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Award Shows: Parading money disguised as talent

By Ezra Bucur

Creative Writing Editor

Via Courtesy of Deadline

Every year, from around January to March, millions of people tap into what is colloquially known as “Award Season.” This term is used to represent the myriad of different award shows meant to highlight culture’s biggest accomplishments in film, music, literature, and even science. However, amongst these award shows, the most popular ones gravitate towards easily accessible pop culture, such as The Grammys or The Oscars.

  Despite this popularity, there are many who spend their time critiquing this phenomenon, especially on social media. One of the most common jabs thrown, although often not meant to be serious, is that a specific nominee was “robbed” of their award. A recent example of this was at the 96th Oscars Ceremony, where Emma Stone won the award for Best Actress over Lily Gladstone. The competition was incredibly tight for this category, and it was only presented at the very end, following many tedious breaks in the show. There is a clear reason for this decision: profits and clicks. As any press is good press, the more the show goes on, the more the spectacle is displayed, the more money and free advertising come from those eager to watch their favorite actor finally get recognized. However, this recognition is manufactured, played up for the sake of constantly grabbing the attention of viewers.

The Oscars are a perfect example of this. The ceremony balances both prestige and glamor, creating a sense of excitement that transcends talent being recognized. From the celebrity guest hosts, to the months of anticipation with the nominations, to the extravagant outfits worn on the red carpet, it is all a ploy to garner as much attention as possible. Society is now driven by entertainment, and this entertainment now has a new outlet: the online space. As tweets go viral, as posts get uploaded, and as texts between friends are exchanged, award shows now have to tap into the online market to stay relevant.

Notably, the Oscars have declined in viewership over the years, only amassing 18.7 million viewers. However, the Grammys have increased in viewership, getting 16.9 million viewers since the pandemic. Emma Coulter, who writes for the Dartmouth University newspaper, theorizes that this is due to the lack of free time that many younger audiences have. It is therefore easier for them to keep up with music than TV shows or movies, as music can be listened to almost anywhere. Coulter points out that this could also be a factor as to why the average viewership age is 50, adding onto the fact most younger generations lean towards streaming platforms. This explains the need for the glamor, and for the constant presence of famous celebrities: very few people would tune in to an award show featuring unknowns. As a result, those underground artists, actors, and performers are unable to get a breakthrough.  If they do, they already had ties to the industry or become viral on social media — a recent example of this being South African singer Tyla with her song Water. Ultimately, award shows are swept in the vicious cycle of virality: to conquer the world, the online world, specifically the American one, has to lift you up.

Award shows are also notorious for rarely including works that exist outside of the American cultural zeitgeist. Additionally, even within American popular culture, it is mainly White people who get their work noticed. In the year 2015-2016, all the nominees for Best Actor for the Oscars were white, giving rise to the viral #Oscarssowhite tag. Since then, the Academy has attempted to correct this oversight, yet many feel as though this is done either disingenuously, or not far enough. In 2023, Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian Actress to win best actress, despite the Oscar’s 90-year history. Prior to her win, Halle Berry was the last actress of color to have received the Best Actress award, all the way back in 2002. This year, Emma Stone won, to the dismay of people online. Mant from the general public had hoped for Lily Gladstone, the first Indigenous actress to be nominated for the Oscars. This loss subsequently raised the issue of nominations: what good was it to nominate people of color if White actors were still winning? Additionally, if White actors were still cast as leads, then what good would the awards even serve?

However, no matter how disappointing a loss or a victory might be, people will still talk about the Oscars, the Grammys, or any other award show. The parasocial relationships between actors and fans, especially when the latter see themselves in the former. This was exacerbated by the illusion of access that one has to these celebrities. Despite the distance in material wealth, one cannot help but identify themselves with the image they are being fed, which is simply a calculated profit margin.

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