The Oscars, which will be held Sunday, Feb. 22, are ridiculously popular. People in Russia, Germany, China and India will pay attention (at least for a while) to who wins, who loses and what everyone is wearing on the eventful night. While you might not remember who grabbed the Best Actor or Best Director award a few years back, it’s a pretty safe bet to say that an Oscar award — out of all of the awards that exist on planet Earth — is the one that holds the most cultural currency — and by a considerable amount.
Not even Nobel Prizes can compete. Sure, a Nobel Peace Prize or a Nobel Prize in Physics holds more gravitas than an award celebrating the film industry, but at the end of the day, they just don’t have the cultural weight that Mr. Oscar carries. Why should that be?
I believe the answer lies in pageantry. For all of the complaints folks like to make about the shallowness of modern pop culture and how unfair the political agenda of an awards ceremony like the Oscars can be, people in America and across the globe want to see a show celebrating the stars we relate to, cringe away from (for actors playing villainous types and anti-heroes) or aspire to be. An awards spectacular honoring the men and women who bring us the movies that entertain us, broadcast from a nation that has mastered the cinematic craft, is, at least in our imagination, the show that tops all other shows.
Even people who aren’t all that thrilled with Western culture and like to chant cheery slogans like “death to America” might very well tune in (although surreptitiously) to see if Jennifer Lawrence takes another tumble down the stairs or who Benedict Cumberbatch or Julianne Moore will thank in their acceptance speech.
While a billion viewers (a number that has been batted around in the media for a while) won’t watch this year’s Oscars, hundreds of millions of people will. Highlights will play on YouTube and elsewhere, and I’m fairly certain some image — like last year’s “selfie” featuring Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and others, which was retweeted more than 3 million times, seen by more than 37 million people and valued by some analysts as having a worth of hundreds of millions of dollars — will capture our collective attention once again. That’s a lot of reach and value for a simple snap with a few celebrities in it. Setting, it seems, is everything.
It doesn’t really matter what you think about movies, America, celebrity culture or what the rich and famous do with their money and time. When Oscar season rolls around, the world wants to be treated to a spectacle. The pageantry and lead up to this big occasion give us all an excuse to celebrate the excess — along with a few moments of “serious” reflection (for the deep, thoughtful films) — and escapism that cinema, combined with our dreams of hanging out with the beautiful people (if only vicariously through Instagram), can afford.
Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.