If you are trying to decide whether or not to watch the Oscars tonight, Virginia Postrel wants to help you out. So she has written a column offering some much needed perspective on the event. Link here.
In her words: “The Academy Awards show is ridiculous. Guests arrive in broad daylight wearing the most formal of evening gowns. Presenters, including some of the world's most accomplished performers, read their lines with the studied cadence of high-school commencement speakers.
“In contrast to the Super Bowl, a beauty pageant or 'American Idol,' nothing happens on stage that affects the outcome of the competition. The production numbers are just padding. And, of course, the speeches are boring, the show is too long, and comedies never have a chance.”
But then, why does everyone watch the Oscars?
Many people of the female persuasion watch because they want to see what the other women are wearing. Fair enough. Most of the actresses who show up on the red carpet are styled to perfection.
For women the Oscars are primarily about fashion. About how to produce certain looks, about which looks look best on whom, about which looks simply do not work.
For some reason Postrel does not mention this reason, even though it explains a large part of the show’s popularity.
Postrel offers another possible reason: people watch because they project themselves into the winner’s circle. They identify with the winners.
In her words: “Watching the Oscars gives viewers the chance to imagine being singled out before the whole world as special, beloved and really good at their jobs.”
Of course, this makes some sense. Many people have practiced Oscar speeches before the mirror in the morning.
To be honest, I have difficulty relating to this point. The thought of giving an Oscar acceptance speech has never crossed my mind.
And most people who are really good at their jobs would probably prefer not to be singled out. Successful people are humble people. Except perhaps in Hollywood.
But I am probably not the best person to explain why people watch the Oscars. For the most part I make every effort to avoid the show. In fact, I only watch when my friends have been nominated. It happens sometimes, but not this year.
And then, I am motivated more by loyalty than by a wish to project myself onto the stage.
For the record, the last time a friend or acquaintance of mine won an Oscar was around 35 years ago. I did not know he had been nominated, and I missed the show.
Perhaps I am a bit sensitive, but the last thing in the world that I would like to do is to stand on a stage with hundreds of millions of eyes on me, holding a gold-plated statuette in my hand, explaining why I did not deserve it.
Oscars are given to people who create illusions. Directors and producers and sound technicians win awards, but most of us watch the show because we want to see the actors and actresses.
These actors are being rewarded for their ability to foster an illusion by pretending to be someone they’re not.
When Oscar time comes around, the spell is broken, and the actors appear on stage as who they really are, not as who they duped us into believing that they were.
At the Oscars, the winners show us what is behind the mask.
Enquiring minds want to know if there is anyone behind the mask. Having been tricked into paying for an illusion,we are expecting some payback. We want to see a normal, everyday human being flub his lines. And sometimes we get it.
With all respect to Virginia Postrel, that is why people watch the Oscars.