I’d Like to Thank the Academy: The Oscars are a Ceremony of Self-Congratulation


George Clooney is an Academy favorite. Most likely because the majority of voters are older white men who wish they looked like him. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

“I hope you enjoyed the goody bags and the champagne and the gold. I hope that took your mind off the recession for a while.” So ended the 2012 Golden Globe awards, courtesy of Ricky Gervais. The “gold” part isn’t a joke by the way, the attendees each consumed about two dollars worth of gold in their desserts.

It’s the kind of decadence most people couldn’t dream of experiencing in their lifetimes, but it’s also the sort of thing movie stars and high-powered show business people have every day. For all the talk about the one percent, people seem to forget that their favorite actors and directors fall into that bracket, too. And yet, we give these people awards and gold-sprinkled desserts and designer dresses. For free.

We’re going through uncertain and troubled economic times; heck, for some people, it’s even a depression. And yet, every year, millions of people gather ’round their television screens to watch the telecast of what is essentially a ceremony of self-congratulation, the Academy Awards. Rich, mostly white people pat the backs of other rich, mostly white people in an award show of reverence and pretension.

I love films. I want to be in the film business, I love it so much. But here’s the thing: we shouldn’t be telling these people how awesome they are. They get to be told that every day. Some tell it to themselves in the mirror.

Actors are called geniuses for spending a few weeks in an exotic location, pretending to be someone else. It’s fun, and not everybody can do it, but most of the time, that’s all it is. Dozens if not hundreds of other people make these actors’ films come to life. Editors sit behind a computer and choose which camera shots to use, which angles looks best, and when to start the music in a scene. Directors tell the actors what to do. Producers find money for the film and determine how to spend it. All of this is to manufacture a product they hope people will pay for and make them very, very rich.

Many film industry members do great humanitarian work. George Clooney’s work in Sudan is admirable, and Alec Baldwin’s charity, the Carol M. Baldwin Cancer Research Fund, gives away large sums of money with little overhead costs.  However, they don’t need the thanks. All they’ve done is made a lot of money and found a way to spend it. As Don Draper would say, “That’s what the money is for.”

It’s no surprise George Clooney is an Academy favorite. He reminds the voters of what they wish they could be, since most voters are old, white men who’ve never looked like Clooney a day in their life. Turns out, according to a study recently published by the Los Angeles Times, the Academy counts 5,765 elite voters among its members, and they are surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) old, white men.

Ninety-four percent of voters are white. Seventy-seven percent are men. The median age is 62 years old. Most have never been nominated for an award, let alone won one. And most members are members as long as they live, which means these statistics won’t change for a few decades more. So we’re being told to love movies and congratulate the people that make them by voters who don’t represent the viewing population. Maybe they know about good movies, but surely their tastes are different than the average modern cinephile.

The blatant inequality of the Academy only worsens the image of the awards. Demographics do matter. It’s not a coincidence that only four percent of Academy members are black or Latino, and that only four percent of the acting awards have gone to African Americans. Worse yet, 2009 was the first year the Academy Award for Best Director went to a woman. This is deplorable, and it makes me question the prestige of an Oscar statue. A true meritocracy surely wouldn’t have those statistics.

For making a lot of money, and for entertaining a bunch of old white men, we feed actors gold and treat them like kings while the American public looks on for three hours. They have done nothing for society, quantifiably speaking. They didn’t invent a vaccine; they haven’t negotiated a peace treaty. They haven’t ended hunger in a third-world country. They are entertainers, and while they have an important place in society, their work doesn’t do much to improve society.

So when the winners of the 84th Academy Awards walk away with their trophies, consider why. Or perhaps don’t and let the old white men of the world dictate who’s most deserving of our admiration.