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Hating the Oscars

Monday, 02 February 2004 12:00 AM

I never thought there could be anything as predictable and boring as the political primary season, even with occasional merriment when certain candidates make asses of themselves by falling off the stage or looking like a madman.

But I was wrong. Nothing really can compare to the annual snore fest called the Academy Awards, or Oscars. Driven mercilessly like a whipped mule by every newspaper in the country, in addition to lapdog TV entertainment shows, there’s just no escaping the overwhelming publicity about this event that suffocates Americans with hype each January.

The Academy Awards began in 1929 as a local affair held in a Hollywood hotel, attended by only about 250 persons working in the film industry. The very next year, some clever fellow decided to air the ceremony live over a radio station in Los Angeles; then in 1953, television stuck its camel's nose under the tent.

A media and public relations monster of gargantuan proportions, it is witnessed by millions, dwarfing any other event in this country save for presidential elections.

The media generally, and I think mistakenly, believe that there is a great public thirst for information about yearly Oscar nominees. Thus dozens of feature articles, photos, opinion columns, "Who will win?" contests, diversity counts and endless other puffery are ground out by hapless writers leading up to the event itself.

Other than the film industry's self-serving motivation to flack the thing, the only reason for the disproportionate public attention to this not very interesting ceremony is probably the result of movies and television having long dominated American culture.

You don't see televised coverage or tons of print ink generated for the National Book Awards, and I would wager that you could count on all your fingers and toes the number of Americans who might be able to name a National Book Award winner for the past 10 years.

This is because reading books is an

Therefore, the night of the Oscars has become a spiritual

I had a college professor who claimed, not without merit, that 85 percent of everything is crud. When it comes to movies, this is probably an understatement. Indeed, the preponderant number of movies released every year would fall in this category, aimed at that vast demographic of 18- to 24-year-olds. What is left over, and what films the Academy nominates each year, are those that actually might have some lasting value.

Unfortunately, the ceremony itself is stale, stale bread. Wrapped in a formulaic production format, the Academy Awards serve up forgettable song and dance routines, leavened only by strained humor by popular comedians of the day. The rest of the tedium is filled by actors who read nominees' names with cue card woodenness.

Many actors object to the whole idea of competing with each other for an Oscar. Nominees who reach this level of recognition for their work are all uniformly competent, if not inspired in their performances. How can the performance of one be better than that of another, given different screenplays that are brought to life?

Could you have said that a brilliant recital by Rubenstein was better or worse than an equally brilliant one by Horowitz? If you want to hand out awards strictly on merit, let them all play Hamlet, then you can separate the sheep from the goats.

In truth, people’s evenings are usually gobbled up with this senseless spectacle because they want to see celebrities make fools of themselves, and some never disappoint. There's always the chance that one that might say something outrageously political or demonstrate well-practiced looniness. Actresses in love with their breasts try to outdo one another with revealing clothing.

The Academy Awards ceremony would make a lot more sense, and become more elevated in the process, if it was held every 10 years instead of annually. Let a body of motion pictures accumulate over time, and see if there's real artistry and permanence to any of it, instead of the knee-jerk and politically motivated awards of today.

Paraphrasing the late Orson Welles, "Let there be no Oscar before its time."


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I never thought there could be anything as predictable and boring as the political primary season, even with occasional merriment when certain candidates make asses of themselves by falling off the stage or looking like a madman. But I was wrong.Nothing really can compare...
Monday, 02 February 2004 12:00 AM
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