Idolatry: Our sickening obsession with movie awards
Once a celebration of the arts, the most popular artistic achievements have devolved into an unrecognizable mess for entitled film fans to argue over
"I don't have a sense of entitlement or that I deserve this. You'd be surprised at the lack of competition between nominees - I think a lot of it's imposed from the outside. Can I have my champagne now?"
- Cate Blanchett
Art is not a competition.
I didn't always believe that. There was a time when I was just like so many other film fans; deeply invested in my favorite films and hoping that the movies I loved would get nominated for and ultimately win the most awards. It feels like an all too-natural impulse in our society. Awards were created to honor people and projects. In spirit, they are supposed to be celebratory. A group coming together to honor artistic endeavors and those who contribute to their creation. Inherently, there's nothing wrong with this notion. Like all things, its the absurdity and the ludicrous lengths that these celebrations induce.
Winning these coveted awards becomes about something more than being honored. They become a compulsion, both for those seeking the awards and fans who feel validated when their favorite project or performer of that year is awarded. And while some might argue that there is merit and value in these storied creative awards, it's gotten to a point where it unduly influences our shared perception of greatness. The genesis of this thought process unfolds like so:
Step 1: Seeing something you think is amazing
You walk out of the movie theater or pull yourself up from the couch and think "Hot damn; that was the best thing I've seen in ages". There's a rush of endorphins from the raw emotion you're experiencing. There are so many thoughts and feelings and you're eager to share them with your entertainment-loving friends online.
Step 2: Sharing your feelings online
Now you're online and you're putting your thoughts & feelings into words, sharing your perspective and telling your followers about the amazing movie you just watched. Your brain races to find the right adjectives to describe just how masterful this film was at every level.
That's fantastic. Way to share your passion and get other people excited about the movie!
Step 3: Talk about how the movie deserves ALL the awards!
This is where the passionate film fan turns into an entitled child and reduces an artistic endeavor into a sporting event. I loathe that word; 'Deserves'. It says a lot about the person making the statement, whether intended or otherwise.
Why does any movie, performance or creative contribution 'deserve' to win? Clearly, the designation is subjective, but there are implications with that word choice.
1. If the movie/performance you love 'deserves' to win awards, it implies every other one does not. In one fell swoop, you've invalidated the work of every other movie/performance of that given year by deeming only one movie/performance as deserving
2. It implies that the movie you loved will only be deemed as 'successful' if it ends up being nominated and winning awards.
Let's focus on point number two because this is what turns normal hyperbolic entertainment conversations into minor tragedies.
For too long, people have put too much faith into entertainment awards. These celebrations of artistic endeavors have evolved into cutthroat competitions at nearly every conceivable level. There's an obsession with winning awards by studios and artists who campaign heavily and can spend millions of dollars in advertising trying to convince eligible voters of their merit. There are websites and writers whose sole focus is award-based entertainment. Columnists who discuss what films are most likely to be nominated and win awards and those who break down the odds of particular projects and performers winning. There are even places where you can place bets and test your award prognostication skills for fun and profit.
Can you think of anything more antithetical to the creative process? Turning acts of creation into a competitive sport. Obsessing and worshipping these ridiculous awards, giving the institutions that lord over them the power over our perception of greatness.
While there's nothing wrong with wanting to win an award or even cheering for your favorite film of the year to be celebrated for its greatness, this kind of artistic competition has been taken to obscene lengths and has forever damaged the discourse. It's not uncommon to see posts on Social Media with declarations of deserving.
Imagine reducing someone's entire career to a pass/fail proposition based on whether or not they won an Academy Award.
There are people genuinely bothered by the fact that a movie or artist they loved didn't win a significant award. They can't simply bask in the excellence of the film that brought them joy. It has to be viewed through the lens of 'tragedy' that the film didn't take home an Academy Award. Film fans have ceded their definition of greatness to an institution. One that is famously lacking diversity and has struggled to maintain relevance for decades.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences currently consists of 9921 members. A narrow swath of entertainment industry members get to decide the chosen few that take home the most coveted cinematic awards. 9921 people who have irrevocably changed our collective perception of what defines greatness. At least for those who still buy into their legitimacy.
I for one, do not. Not anymore. Like everything else in our society, it's become a polarizing, competitive mess that feels more like a sporting event than a celebration of artistic excellence. It's a sideshow draped in satin and struggling to stay in step with a rapidly changing world. The shows themselves are throwbacks to a different era when audiences had limited exposure to the entertainment industry and glamorous movie stars. Whereas today there isn't a day that goes by where celebrity news isn't constantly streaming at you from a dozen different directions. The novelty of the big award shows is all but gone, thanks in no small part to the veritable cornucopia of similar award shows vying for relevance.
But this isn't about the lack of relevancy of the awards themselves or their diminishing impact on the success of a film. This is about award shows impacting people's perception of what defines greatness. The mental hold it has on die-hard film fans who have come to equate the Oscars with being the gold standard of greatness instead of a financially duplicitous, political campaign waged by would-be nominees vying for the affection of 9921 members.
It's this mental stranglehold that grinds my gears. The poor souls who look at an exceptional film or performance and feel as though it's a disappointment because it didn't win a major award. This is the real damage award shows have done to our collective cinematic cerebellum. Something that was created to celebrate our shared love of movies has become another polarizing battlefield for people endlessly argue online over.
So, dear film fans, let me say this loud and clear: Fuck film awards and the boring-as-hell shows that have become damn near unwatchable. Free yourself from the constraints of this antiquated institution and stop treating artistic endeavors like sporting events. Love the films you love with reckless abandon. Speak about them with passion and help others discover new cinematic experiences. But don't talk about what 'deserves' to be nominated or what films were 'robbed' because they didn't win a major award. Don't treat an artistic endeavor like a drunken hooligan waging war with online screaming matches about how your favorite movie 'deserves' to win.
Art is not a competition.
Movies aren't sports.
Stop turning art into a competitive sport and pitting movies against one another. And stop giving awards and their governing bodies power over your perception of greatness. Renounce your worship of the Academy Awards and cast their golden idols into the metaphorical fire.