I particularly dislike the Academy Awards ceremony. Or, more precisely, I dislike the fact that they televise it and encourage people to watch. I don’t really care what top Hollywood celebrities choose to do with their free time. If they want to get together, dress up and congratulate one another without telling me about it that is fine with me. Better than plenty of the other pastimes they seem to go for. I just don’t understand why the rest of us should be asked to witness this. I recognize there is a putative purpose to the undertaking. They do hand out those absurd statues for some reason. But they could put out a list of the winners without putting on the show and it would not change anything about the actual awards. Nothing happens at the ceremony to change the outcome. The films are already made, the scores scored, the special effects effected, and the votes are already all in. So what happens at the Oscar ceremony that we need to see? Very rich people wear absurdly expensive clothes, applaud one another and retrieve gift bags worth far more than the average annual income of an American family. Oh yes, and there are some jokes and musical numbers of a caliber to convince any passing alien there’s no intelligent life on this little planet. At least when celebrities appear on reality TV shows they have to do something: dance, run through mud, suck up to Donald Trump. The Oscars ceremony is all about them just being themselves (at least, the carefully managed and coifed public version of themselves), and apparently we are supposed to get excited by the simple fact that they exist, as if it were some sort of divine revelation. Oh my god, Brad Pitt is a real person in a fabulous tuxedo.
Political conventions have a more serious purpose than the Academy Award ceremony, but they seem to have veered in that direction in recent years. It does not help that we know the outcome beforehand, and the increasing intrusion of TV cameras pretty well guarantees an increasing focus on production values rather than social ones. The enlivening floor fights not just about nominees, but about actual issues are probably, sadly, a thing of the past. They will be viewed as a historical quirk on a par with knee breeches and duels. The only real drama left will occur when the occasional grouch like Pat Buchanan makes it to the microphone, and I doubt either party will let that happen too often.
As for the rest of it, it has become one long, boring promotional event jampacked with endless, undeserved applause. Apparently the parties believe that seeing the self-conscious, on cue excitement of the party faithful will somehow prove their nominee’s worth to the rest of us. If the select group at the convention can work up that kind of whooping, banner waving, confetti strewn enthusiasm maybe there really is something about that guy up on the podium.
It is all as convincing as a bunch of perky paid spokespeople touting the benefits of some laundry detergent or pain reliever–and staged in much the same spirit. They should have a small disclaimer on the bottom of the screen during the convention broadcasts noting that these are actors and that actual results may vary at home. And perhaps noting possible side effects such as frustration, rage and ennui.
Perhaps, though, the problem is not so much the events themselves as the fact that so many of us sit around watching events on TV. After all, without a big enough audience the networks would never show the conventions, and without a TV audience to play to they would have to be done rather differently. Instead of over-hyped spectaculars designed to hook the fleeting attention of passive viewers and leave a barb of acceptance, anger or anxiety embedded in our thoughts, the conventions might have to delve into substance to satisfy an audience involved enough to participate. And conventions where people actually hashed out ideas about how to govern might prove interesting enough to cause more people to get involved.
Not that the people who put on conventions or the Oscars actually desire our active participation. The active are a pain in the ass. They move around, which is not what you are looking for in a target audience. How are you supposed to make your message hit the mark when the mark won’t sit still like a good consumer? These shows are in the business of selling, and selling works best when you can tell people what they want and then give them the cheapest version of it in the shiniest package. That does not work so well when the people question your choices and force you to pay attention to their needs.
The depressing wonder of this country is how willing we are to sit there and swallow whatever they choose to feed us without even checking the ingredients. It has all been processed and tweaked and packaged to satisfy our simple appetites as easily as possible. Movie star glamor, creeping socialism, death panels, super hero prequels, Lunchables, deficit reduction; it all goes down the hatch. It is getting to the point where eating a fresh produce straight from a farm is almost an act of political defiance. So watch out. Who knows what they might do if they catch you. Something awful, like forcing you to watch the entire Academy Awards ceremony