Digression Girl

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I try not keep things short and sweet, (and leave the long posts to Sir Knowsalot), but I’ve been trying to write about TV and films in my blog and the review section, and due to recent events, I thought I’d share my thoughts on The Oscars, and why I think they are one of the best con jobs ever produced in the U.S. I’ve lived and worked in [redacted] for [redacted] years, getting near to the 20-year mark. I love the TV and Film industry, but I’ve also seen many of its problems first-hand. Personally, I think The Oscars have run their course, but I think by talking about what would need to be fixed, more people can understand what is so very wrong with this award and the culture around it.

So how do you make the Oscars popular again?

The list is long, but it’s starts with breaking up the elite country club/political platform it has become and moves towards objectivity, true inclusivity, and raising the bar on excellence by awarding for merit. And it wouldn’t hurt to thank the fans.

Problem 1: The Academy Awards are essentially a con with you as the victim.

The notion of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) began with Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). He said he wanted to create an organization that would mediate labor disputes without unions and improve the film industry’s image. [1]

Think of it this way: the major names in an industry got together and thought of a way to award themselves for the job they do to increase their profile and standing with everyone outside their industry.

This was almost 100 years ago, and chances are, you grew up with the Academy Awards, and thinking it was natural for Actors to get awards. And I mean, LOTS of awards!

But what other industry is this self-congratulatory? Do sheep farmers have awards and televise the results? (They do actually have awards, but since you likely didn’t know about them, that serves my point.) Do accountants have a, “Best document creation in Excel” category for their work? Not even politicians give each other awards like the arts industries do: The Academy Awards, The Tonys, The Grammys, and more. In fact, The Oscars are only one of MANY film industry awards, like the AFI awards, The Hollywood Film Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and… well, you get where I’m going.

It’s smoke and mirrors designed to make you think that what they do is more important than what you do, or that being in this profession makes them better and more noteworthy than you.

And to a lesser extent, it satisfies a personal need in arts types to be recognized and feel special.

What they do is definitely higher profile than what you may do, but the con for my industry is convincing you to idolize us; the best way to do that is to convince you that we have something you don’t, but then saying we’re letting you into our world and giving you the backstage pass.

That’s what the Oscars are: they are there to convince you that this industry is more than what it actually is. The Film industry is creative job field and some of the most fun I’ve had in my working life, but it’s just a job. One day on set demystifies all of the glitz and glam. But most people never have that experience. The real magic of the Oscars is that they create the illusion of the Wizard from the Wizard of Oz: the illusion is that it’s a great and powerful being that is better than you; the reality is that there is a man just like you, (or possibly worse) hiding behind the curtain.

If the Academy wants to be popular in our modern world, it should start by admitting they are nothing without the fans, and maybe instead of breaking their arms patting themselves on the back, they put more effort into entertaining the fans. Spending one night trying to please the crowd would go a long way towards making people at least want to WATCH the spectacle of the Oscars, even if it has no real meaning.

Problem 2: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is basically a Hollywood Country Club that hands awards to each other.

Why is this problem? Let’s start with the membership. To become a member, you have to be sponsored by two current members, which is the main way of coming in. [2]

Nepotism already runs deeply through Hollywood, but this adds another layer since the “most prestigious” awards for filmmaking is basically a club of people who have to want you in for you to get in. It’s NOT necessarily merit based.

Imagine a football team where the players decided who they wanted to join the team, and no one else had a say. Then, regardless of how the team performed in the season, the give each other awards on who they think the best players are, without any input from fans, professional sports writers, or any other form of critique. As an added bonus, the interior politics of the team count more than merit: “Johnny got his trophy last year, so this year, it’s Billy’s turn!”

That is the AMPAS right now. It’s made of elite people, for elite people, and insulated from anyone who isn’t invited.

But that’s actually how it was designed: from AMPAS Wikipedia [3]

The notion of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) began with Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). He said he wanted to create an organization that would mediate labor disputes without unions and improve the film industry’s image. He met with actor Conrad Nagel, director Fred Niblo, and the head of the Association of Motion Picture Producers, Fred Beetson to discuss these matters. The idea of this elite club having an annual banquet was discussed, but no mention of awards at that time. They also established that membership into the organization would only be open to people involved in one of the five branches of the industry: actors, directors, writers, technicians, and producers.

So the first problem is that the GOAL of the AMPAS was never about rating movies on any objective scale or evaluating performances with a critical eye; it’s always been about OPTICS and trying to improve the film industry’s image. That needs to change: if you want to be taken seriously, you need to be serious.

If the Oscars want to be popular, they need to up their game and change the image of being a country club of rich elites and starts BEING a body of experts who critique films on some objective standards.

Problem 3: Oscars don’t mean jack.

Why? Because it’s all subjective to the members of the Academy, and there are no objective standards as to what makes for the ‘best’ in any category.

Yes, this is art, and yes, art can be viewed subjectively. But if you look at enough art, you do start to see patterns in craftsmanship that start to inform over time what is ‘great’ and what is not.

Here’s a good example that I like to use because I have background in acting. What makes for a great acting performance? Well, here are two Oscar performances, and we can compare the quality and see if one was superior to the other.

Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”

Subjectively, you can like one of these more than the other. But objectively, Heath Ledger did a lot more for his role than Jennifer Lawrence did for hers. Acting is about creating characters, and this character is so far away from who Heath Ledger is that he is unrecognizable as the actor. The voice, the mannerisms, the cadence to how he talks… these are all acting tools he used and combined with the makeup and wardrobe made for an unforgettable performance. It’s fair to say that in the auditions, 90% or better of the men who auditioned for the role all made what I would call the “safe” choices: likely an imitation of Jack Nicholson or Mark Hamill’s Jokers. Ledger took “risks”; the nasal voice for instance is an inspired choice that was either going to really work or really fall flat. And he made it work. Objectively speaking, when an actor can stretch so far out of their range, take risks, and craft a character so convincingly you don’t see them in it, they have done something very special. When you add the final layer, (the script), you can compare how most actors would read each line and compare it to Ledger’s take, and see how he brought each line to life with his character.

