Hating to Love the Oscars (and Loving That We Do)

70s oscars

The Way We Were: 70s Oscar Awards

Ah, the Academy Awards. Tonight many of us will curl up on our couches in worn out sweat pants and our favorite thread-bare t-shirt—complete with a big bowl of buttered popcorn on our laps and a large beer at our side—to watch the absurd dichotomy of the Glitterati striking perfect poses in all their unblemished, over-the-top finery, and then making hysterically awful fumbles during their award presentations and bizarrely awkward, and sometimes tasteless remarks in their acceptance speeches. It gives a lot of weight to the adage about putting lipstick on a pig.

Watching the Oscars is a guilty pleasure for a lot of people. We love to hate this annual event, but we hate that we love to watch it. It’s become a symbol of all that is absolutely wrong and at the same time wholly fantastic about our pop culture. Oh, some folks are able to temper their interest, like those who watch the Super Bowl just for the commercials. No matter how many times we criticize it, the fact is we don’t know how to entirely quit it.

proletariat awards show

The Proletariat Recognition Show

Here’s a thought: What if The Academy Awards were done away with, entirely? Instead of replacing it with the myriad of other awards shows that have tried to be the same but different, what if there were no award shows at all? I don’t mean to bring on an existential crisis, but could it be possible to live in a world where fancy awards shows don’t exist?

Probably not. To begin with, we like to acknowledge accomplishment. It’s a sort-of survival of the fittest instinct to single out those who can do the things we do not believe we can do ourselves. Secondly, and probably not long after ascending from single-cell amoeba to Homo sapiens, we developed a need to outwardly admire those things that seem greater than ourselves. This requires a demonstration of exaltation; a ceremony, because it is not enough to simply think of something as outstanding, magnificent or glorious, but to call attention to it. So, no, we probably could not completely do away with the ceremony that seems intrinsically tied to acknowledgement of achievement.

award thoughts

Nevertheless, we do think that a lot of the pomp and circumstance is an empty, even wasteful, gesture. The celebration of celebrity in particular is routinely criticized as worthless. I think similar events on the home front are just as absurd, like a  graduation ceremony, complete with cap and gown, for Pre-schoolers, or a mock Olympic medal ceremony to commemorate the completion of “Little Guppies” summer swim class for 4-year olds.

If all the ceremony is pointless, but the recognition of achievement is not, how else should we acknowledge singular success? Truth is, we celebrate personal accomplishment without the fanfare of bringing hordes of people together all the time. A simple “atta boy” from a friend, sweetheart, parent, employer, coach, teacher, neighbor or co-worker is given on a daily basis all around the world. And, I’m willing to bet this sort of unencumbered congratulation garners more gratitude than a formal offering of a golden statue presented in front of an audience of millions.

However, no matter how much we protest, it’s hard to deny the cheap thrill we get from watching people at the top of their game parade by dressed to the nines on their way to make gushy, stumbling speeches thanking their family/agent/director/pet rabbit for being so supportive. And, it’s hard to deny the genuine thrill we get when a group of people gathers together to honor us for a job particularly well done, like graduation from our community center’s break dancing academy for middle-aged widows. These moments are the benchmarks to which we hold fast in order to remember what we are capable of doing, or what we aspire to one day achieve, however small or grand.

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