Dreaming of Special Achievement in Awards Shows

By Rob Patterson

It’s an old saw that adult life is just an extension of high school. There are few ways that is truer than television awards shows. Hence programs like the Academy Awards and Grammys are much like the senior proms for the film and music industries, respectively. These big annual events offer a chance for the biggest kids on campus to preen and show off in their best finery and play their roles to the crowds. Add in a bit of the school talent show and graduation, and you’ve got much the same elements.

I have found it harder and harder over the years to watch such shows on the nights when they are broadcast. Then again, I’ve never been much of one for participating in the major pop cultural events. Thanks to my DVR, I recorded both the Oscars and Grammys earlier this year and watched them later not for the results, which I already knew, but the silly spectacles that they are. Hence I spent much time hitting the fast forward button.

I’m all for recognition of excellence. But such esteemed awards as the Nobel Prize or the Pulitzers at least retain some shreds of gravitas by not being glitzy entertainment events.

And when it comes to creative pursuits in the arts like movies and music, I have come to believe after many years as a published professional critic that art is much more qualitative than quantitative. It’s the same reason why I generally eschew the year-end Top 10 lists that have become all but knee jerk annual rituals.

Yes, I do believe there are aesthetic standards that can help determine what is wheat and what is chaff. But to rate one work as best beyond others strikes me as an entirely false premise. To the credit of this year’s Academy Awards, the winner of Best Picture and four other Oscars, The Artist, is a deserving work of high merit. That a largely silent black & white foreign movie took top honors speaks well for the Awards. This was no fluke, as it also won best film honors at the Golden Globes and both the British and French equivalents of the Oscars. And winning top honors certainly helped a non-mainstream movie find a much larger audience.

But how does this measure against the flaws of the shows that present these awards? Because in the end, they are all about marketing and artifice. And not about what they are supposedly recognizing: meritorious artistic achievement.

The shows themselves are frequently flawed and clumsy affairs aimed at drawing ratings. In the case of the Oscars, millions are spent in the campaigns to the voters to win the awards. As a onetime voting member of NARAS, the Grammy organization, I can attest that there is less lavish persuasion. But bloc voting and campaigning is still a factor. Because the awards also serve a marketing mission for the winners. And the shows become more and more about glitz, glamour and over the top entertainment that the artistic merit the awards are supposed to recognize.

I’m in the minority here, as is all too usual. The masses obviously enjoy awards shows. The ratings attest to that.

The Oscar ceremonies started out as a strictly Hollywood private affair, making them truly the senior prom of a community. Now they attempt the big embrace with glitz, star power and spectacle and have lost what it all should be about – recognizing quality art as well as the artistry of truly great entertainment.

Nothing I say here is going to make a whit of a difference. I’d love to see awards galas be replaced by something that takes the focus back to where we should be: on quality and the essence behind what makes for ex. The chickens have flown the coop on that far too long ago. But wouldn’t it be nice if somehow the recognition of excellence in entertainment reflected the heart of the art and actually delved into what makes it so special? Oh well, there I go, dreaming again.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2012


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