My earliest Oscar show memory is being disappointed that Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t there to accept her award for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I haven’t missed a televised ceremony since.
So I felt something akin to horror (a genre that rarely gets Oscar consideration) on hearing the news that the Academy is creating a new award for “Achievement in Popular Film.” It’s not that the Oscars really identify and reward the best in artistic achievement in film, but the Academy does have a long, if spotty, history of at least trying to do so. But an award for what sounds like best razzle-dazzle? C’mon.
And it’s about that word—popular. We have high school voting to determine whose pictures go in the yearbook as most popular—sometimes designated “class favorites.” We have presidential elections were the popular vote doesn’t select the winner. We even have something identified as popular culture, an oxymoron if ever there was one.
And since popularity is a murky commodity at best, we’ve developed means of quantifying it. There are best seller lists for books. We have the weekly box office champion movies. Who’s up, who’s down, who’s not around.
Polls of all sorts come flying at us to tell us how popular or unpopular Trump is. (Mostly unpopular at this writing.) And how about that congressional race you’re interested in? How popular is your candidate?
The Academy isn’t to be blamed, I suppose, for trying to improve its ratings. Viewers vote with their eyeballs, after all, while the electorate votes with its ballots, and consumers vote with their money. But if we mistake what is popular with what is best or even good, we will end up thinking McDonald’s makes the best hamburgers when, clearly, Whataburger does.
Add Twitter into the mix, and one could be led to assume that Katy Perry and Justin Bieber are the two best people on the planet. You could also assume that Kim Kardashian (#11) is better than Donald Trump (#18), which is a tough call.
So, Oscar, let’s forget about this “popular” thing. Your problem is the show is overblown and not sufficiently entertaining. It’s long, but the most popular movie ever made is Gone with the Wind (still the highest grossing film of all time adjusted for inflation) which runs just shy of four hours—kind of like you.
And what does Gone with the Wind have that you don’t? You’ve got the pretty people. You’ve got access to the best talent. You’ve got drama and comedy. And, you have some inherent issues with race, too, which is what got you into this mess to begin with…Black Panther, anyone?
You don’t need another award, Oscar. What you need is a good show. Judy and Mickey aren’t here to help, but if Hollywood can’t provide three hours of solid entertainment while simultaneously patting itself on the back, then we have indeed gone to hell in a handbasket.