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Society’s love affair with the Academy Awards

by Matthew Civico January 27, 2015
Society’s love affair with the Academy Awards

The Oscars aren’t just glitz and glam: they’re validating

Awards season is upon us, and you know what that means: we will mercilessly judge well-dressed strangers while sitting in our pajamas with a bag of chips.

Celebrities make it easy to be cynical. They’re practically living advertisements for the clothes and jewelry designers loan them for the night, and many of us are aware of this. Why then, do we love to watch the Oscars? Is it the glamour of fame and fortune, or a critical interest in filmmaking? Perhaps for some, but I think most of us are watching for a reason that goes a bit deeper: validation.

Did your favourite movie even get nominated? Is The Lego Movie being snubbed for casting too many yellow plastic people? Will Benedict Cumberbatch become too mainstream if he wins? I too am wrestling with these questions, and we won’t have a solid answer until the Academy hands out its awards.

But wait—aren’t all value judgments subjective? Sure, that’s what your professors may have told you, but when I observe people around me I see very few shrugging their shoulders in apathy. I see people making arguments to support their positions.

I see people craving authoritative objectivity: external validation.

It’s not enough to like a movie and enjoy it, we want to know that we enjoyed it because it was good. I’ll admit that the human desire for objectivity is a big topic to unpack, but all I want to do is provide a springboard for reflection. Why do you watch the Oscars? Before you proudly declare that you don’t watch the Oscars because they’re commercialized bilge let me tell you that you’re doing the same thing when you read IndieWire, or when talking Sundance over beers with your film friends. We all do it, no shame here.

Despite our time’s love affair with ‘the self’, individualism has its limits: I cannot congratulate or love myself. Of course I could, but if given the choice I’d choose external validation every time. Why? Because it’s objective to me. Being congratulated means I’ve accomplished something, being loved means I’m lovely, and when a film is nominated for Best Picture I can safely assume that it is very good.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me—in fact, I can poke holes in my own argument. Take my favourite movie of the year as an example: Calvary, an Irish movie directed by John Michael McDonagh and starring Brendan Gleeson. It’s not even nominated—for anything! Does that mean it’s not good? I’d be the first to say “I don’t think so!” but I’m still indignant about the lack of Oscar recognition for this great film.

Therein lies my conclusion.

If objectivity is a fiction I certainly don’t live like it doesn’t exist, and chances are neither do you. While it’s obvious not everyone agrees with my pick for Best Picture, I believe it deserves more than a pile of zero recognition. I want the validation that The Oscars gives, not only for myself, but also for you. Why? Because we’re all attracted to the best and greatest.

That’s why we love watching The Oscars.

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