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Have the Oscars lost their relevance?

| Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Despite being an above-average fan of film, I really had no inclination to watch the Academy Awards earlier this month. The only actual draw for me was wanting to watch Sufjan Stevens perform, but I knew his performance would be one click away on Pitchfork the next day anyway. I looked up the award results out of curiosity; I agreed with some picks and disagreed with others, but ultimately didn’t feel too strongly about any win or snub. I thought this might be a problem as I showed up to that week’s “Scenecast”—a weekly podcast by The Observer’s Scene section—as it was planned to be an Oscars discussion. However, upon arrival to the WVFI station, the couple other Scene members and I realized that none of us had actually watched the Oscars and none of us cared to talk about them.

This certainly got me thinking. If even a good chunk of Scene was indifferent to the Oscars, what about the general public? Apparently this year’s Oscars had the least amount of viewers since they began tracking the numbers in 1974. The viewership figure of 26.5 million people was a 20 percent drop from 2017’s numbers, which in turn were a drop from 2016. The trend is clear: people don’t care about the Academy Awards as much anymore. But why? I don’t really know, but I’ll guess anyway.

To begin, let’s look at why people watch the Oscars in the first place. Considering that the Oscars’ red carpet is practically half the show, it is fair to say that people watch for the stars themselves. After all, the Academy Awards are a night for all of the big names in Hollywood to come together. It makes sense that we would want to watch all these famous celebrities we know be under one roof for a night. Whether it’s for the glamorous dresses or just the conversations, many people enjoy watching the stars.

Another draw of the Oscars is the rankings themselves. People form their own opinions on all the movies they have seen throughout the year, and like to see what the Academy has to say. It’s not uncommon for the Academy to have many seemingly wrong picks, but disagreeing with them is part of the fun. There is an undeniable prestige to receiving an Academy award, and it is undeniably interesting to see which movie takes home the coveted “Best Picture” trophy.

There are multiple reasons why these aspects of the Oscars don’t seem as enticing anymore to TV viewers. Well, perhaps part of the problem is that many Millennials don’t even have cable television anymore, as it has become outdated in many ways by online streaming services. I think there are deeper reasons outside of this, however. While the Academy Awards show is the biggest night in Hollywood, it maybe doesn’t seem as special as it used to. In the age of the internet, I can watch any clip from any celebrity any time I want. Carving out time in my busy schedule to watch them mingle on the red carpet doesn’t seem like much of a priority.

The nature of film as an art form is another problem. There is certainly a disconnect between what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—an organization comprised of around 6,000 film professionals—views as an award winning movie compared to the general public. For example, the winner of 2018’s “Best Picture” award was “The Shape of Water,” which tells the story of a mute custodian who falls in love with a humanoid amphibian. I happen to really enjoy the film and believe it is deserving of the nomination at the very least, but it certainly isn’t the movie most Americans would put at the top of their list. While I think that the best film of the year should win the “Best Picture” award, perhaps the Academy should take more into account cultural significance. “Get Out” was another movie nominated for the award, perhaps it would have been a better choice due to its influential effect on popular culture. 20 years from now, will people remember “The Shape of Water” or “Get Out”?

I am not sure what the future holds for the Oscars. It is still one of the top viewed events every year, but the viewership is rapidly shrinking. Perhaps the Oscars are fated to be just one more thing that Millennials will kill.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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