Jennifer Lawrence is probably making 75–85% of all the same choices another actress would have in the role, and as far as stretching, it’s a stretch on her normal range, but I’m not losing her in the role the way I did Ledger. It’s not just makeup, it’s all the physical tools, mannerisms, accents, and more. I’m not saying she did bad, but objectively, she did less acting than someone like Ledger for his role. Between the two performances, Heath Ledger’s was better.

That’s just acting, but that extends to every category. Right now, everything is done internally: How does a movie win a best picture Oscar? There’s a method to the voting madness

Nightmare Alley was nominated for Best Picture at the 2022 Oscars: I saw this film. I’m probably one of the only ones who did. It’s box office was 37.8 million dollars. Was this film Best Picture material? I’d definitely say, “no”. I think most audience members who walked out of the film at the end would say, “no”. Should be considered for costuming, lighting, cinematography, and adaptation? Yes… those aspects of the film were outstanding, but it wasn’t enough to carry the film.

However, outside criticism doesn’t reach the interiors of the Academy. It doesn’t matter how few people actually went to see the film, or thought it was lackluster in terms of pacing and plot. The members of the Academy want to nominate it, so they do. Period.

You don’t get people excited to see the Oscars when they haven’t seen the movie that you’re nominating, or didn’t care about the film when you do nominate it. And that’s even more true if the audience didn’t think it was all that great, let alone “Best Picture” quality.

For a while, I think the public believed that the people running this process of nominating and awarding films for Oscars knew more than we did about films. And having worked on TV and film sets, I believe part of that is true: people who make films do know more about what goes into making a picture than your average joe. It’s their jobs.

But knowing the job is different than coming at it with a critical eye on the finished product. When it comes to technical achievements, insider know-how is very helpful, but when it comes to the subjective elements, (acting, directing, writing, etc.) it takes a different skill set… that of a critic… to judge the quality of the film. And a critic’s worth is only as good as their ability to reach for objectivity. Knowing facts, taking emotions and subjectivity out, and holding movies against particular standards can be a particular skill set, and may be more removed from interior politics and biases.

We’re also in a very different age when it comes to watching, reviewing, and critiquing films on our own. There have never been more options of who to listen to about rating films then there is today.

There is a downside, obviously, which is that the internet is so vast that you can find someone who exclusively agrees with your opinion about anything nearly instantaneously, which does make it harder to make an objective stance.

But that’s also what makes taking one so important, and by doing so, gives you credibility.

You’re not going to be perfect; no one is. But by striving for objectivity, you also end up striving for facts, fairness, and merit. That is what helps create standards.

If the Oscars want people to watch, they need to prove that the award they are giving out has some merit behind it. Someone racing for a gold medal in the Olympics has the benefit of definitive rules that establish the conditions to win or lose. The Oscars really needs something similar to lock in why winning their award is important.

Problem 4: The Oscars are out of touch with normal people.

The Oscars used to be fun for escapism. That time has passed. The more country has been divided ideologically, the more escapism has become important. So tuning into the Oscars just to hear Los Angelino one percenters show off how rich they are, lecture the audience on how evil we are, and prove their own hypocrisy is a bridge too far.

The other problem is the new attitude from around 2012 to now: “this isn’t for you”. Whether it’s Star Wars creators bashing on long time fans, or political messages having to be slipped into dialogue for films, or race bent casting, or yet another ‘adaptation’ of a property like Ghostbusters which is essentially a rip-off of the original with the uncreative change of using female actresses, the film industry’s depth seems to have gotten more shallow. The Oscars was a place you could tell fans from a big stage, “we love you and appreciate you, and without you, we’d have no job.” Now, the first thing the presenters want you to know is propaganda about Florida law.

The highest ratings for the Oscars was in 1998. [4] Titanic, As Good as it Gets, L.A. Confidential, The Full Monty, Donnie Branco, In & Out, Amistad, Anastasia, Wag the Dog, and even action movies like Con-Air & Starship Troopers were nominated for Awards. Oh, and a little film called Good Will Hunting.

That’s a very stacked deck. The industry has changed a lot since then, and so have the productions Hollywood pumps out. People tune out not just because of politics or being sick of the glam; there just isn’t a lot to tune in for.

For the Oscars to be relevant, they should consider the time-honored tradition of thanking their audience, and gearing the Oscars towards entertaining the common man, instead of lecturing him.

What does this mean? – Well, I think the glam Oscars isn’t likely going anywhere, and it wasn’t a problem until the audience felt like they were being lectured. So, drop the lecturing. Simple. And if you make it a point to try to appeal to the widest audience possible, (and accept that people who don’t politically believe what you believe enjoy movies too), and do something crazy like thanking the fans, you might see more come back.

To summarize: I don’t think the Oscars are ever really coming back unless they change their image, prove their awards have weight, and get in touch with the common man again.

Final thoughts: I think the Oscars have run their course. People and technology have changed, and unfortunately, AMPAS and the Oscars have been changing in an ugly way. They were created to basically be marketing “Hollywood”; that has turned into showing off how ugly Hollywood is now and how separate from normal people they are. To be honest, we, as the audience, don’t need the Oscars, and the Oscars have been set on trying to tell the audience how they don’t need us. That’s about as mutual of a parting-of-ways as you get.


[1] Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Wikipedia

[2] Academy Membership

[3] Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Wikipedia

[4] Oscars Draw 16.6 Million Viewers, the Show’s Second Smallest Audience of All Time


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