The Oscars: why do we care?

The Oscars happened a couple weeks ago, and the ceremony marked the end of an era. Viewers of the 88th Academy Awards watched as Julianne Moore single-handedly killed a meme by opening an envelope and uttering the name, “Leonardo DiCaprio.”

Oscar parties all across campus – from the big one in the Pause to more intimate dorm lounge gatherings – erupted with giddy screams. Even the actual attendees of the award show displayed their approval with an standing ovation before finally settling down to allow DiCaprio to give a lengthy acceptance speech the band did not dare to attempt to play off.

For those not familiar with the buzz behind DiCaprio’s Oscar, in recent years, the online community has adopted a strange, obsessive outrage that Leo had yet to win a small golden statue.

Now you might be asking, “But why do they care so much?” Now that is an excellent question that no one can ever really answer. Another question worth asking is, “Ought they to care so much?” I would answer with a resounding no.

Now, I’m not attacking the concept of having interest in the awards; I myself am a loyal viewer. The Oscars are a great time to remember some of the year’s best movies, to partake in some friendly gambling or to pretend you have more knowledge of the film industry than you actually do. But it’s problematic when folks start to treat it as something that actually matters.

Unless you or a friend of yours is actually nominated for an award, there is no reason to so heavily invest one’s emotions into an award show that ultimately carries little weight. Sure, the Academy is made up of industry professionals, but their professions are of such a wide variety of disciplines in the filmmaking process that many of them do not have any more particular insight into choosing the “best” of the year than the average joe watching at home. If we’re going to go with actual career validations, we’d be better off dedicating our prayers to having our favorite celebrities pick up wins at the individual guild awards. But those are not as flashy, so we’re not as interested.

And, in some ways, I think this obsession with the Oscars can actually be harmful. For example: the flailing mess that was the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. To be clear, I am not dismissing the general sentiments of the complaint, which I do think is an important issue. I just think that maybe in the quest to fix the clear institutional racial prejudices in the Hollywood system, it would be more beneficial to confront the actual roots of the issue – casting decisions and availibility of roles for non-white actors. Though it may be more difficult and uncomfortable, I guarantee it would be a million times more effective than attacking the awards.

Castigating the Oscars doesn’t send a message to the Academy that they need to fix racism in Hollywood. Instead it sends a message that they need to calm public outcry by putting on a purely aesthetic facade of diversity that they can parade around the red carpet every year at their shallow, inconsequential, rinky-dink award show.