax TV Hollywood: www.youtube.com/user/NMHollywood



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