It’s not the Oscars. It’s you.
Well, it’s us really. A lot has been made of why the Academy Awards telecast has been in a steep decline over the last decade, falling this year to its lowest rated show ever. The conventional punditry has boiled that down to two reasons: more blockbusters need to be nominated, and/or the show is too liberal and preachy for the masses.
I’m here to tell you it’s neither of those things, as are two other writers – one liberal, one conservative.
In the links at the end of this piece below, Sam Adams of Slate (the liberal) and Ross Douthat of the New York Times (their resident conservative) pinpoint the real problem: an increasingly fractured audience, one split apart by an ever-growing glut of viewing and entertainment options. We simply don’t galvanize around single televised events anymore (except for the Super Bowl).
As Adams points out, the kind of movies that Oscar nominates really hasn’t changed so much. What has is that audiences don’t go see “Oscar” movies anymore. The actual lineup of Best Picture nominees doesn’t look entirely dissimilar from decades ago, a fact that Douthat also backs up:
- “Lady Bird is a lovely mother-daughter movie…but 35 years ago a little mother-daughter movie called Terms of Endearment won Best Picture and made the equivalent of $300 million, numbers that only superhero movies tend to hit today.”
Think of other popular-in-their-time Best Picture winners and nominees: Chariots of Fire, Driving Miss Daisy, On Golden Pond, Rain Man, or even a blockbuster like Forrest Gump. Box office wise, it’s hard to imagine those films being anything other than niche today.
Douthat goes on to say that the Oscars have “become a boutique affair for American liberals”, so he does buy into the left-leaning bias as part of the problem, at least a little, but history suggests otherwise (the Oscar stage has always been a place for liberal soapboxing) as does my own anecdotal experience.
I have conservative friends who still enjoy watching the Oscars and liberal friends who don’t. My hunch is that this is reflective across the country. There are conservatives who are still hardcore cinephiles despite their political differences with the industry, and there are liberals who still have no interest in “art house” fare regardless of how much those offerings may align with their political views.
The difference is in artistic tastes, not politics, and so an equal swath of liberals and conservatives who stick to populist fare simply don’t want to watch the Oscars anymore, or sit through a telecast about movies that they don’t care about – one that clocks in at just under 4 hours, no less.
If these kinds of cultural trends fascinate you, then the articles linked below are worthwhile reads. With relevant citations to back up their arguments, they get to the heart of the matter, one that has been lost on most of the knee-jerk politicized analysis.
- “Don’t Blame The Oscars For The Broadcast’s Low Ratings”
Sam Adams, Slate
- “The Autumn of the Oscars”
Ross Douthat, The New York Times