Only in America could there exist an institution calling itself, perfectly deadpan, the Entertainment Industry. Obviously, the products of this Industry aren't unique to the United States: movies are made everywhere from Ireland to India to Hong Kong, television is as ubiquitous as dirt, and some parts of the world still read books. But it takes those wacky Americans to turn Entertainment, which when I was growing up was defined as a mere diversion, into a Sacred Duty alongside the likes of "Feed my sheep."
One of the inevitable consequences of entertainment-as-commodity is boredom, as Hollywood discovered back in the Twenties, so the hypemasters of the day assembled an ad hoc group of studio employees, named them the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and bade them hand out awards every year. It was corny, and it was self-serving, and it was glitzy, which of course made it irresistible. The public was slow to catch on, but once they did, the talk every spring turned to Oscar, Oscar, Oscar, as though the world had suddenly been repopulated by clones of Felix Unger contemplating a discarded cheroot.
The dam was broken, and other media, even before they realized they were "other media", rushed in with awards of their own. Emmy and Tony and Grammy and all their friends and neighbors and cousins suddenly had pageantry of their own. None of the attendant awards necessarily had much to do with anything resembling artistic accomplishment no act of rescindment, no amount of self-righteous breast-beating, can make up for giving a Grammy to Milli Vanilli in the first place but what the hell, it's an excuse to dress up.
Woody Allen, of all people, saw this coming. "They do nothing but give out awards," muttered Alvy Singer about Los Angeles. "Greatest Fascist dictator: Adolf Hitler." The fact that Annie Hall, whence Alvy's observation came, won a fistful of Oscars, doesn't detract from the truth thereof. And the Woodman, to his credit, didn't bother to show.
Then again, the success of Annie Hall demonstrates that the Academy isn't entirely immune to questions of quality. The People's Choice Awards, on the other hand....
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Copyright © 1998 by Charles G. Hill