Oscars: When Reality Diddles the Dream Factory

In a perfect world, an annual celebration by an industry that melds artistry, technology and business in the interest of promoting the culture of storytelling through film should be a joyful and straightforward event. It’s the simple announcement of the best in achievement during the preceding year – escapism all dolled-up to celebrate itself.

Unfortunately, when you are the epitome of self-congratulation, escapism becomes furthest thing from mind. AMPAS is quick to give the appearance of taking up the gauntlet for various causes out of self-righteousness and participants often bedeck themselves in  badges and ribbons at the risk of looking like maypoles, but what impact does this have on determining the “best” of the year?

The Drive to the Prize

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The most appropriate metaphor for the Oscar race is probably the image of a cattle drive, with PR staff working overtime to herd as many voters as possible into one’s own corral. What is the most effective strategy for this? Concentrating on the perception that one’s vote does not necessarily reflect what is best in film, but what best represents the collective self-image of AMPAS voters from selections of a particular season. Like any cattle drive, the herd can be skittish – the slightest thunderclap can send them scurrying in different directions; therefore the objective of every studio publicist is to capitalize on those social rumblings.

The taffy-pull of politics, issue-fatigue, and sometimes real, honest-to-god headline traumas occur that shake-off the reverie like an ice water challenge, often impacting the voting or the actual ceremony itself.

The Show Must Go On…Somehow

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The presentation ceremony has been sidetracked exactly four times:

  • In 1938, a massive flood hit Los Angeles, devastating the region and making travel from the Valley and along the shoreline impossible. The award ceremony was postponed for a week until stars who were stranded on the outskirts could make their way to the Biltmore.
  • The 1968 Oscars were scheduled for April 8th, but when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated on April 4th , the ceremony was rescheduled and the Governor’s Ball cancelled entirely.
  • On March 30th, 1981 (the day scheduled for the Oscar presentation), President Ronald Reagan and three others were shot leaving a speaking engagement. The show was cancelled and, once the President’s prognosis was determined to be stable, took place the following evening.
  • A strike by the Writers Guild of America in 1988 caught Oscar with half a script, forcing so much impromptu banter from the presenters that it garnered some of the worst reviews in its history. A similar situation was narrowly averted again in 2008.

As serious and terrible as these events were, none of them impacted voting or results.

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