As the Academy Awards approach this Sunday, I've been thinking a lot about the way my attitudes toward award shows in general have changed over the years. I remember being a little kid, and feeling like the Oscars were the biggest deal ever. We'd have people over to my house, where everyone would gather around the television, shushing each other and staggering their bathroom breaks with the commercials so that nobody missed a single word. That's a scenario in harsh contrast to my current award show M.O., which is to absorb the Oscars alone on my couch without even looking at the screen for much of the broadcast, with at least four forms of social media open in front of me, glancing up only when I hear something interesting and wonder if the Internet would appreciate my take on it.
Obviously a lot of my changing feelings have to do with the fact that I work in the entertainment industry, and spent the last couple years live-blogging the awards, but I think some of it has to do with the way that award shows are presented has changed as well. I feel like the Oscars have become less special, somehow, or important, but since I'm biased by my high level of exposure to all things award shows, I decided to get some feedback from a couple of people who don't have that problem: My parents.
My dad was born in 1954 and grew up in New Mexico. He describes watching the Oscars as a big family event:
Even though I have never been a big fan of movies, the Academy Awards was a big deal. The whole family would watch, and it was exciting if we had seen any of the movies up for (or winning!) an award.
They'd be excited if they'd seen any of the movies, which is interesting, because I feel like these days, there's not much point in watching if you haven't seen them. He goes on:
Now, of course, I haven't seen ANY of the movies, haven't heard of many of them, and don't have any interest in the awards show.
More and more, award shows can feel like inside baseball. If you're in the industry, there's no need to watch the show itself, because you can predict in advance who will win just by looking at campaigning and the results of previous award shows, of which there are many. But if you're outside the industry, it can seem impenetrable — and I think that's what my dad is speaking to.
Movies were special back then, so the awards were interesting. Now movies are just a part of the noise that tries to get our attention, as are the award shows. It doesn't help that there are seemingly hundreds of award shows now! All specialness is gone!
When the market is as saturated with award shows and red carpet coverage as it is, it's hard for anything to stand out, even an institution as venerated as the Oscars. Instead of putting in the 4+ hours required to watch it, you might as well just catch the highlights on the Internet the next day.
This was pointed out by my stepmom as well, who was born in 1955 and raised in New Jersey:
We would watch the Oscars on a black and white TV (until about 1974). As a young adult, I'd watch to see the clips to help me decide which movies I should go see or, later, rent to view at home, [but] over the years, it seems to me that the advent of color TV shifted the coverage to the red carpet and what the stars (mostly women) were wearing.
Another great point: Every year the red carpet coverage gets incrementally earlier, until now it's crept up to 12:05 AM. That's six minutes away from being the morning, my friends! Ain't nobody got time for that! And according to my stepmom, if you have any complaints, you can take them straight to Cher:
Cher's super revealing dress [in 1986] was a big change... way more exposure than the classic gowns of years past. Now, crazy cleavage and shocking clothing is no big deal. So, I suppose the Oscars attract more folks who are interesting in fashion... perhaps more so than in the movies.
It's a fascinating concept that truly illustrates just how much the times have changed: and how our viewing habits have changed with them, and the invention of the Internet and services like Twitter, or Vine.
What both my parents are picking up on is that the Oscars today aren't the cultural event they once were; they've become more of spectacle than a celebration, and if you aren't willing to sit through them while constantly refreshing Twitter, they might not have much to offer you.