Originally published on advocate.com
Diversity is important, but why do we place so much emphasis on what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences thinks?
When I woke up the other morning and saw the Oscars trending on Twitter, I groaned. I really was hoping it was something about green Muppets living in garbage cans. Having just survived the Shakespearean tragedy that was the Golden Globes, I was quite worn down in my tolerance for indignant hashtags and repetitive think pieces showing up on my feed. Every year I sit here watching people tear each other apart over these award shows and simply think: Why?
Why are we so up in arms about these awards shows? I totally get that people are upset about the lack of diversity in film and television, and they’re right to be upset about minorities being snubbed. You’re right to complain that not enough stories about minorities are being told. Those are valid, legitimate, and worthy complaints about the entertainment industry. We should see more diverse casting, women in strong lead roles, LGBTs playing LGBTs, minorities working behind the scenes to tell stories and offer different points of view. I don’t think anyone disputes that.
What gets me, though, is: aren’t awards shows as an art form inherently stupid, hypocritical, and fundamentally flawed? Think really long and hard about this one — when was the last time you saw someone complaining that Ai WeiWei was snubbed at an art awards show by Banksy? When was the last time someone threw a Pulitzer Prize watch party? No one has ever talked about what designer label someone is wearing when they walk the red carpet at the Nobel Prize ceremony. For some reason, we have decided that film, television, and music are the only art forms for which you can hand out awards that people care about. In reality, these awards shows have nothing to do with art, because they’re really just free advertising — it’s an interesting concept where people don’t have to pony up cash to get people talking about them or their brand. With the Oscars, you’re watching advertising and manipulation.
Additionally, these awards shows are hilariously flawed. One of my favorite examples is about the Grammys. Unless you follow EDM, you probably never heard of the incident I termed “The Al Walser Proves the Grammys Are Bullshit Fiasco.” Walser, a guy practically no one has heard of, gets nominated for a Best Dance Recording in 2013 by manipulating the way nominees are chosen. Now, I’m not the type to say that an art form is empirically good or bad, but I do accept popular opinion on taste (I won’t dispute that the Mona Lisa is better than a Bob Ross painting), and there is no way Walser’s terrible song is in any way an equal of the work of others in this category, like Lady Gaga, Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, Avicii, the Chemical Brothers, or Basement Jaxx.
Another thing about the Grammys is when people flipped about Macklemore winning, saying how terrible a choice it was and how it didn’t recognize better and more skillful artists. “Mambo No. 5” was nominated one year. Remember Milli Vanilli? They won a Grammy. In 1990, the Best Rap Performance didn’t go to Public Enemy for “Fight the Power,” a song widely considered one of the best rap songs ever, a song that gave voice to the disenfranchised and marginalized inner-city youth of America and fostered a culture shift in hip-hop music. Nope, it lost to Young MC’s “Bust A Move.” Yes, the song your Aunt Carol danced to at your cousin’s wedding after having too many cosmos.
You see, it’s not about awards, it’s about impact. Recently FiveThirtyEight.com (a website that shows what happens when math nerds getahold of pop culture) did an article about the 25 Most Rewatchable Movies of All Time. If you look at the list, it’s full of films that never won an Oscar or a Golden Globe. Hell, one of the films, Caddyshack, would probably have made the Academy have an aneurism if it was nominated for anything. Also, go look at the list of films that the Library of Congress has selected to be in what is called the National Film Registry. It’s a collection of films selected by industry types as well as academics that’s meant to preserve “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films.” Sure, lots of Oscar winners like Casablanca made an appearance, but films like Ghostbusters, Rocky Horror, Malcolm X, Do The Right Thing, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Boyz n the Hood are there too. In a thousand years, no one is going to give a crap who was snubbed at the Golden Globes, they’re gonna watch Bugs Bunny cartoons (which are on the registry) and Night of the Living Dead to learn about us.
Honestly, awards shows mean nothing. If we truly enjoyed Oscar bait, your Netflix and chill would be you on the couch relaxing with a copy of Ordinary People. I’m not the only person who thinks so. Just ask Ice Cube about being snubbed for Straight Outta Compton.
If you are terribly upset about this opinion of mine and Ice Cube’s, which states that works of art shouldn’t be judged by the trophies they win but by the impact they have on our culture, I’ll just quote Mr. Cube: “Bye, Felicia.”