The Oscars Are Dead.


Ganga Subramanian, Junior Editor/Writer

     The Roaring Twenties was infested with flappers, speakeasies, the birth of Nascar, the original gangsters and perhaps the most terrifying innovation of all: jazz. Think The Great Gatsby. Omit the green light and the worrying obsession with a married woman. Now add the First Academy Awards, now colloquially known as the Oscars. The reason for its creation was simply to prevent unionization among filmmakers in the industry and to exert more control over production company employees. The award show was an afterthought. The winners were announced months ahead of the actual event and zero broadcast on television and radio. Also, Charlie Chaplin. 

     Fast forward nearly a century: it’s 2017, a great big party and everybody’s invited. The Oscars host is Jimmy Kimmel, and there are plenty of great contenders for Best Picture. Tensions are high, as the hosts open that fabled envelope and read out the winner: La La Land. The La La Land team bursts into cheers upon receiving the highest honor in the movie industry. Unfortunately for La La Land, the hosts had the wrong envelope. The rightful winner was corrected to Moonlight, and this moment is forever known as the beginning of the end for the Oscars. 

     Now, 2022 presents a country grappling with the effects of a global pandemic, the increasing volume of media and celebrities that have lost nearly all of their allure. The Oscars loom over a weary nation’s tired head and no one is watching. Many would blame the fumble in 2017 to be the reason for such ignorance, but the truth is that the Oscars’ viewership has been on a steady decline for some time now. Obviously, viewership fluctuates from year to year, depending on the number of blockbusters or a milestone possibly being reached, but the general trendline is downward. 

     There are several reasons for the United States’s collective disillusionment with the Oscars. For one, it’s broadcasted through network television. To watch an already incredibly long award show, one must force themselves through about an additional hour of advertisement interspersed with boring award-show talk content. Through the luxury of the Internet, there is no need to actually watch the entirety of the Oscars; it is a lot easier and commercial-free to Google the winners afterward. 

     In addition to the inaccessibility, the Oscars consistently fail to account for the oversaturation of the award show market. Jamie Smith, Film Literature teacher, states that she “doesn’t look forward to the Academy Awards as much as I used to only because there are so many different awards now.” She’s right. For reference, there are the Golden Globes, Sundance Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival, Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, for the peckish the Teen Choice Awards, the BAFTAs for British content enjoyers and every other possible iteration of “Film Festival” that exists today. What’s more is that most of the film festivals rank movies depending on artistic and storytelling merit far more than the Oscars. If every awards show is the definitive ranking of the best media possible, then none of them are. 

    However, the bulk of the Oscar’s problems lie within the actual content of the show. There is some artistic element to the movies that are nominated, but to secure the award-winning spot, contenders must undergo an extensive PR campaign. To be named the best, actors, actresses, directors, anyone involved have to run successful marketing campaigns for themselves through attending interviews, Q&A’s and catering to Academy voters. Actual acting know-how and storytelling skills are secondary. Academy voters, once given the chance to vote, are given that privilege for life. A person who has not worked in the film industry in years may not have the best evidence to create an informed opinion on current trends in the media. However, a voter base that is entirely formed of film industry members are more likely to vote for their friends in the business. The Oscars have not done a good job in balancing this. Largely, the Oscars remain as a gentlemen’s club. Every year, the Oscars claim to improve by nominating a few more minorities in lieu of actual progress. The Oscars need major structural changes to become more inclusive. At the moment, they are not evolving at a fast enough pace. 

     The actual format of the Oscars is also to its detriment. There is a host that either caters to the viewers at home by attacking specific members of the film industry (see Ricky Gervais), caters to the Academy members and award-seekers or just lacking chemistry (see Anne Hathaway and James Franco) or are embroiled in some kind of controversy (see Kevin Hart). Some awards are presented by pairs in the film industry which forces the two to make small talk. Award-show talk has a small chance of actually being successful (see Will Ferrel and Kristen Wii), but most of the time is either creepy (Jennifer Lopez and Jeremy Renner) or plain boring. 

     There is an ongoing war between prestige and entertainment much to the disappointment of everyone. Prestige, described by Smith as “pomp and circumstance,” has been forcibly pushed center stage. Film industry professionals obviously want their talents to be recognized, so the Oscars must have prestige. The people want to see their favorite celebrities win and be awarded for their accomplishments, but the entertainment factor is a lot more important. The Oscars has lost “the value of the audience.” The incident that occured in 2017, although scarring for the La La Land and Moonlight production teams alike, remained in the public consciousness enough for people to talk about it. Any music numbers or productions that are few far in between that are presented at the Oscars also increase viewership. 

     Against all odds, the Oscars are not dead. Yet. 

     It is evident that the Oscars has plenty of problems and that it is in need of dire reform. Even with more inclusivity and a format change, the Oscars needs a complete upheaval. From the way the Oscars are presented and who presents them, to the inner workings of who gets a vote. Smith puts it best: “Times have changed, and they need to change too.”