Why do people give a shit about the Oscars?

Rolling Stone, in preparation for the annual screening of rich people telling other rich people ‘well done’ that is the Oscars, released rules for a drinking game, prefaced with the quote: ‘some things are too painful to endure sober, and we have a feeling that this year’s Oscars – the second ceremony of Trump reign-of-error age and the first of the #MeToo/#TimesUp era – may be one of them. As this broadcast stretches into its ninth hour, you’re going to need to dull the pain of so much narcissism and clip montages and very, very concerned famous people patting themselves on the back.’ I agree. If you’re going to watch the show, I recommend drinking both responsibly but also ever-so-slightly to excess, so you don’t want to claw out your own eyeballs.

Because what is the Oscars – or the Academy Awards, if we’re being official – if not a few hours of people who really do not need more love and attention, getting lots more love and attention. People who are worth millions and millions of dollars find out if they get to take home a fancy golden statue that signifies a lot of their peers think they’re quite good at what they do.

Now I understand, actors all over the world dream of winning an Oscar, it’s equivalent to a footballer winning the world cup, a cyclist the Tour de France, but it’s fake. An actor isn’t chosen solely on merit by their peers, a director isn’t always chosen because their skills behind the camera are second-to-none: the awards every year are a result of a carefully orchestrated process, and the winner is chosen after lots of campaigning by them and on their behalf.

The BBC released an article this week about ‘tricks of the trade’ that could help Oscar hopefuls secure that golden statue, and it shows clearly the politics behind the winners and losers. They report that in order to ensure Shakespeare in Love won the 1999 Best Picture award, Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax studio spent 15 million dollars on its Oscar campaign. The cost was so high because that year it was running against the much-fancied Saving Private Ryan. The fact that money is put aside for a film’s ‘Oscar campaign,’ as if it is running for public office, shows what a shallow process choosing the winners is.

It’s not just money that can ensure a nomination, or even a win. In 1990 Diane Ladd, acting in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, sent handwritten letters to members of the Academy.And Bruce Broughton managed to get Alone Yet Not Alone, a song from the film of the same name, a nomination for Best Original Song by calling at least 70 members of the Academy asking for their votes (the nomination was later revoked).

Then there’s the weird ways to get an Oscar. The Boar, and others, have pointed out that making a film that mentions or involves the Holocaust is a sure thing. Schindler’s List won nine Oscars in 1993, and Adrien Brody, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep and Christoph Waltz have all won portraying characters that are involved with the tragedy.

There’s also the physical transformation – Matthew McConaughey’s weight loss for Dallas Buyer’s Club being the most noted example – or just generally being able to show you had a miserable time, and really pushed your body while making the movie (think Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant).

There are lots more tricks and quirks that help people win or get nominated for an Oscar (simply being Meryl Streep seems to work for her), but the fact that there are tricks and quirks is the problem. It’s not an award for the best performances that year, it’s a well-managed party for people who are in no need of another.

Much will be made of the speeches this year, because, as Rolling Stone pointed out, it’s the second of the insane era of Trump, which isn’t slowing down, and it’s the first since allegations against Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein and more have been known to the wider public. Winners and presenters are sure to make reference to these, to give their views. Jimmy Kimmel, the presenter for the second year running, says he does have material on the Me Too movement prepared.

The speeches will be powerful, there is no doubt to that, but those speaking will be speaking in a vacuum, an echo chamber. In the room itself, almost all will agree and provide rapturous applause. Social media will ensure their words are heard across the world and agreed with some more. And those who disagree with use their words to add further weight to their argument that Hollywood has become ‘too liberal’ and out of touch with the rest of America.

Arguing against those who have sexually assaulted, and arguing against an administration that is so patently ridiculous and dangerous, does not make you out of touch with the rest of America. It also does not automatically make you a great choice for President, either, but that’s another debate. But those who disagree know  it’s an easy argument to make when those in the room are all so painfully rich, and getting awards they do not need.

So the Oscars will happen, and providing there isn’t another envelope mishap, we’ll all have forgotten about it within the week. Those in the room will go back to making lots of money, and those they spoke out against will carry on running the country, at least until the special prosecutor finally catches up with them. It’s all a great one-night-long circus, which serves no practical or functional purpose. Why does anyone give a shit about it?

Photo Credit: The Insyder.