As Tonys Near, Michael Musto Reflects on Our Obsession with Awards Shows

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I care about awards shows a little too much for the good of society. I’m so into the parade of stars battling it out for honors that my fixation threatens to go from an amusing guilty pleasure to a rather unhealthy obsession that leads even the most diehard show-biz watchers to take pause and worry for mankind. Awards shows always manage to lure me in and virtually consume me in my ongoing lust for a world ruled by categories and envelopes. There’s something just so appealing about those shows in all their glitz, glory, humiliation, phoniness and spontaneity-despite-it-all. And so, I live in a year-round whirl of predicting, anticipating, reveling and then planning for the next one. And I know I’m not alone in this — millions of people around the world are bound in their creepy fervor for anything involving gowns, gratitude, glitches and gaffes.

With the Tony Awards (for Broadway excellence) coming up on June 8, I’m all atwitter over things even some people in the shows don’t care about! At a party recently, a theater writer cornered me to seriously ask, “What‘s with the Featured Actress in a Musical category this year? I can’t get a handle on the buzz,” and I not only didn’t scream, “Be damned, trivia troll” and run away in disgust, I gave him a thorough, well-researched answer. (“Well, Lena Hall’s part is too small, and Adriane Lenox doesn’t really play a character, whereas Linda Emond’s terrific, and she’s never won before, so she’ll probably …”)

And in doing so, I fully reminded myself of the impetus behind awards show mania. We love the movies, shows and performers being honored — they hit us in a very special place — so we want to see them receive their public glory in a way that gives the entire populace a shared sense of pleasure. But conversely, the barbarian in us happens to adore the fancy ritual of seeing big names (and/or people we admire) battling it out in the mud for a trophy. It’s very difficult to determine who gives the best performance in any category — Matthew McConaughey vs. Leonardo DiCaprio seemed like apples and oranges — but everyone’s watching anyway, including the nominees, who are there in full panting mode, as we gather ’round the telly to observe them sweating under pressure. And not only do we cheer for the winner in their golden moment, but some cretins experience a sick sense of pleasure derived from watching four people lose (not to mention the perversely enjoyable subtext surrounding the big stars who’ve already been dissed from the nominations). We adore our show-biz icons, but the dark side of humanity feels we can bring them down to size if we can watch their hopes momentarily dashed in front of a zooming camera. Fortunately, I feel that’s a deeply buried, Freudian and maybe even minority view. Most prevalent is the opportunity to celebrate the winner, as well as the fact that the other four nominees could easily nab the prize next time, so we’re left with a humane and glowing feeling that takes the ick out of the whole thing.

By now, we awards watchers know just which highs and horrors to look for as the three-plus hour extravaganza proceeds. At all these shows, the host will generally sing some satirical song about how gays and Jews control show biz, ha ha. The presenters will be made to say either strained, pretentious statements about art or labored, namedroppy jokes about celebrities as they bring on categories you don’t care about. Inevitably, the camera will linger on the wrong person, the special tribute will go on about 10 minutes too long and everyone will forget to thank their spouse. And I’m glued every step of the way, loving each second of the pageantry, putdowns, graciousness, mishaps and frozen smiles.

Gone are the days of surprise winners, since everything’s so chewed over and prognosticated nowadays that you get a perfect score if you predict all the front runners. But at least you get to seem really smart. And in the course of the award giving, there are still daffy moments and surprising flickers of behavior, not to mention bits of emerging gossip. (When the “12 Years a Slave” director and writer consciously omitted each other in their Oscar speeches in March, it was clear that some serious hate was in the air. Fabulous!) Meryl Streep should always win because she gives great speech — witty and upbeat and utterly entrancing. The woman deserves awards just for her acceptances. And then you have Anne Hathaway and all the other people who just list names upon names in a breathlessly gushy manner, but at least that provides fodder for the Internet water cooler and a reason to start tweeting your every eyeball roll.

The Golden Globes are especially fun because so many people there are as drunk as a skunk, plus they mix movies and TV, thereby assembling the world’s largest group of luminescent celebrities. But being a theater queen, the Tonys remain my fave, because I actually care about the Shakespeare revivals, drag dramas and even the jukebox shows angling for honors. I’ve heard of each nominee, have schmoozed them at the annual meet-and-greet and naturally have picked my favorites, sometimes even factoring zany things like “quality of performance” into who I root for. And I barely bat an eyelash when shows that have just won awards proceed to announce their closing notices, usually because “Best Lighting Design” doesn’t always translate to massive ticket sales. In fact, it makes me love the show even more and might even make me want to check it out again on closing night to examine the lighting. So I’ll be glued to the Tonys on June 8, yelling, “Go Linda Emond!” and hopefully no one will be too concerned.

Michael Musto is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine. 

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