Breakthrough Web Design - 515-897-1144 - Web sites for businesses
News & Entertainment for Mason City, Clear Lake & the Entire North Iowa Region

Founded October 1, 2010

Academy’s plight: stale show, aging membership

This news story was published on February 29, 2012.
Advertise on NIT Subscribe to NIT

By Patrick Goldstein, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — The 84th Academy Awards really looked their age on Sunday night. The painfully cobwebby spectacle included a cringe-inducing blackface joke, a tribute to an elderly seat filler and endless self-absorbed claptrap about the magic of movies. After a dreary, 6-month-long awards season largely revolving around movies about movies, why did Oscar organizers feel the need to hammer away at the idea that they love — I mean really love — their movies?

Probably because there’s growing evidence that the rest of us don’t really love the same movies they do. With one exception, “The Help,” the academy’s nine best picture nominees didn’t make much of an impression in Middle America. “The Artist” won best picture, but hasn’t hit box-office pay dirt outside of the urban chattering classes. Having struggled to make $32 million, “The Artist” is on track to be the second-lowest grossing best picture winner in the past 35 years.

The worst performing best picture winner in that period was 2009’s “The Hurt Locker.” In other words, the two lowest-grossing best picture winners have come in the past three years, not an especially encouraging sign in terms of Oscar relevance to the broader culture.

The retro feel of Sunday’s show didn’t do anything to connect the Oscars with a younger audience. Overall viewership was up 4 percent over last year but ratings were flat with adults ages 18 to 49. As one viewer put it on Twitter: “I think my dad is texting all these jokes to Billy Crystal during commercials.”

Although the academy and ABC have tried all sorts of hip new ways to engage the masses — they’ve got Twitter, a Facebook page with more than 394,000 “Likes” and whatnot — the Academy Awards remain a 1960s-style variety show, simply one devoted to promoting movies.

Before the show began, ABC’s Jess Cagle accompanied Tom Hanks down the Oscar winners’ backstage walkway to the then-largely empty press room, with Hanks attempting to describe the madcap atmosphere the press corral would have later in the evening. But amazingly, especially for an industry where you are taught on the first day of film school to “show, not tell,” the broadcast never returned to the press room to give us a glimpse of the colorful interplay that ensues when an Oscar winner arrives in a room packed to the gills with reporters.

In the long run, the show isn’t even the academy’s biggest problem. In recent years, the organization has lost a sense of focus about what kind of institution it wants to be. For years, we’ve suspected that the academy’s aging membership was about as connected to today’s turbulent pop culture as the Council on Foreign Relations. This month, the Los Angeles Times published a study that found that the academy’s voting membership is nearly 94 percent white and 77 percent male. Oscar voters have a median age of 62, with just 14 percent of voting members being under 50.

With this new mirror held up to its visage, academy members have been of different minds as to whether a face-lift is needed. Denzel Washington, an Oscar winner for his role in “Training Day,” said that if the “country is 12 percent black, make the academy 12 percent black.” But Frank Pierson, a former academy president who won an Oscar for writing “Dog Day Afternoon,” said, “I don’t see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population,” he said. “That’s what the People’s Choice Awards are for.”

This difference of opinion seems to parallel the internal debate the academy has over the show itself — should the Oscars remain a stodgy but classy way of honoring the year’s most artistic films? Or should it open its doors to more populist fare in the hopes of reflecting more mainstream tastes (and of course higher TV ratings)?

The truth is, the show could be more populist but still classy. And the academy could diversify itself without diminishing its status as a meritocracy. To insist otherwise is simply a failure of imagination.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

 characters available