Friday, February 13, 2015

the biggest company picnic ever

Recently, while channel-surfing, I came upon a telecast featuring several self-appointed Oscar analysts.  These days, you can't get away from them.

During what was a rather urgent conversation/debate, one of the participants lamented how the Oscars have become "politicized."

Really?

Even in its earliest incarnation, dating back to 1928, the Oscar was not about achievement.  Far from it. In fact, there are two reasons why Hollywood invented the Oscar and both were decidedly non-artistic.

One was all about, for lack of a better word, "appearances" - the desperate need to appear respectable. And the second reason involved the one element that has always driven the movie industry - power.

The industry had a rather sullied reputation back in the 1920s, seemingly promoting sex and violence and threatening to corrupt children and destroy the family unit and, by extension, the country.  There was a serious threat of government censorship that could stymie the industry.

So what better damage control than to champion all the wonderful, uplifting and artistic accomplishments of movies? By giving awards to itself, the industry somehow would acquire "class."  True, that doesn't make any sense at all but, if you think about it, the ploy worked.

The second, more pressing reason for the creation of the Oscars had to do with union-busting, which had become difficult on a studio-by-studio basis.  But, as the saying goes, United We Stand.  By banding together as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the studios became one powerful monolithic structure and the awards themselves personified this.

The Oscar became a symbol.  And the less-than-subtle implication was that, if someone was a member of a union, that person would be ineligible to vie for an award. The Academy originally consisted almost solely of studio executives who selected the nominees and winners, rewarding those who played along. It was not uncommon for the wives, mistresses and girlfriends of the executives to win the top acting awards. 

One of the unexpected bonuses of all this was increased box office - money.  Big Money. An Oscar-winning film or performance proved Hollywood had "class" and, in turn, impressed the paying public.  All of this has contributed to the movie industry's preening, overbearing self-regard.

It was a win-win situation for the movie industry which has ran with its shrewd idea for 87 years now, making the Oscars bigger (if not necessarily better) with each decade. And certainly more political.

Of course, all of this has been forgotten (or conveniently eradicated) by both Hollywood and those in thrall of it. A bit of history has vanished.

Note in Passing:  Curiously, the various movie unions never went away - and actors, long under the thumbs of the studios, eventually unionized themselves, forming The Screen Actors Guild (SAG).  The studios may have lost their union-busting fight but they won the respectability - and the respect - that they so desperately coveted.  Thanks to the Oscars.

9 comments:

Beth said...

You have done an incredible job detailing the Oscars' history.Brief and to the point. I'll certainly
dig it.

Alex said...

Good column, Joe. As Martin Scorsese once said, "You don't make pictures for Oscars."

Sheila said...

About the only thing that the Oscars are good for these days is to see how the show encourages important people make fools of themselves, both the presenters and the winners

Brian Lucas said...

I still find it odd that anyone genuinely serious about film would even care about the Oscars, let alone debate over them.

Sean Garrick said...

And, of course, to continue the sham started by the Oscars, a lot of other "awards" subsequently came along to further pump up Hollywood and its endless quest for esteem.

g.w. said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this. But I must admit that I'm one of those folks who has always enjoyed the heck out of watching them, since I was a kid, and I plan to be there, pre-bathroomed and ready so I don't miss a thing, when the live show hits the airwaves next week. I've long known I was being bamboozled, but I readily submit. And with Neil Patrick Harris Lady Gaga on one show, how can I resist?!

Glenn said...

Juicy stuff to savor!

Kiki said...

This is terrific, Joe. Something I -- and lots of other people, obviously -- never considered. I just always thought the Oscars were a big "pat on the back" from the hacks in the movie industry and never gave a thought to union issues, etc.
I don't watch the Oscars because -- well, I hate that red carpet stuff, haven't seen most of the movies and when some of them DO win (like Shakespeare in Love), it's just too grim to bear.

Daryl said...

So the Oscars were invented eons ago for a way of looking good. Seems like nothing has changed.