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The Oscars (and all industry awards, as a whole) are nonsense, and it's time we admitted it

Let's appreciate the glitz, the glamour, and the fun of the show, but we don't have to pretend to respect the awards themselves

The Oscars (and all other industry awards) are nonsense
Image credit: Popverse illustration

As I write this, this year’s Academy Awards are just days away from happening — we’re going to be live-blogging the whole thing, if you want to see two friends with very different tastes argue a lot right in front of your eyes — and the entertainment industry is abuzz with the whole thing.

And why not? The Oscars are easily the biggest awards ceremony around, and offer everything everyone wants from this kind of thing: beautiful people looking beautiful in one place, the opportunity for no end of self-congratulation and self-mythologizing, and a reminder that movies are not just a powerful art form that can communicate all manner of messages, emotions, and stories, but they’re also available to rent or buy on a digital platform near you right now.

Everyone loves the Oscars, just the same as everyone liking the Emmys, or the Golden Globes, or the Tonys, or any number of award ceremonies. But here’s the thing: It’d be great if we stopped pretending that these awards really mean anything in the grand scheme of things.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the glitz and glamour of these kinds of things as much as anyone, but I appreciate them for what they are: spectacle, as opposed to substance, for want of a better way to put it. It’s not fair to say that there’s no “there” there when it comes to industry awards, because there truly is something worthwhile about being voted the best at something by your peers… at least in theory.

The problem is that such things almost always quickly transform from recognizing the best work available to popularity contests or records of who was most successful at politically maneuvering around the crowds at the time; whatever entertainment industry awards might be involved — and I’m including everything from the Oscars all the way to the Eisner Awards and beyond here — the winners are as much a reflection of the zeitgeist of that particular moment as they are actual quality.

Again, the Oscars offer some of the best evidence of this. How did Forrest Gump win Best Picture in 1994, beating out The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction? Was Tom Hooper’s work as director on The King’s Speech — a movie I would almost bet you hadn’t given any thought to in almost a decade — better than the Coen brothers’ work on True Grit, nominated that same year in the same category? (2011, and, no; of course it wasn’t.) In what world is Driving Miss Daisy a more deserving recipient of Best Picture in 1990 than My Left Foot? I even would have taken Born on the Fourth of July, also nominated in the category in the same year.

The thing is, I think everyone already knows this: think about the by-now-traditional complaints about why “should have” won the awards, or even earlier, should have been nominated. We all do it, in part because we all accept on some level that the awards part of these awards ceremonies aren’t exactly entirely legitimate. It’s part of the whole thing: we want to watch all of these awards because we want to complain that someone else should have won, almost as much as we want to see our favorites get the gongs they deserve.

None of this is a problem, I hasten to add. Just as we all love the sight of celebrities done up to the nines, we love to gripe that, really, it should’ve been [delete as applicable] who got the recognition and not that guy who is only getting it because they should’ve gotten it years ago. (Think of it as the “Al Pacino got a Best Actor nod for Scent of a Woman? Really?” factor.) It’s part of the fun, and something that we should all just admit upfront… but doing so involves admitting that, maybe these kinds of awards aren’t really as successful at their stated aims as they should be, which might be an admission too far for a lot of people.

Perhaps I’m grousing too much in advance; maybe this is the ramblings of a bitter old man who’s never been recognized by his peers. Check in with me after this year’s Oscars and see if I’ve changed my tune about the whole shebang. It’s unlikely, but stranger things have happened — and Poor Things sweeping the board would do a lot to make me feel as if I’ve been wrong the entire time, after all…

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Graeme McMillan

Graeme McMillan: Popverse Editor Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.


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