Wednesday, March 7, 2018

No, Young Padawan, The 90th Oscars Was No "Turd Show"

Image result for 90th Oscars images

I was disheartened and somewhat disappointed to open my Facebook page Monday to see a post from a nephew headed "Oscars - What A Turd Show!"   What prompted such a harsh judgment? There was little elaboration other than it "sucked" and "was too long" - but reading assorted critiques around the net one quickly concludes one of three reasons: 1) The show is long - this time running 4 hours and "trying even the patience of hard core movie lovers"  according to one WSJ piece, 2) too much politics and activism on display, or 3) the films receiving awards weren't the big box superhero or other flicks the hoi polloi wanted to win.

Fair enough, but I'd argue none of these warrants calling the Oscars "a turd show".. What is a real turd show is any Trump presser or photo op in the White House  like with the DACA gathering or the recent one on guns- when we know the guy is just going to lie and play everyone in his typical con game.

According to a WSJ piece yesterday ('Oscars Hit Sour Note With Viewers', p. B1,  Business & Finance) the viewing audience fell by 19 percent from last year's which drew 32.4 million. The previous low was 32 million in 2008. We also learned (ibid.):

"There was no shortage of social commentary during the broadcast, as the issues of sexual harassment and equal opportunities for women took center stage. ...Many on social media pointed to performers using their platform to espouse political and social views as  factor in viewers tuning out."

Another lame excuse given for the drop in viewers was from Brandwidth which "attributed the decline to the pandemonium on social media last year when the wrong movie  La La Land  was accidentally announced as Best Picture winner instead of the rightful winner, Moonlight."

Of course, the very reason that snafu occurred was because a genius from Price Waterhouse Cooper  -which controlled the award envelopes  - was too enmeshed in social media texting to attend to delivering the correct envelope to the presenters (Faye Dunaway and  Warren Beatty).  For people now -  mainly social media addicts - to tune out because it might occur again is total bollocks. It also doesn't say much about their average IQ.

But I submit that the preceding reasons may only account for perhaps 5 percent of the dropouts at most. After all, as any intelligent person  -viewer knows, such politicizing has always been part of the Academy Awards, certainly in the past two decades. We also know the movies don't exist themselves in a bubble - detached from the greater society. Especially now in the age of Trump where every thing the bastard does or says grabs air space and headlines. So why the hell wouldn't a reaction to it?

For example, the latest blockbuster superhero movie, 'The Black Panther', was described in a recent TIME article as "an act of resistance by its very existence."  Indeed, the latest issue asserts that as recently as five years ago it likely couldn't have been made  - a spectacle film with nearly all black cast and black super hero to boot. We saw it with our friend Muriel two weeks ago and loved it.  And for sure the power projected by the  black citizens of the fictional African nation of Wakanda would make any white nationalist or Trumpie racist tremble in his boots.  As would the "Black Panther" himself:

In a similar vein the Best Picture winner,  The Shape of Water, was about diversity and breaking down the barriers that divide us. Personally, after watching it twice at the cinema, it ought to be required viewing for every Trumpie. That, and The Black Panther.

This brings us to what is more likely the main reason for a drop in  Oscar viewers (ibid.):

"The sheer number of entertainment choices is causing an industry wide decline in rating across all TV programming. Live performance had, at least for a while, been the exception to the broader declines, as audiences recorded shows or turned to on-demand streaming services."

This condition is what author  Alvin Toffler in his 1970 bookFuture Shock" referred to  as "over choice ".   Too many choices, especially in media, diluting any collective attention to one thing, one show, one event.  From Wikipedia we have:

"The phenomenon of overchoice occurs when many equivalent choices are available.[Making a decision becomes overwhelming due to the many potential outcomes and risks that may result from making the wrong choice"

In terms of entertainment media in the current era, there is inevitably no "equivalence" in  viewing choices because of  consumer driven preference  creeping in. Thus, there is now the preference for "cord cutting" and streaming movies and such instead of watching the latter in actual theaters. This is particularly so among the younger set.  Hence, we now see a kind of "regression to the mean" which often translates to the most comfortable choice  for many viewers.   Take my nephew, for instance. If he is a frequent Netflix user, or even more inclined to play video games  - and is then confronted by a choice between these and watching the  entire 90th Oscars on network TV,  he will almost certainly go for one or other of the former.  He will skip over the Oscars - or ditch it quickly  - because it doesn't deliver the mode of entertainment he wants.  (But to call the Oscars a "turd show" because they're not his cup of tea, is going a bit too far imho.)

This phenomenon of consumer preference is not so critical in terms of entertainment but becomes a real danger to our democracy when we have balkanized news media    - including one  (FOX News) which lies and distorts as a kind of  agenda to pander to its viewers.

 In October of 1962 all 100 million of us watched the same Walter Cronkite on CBS as he spelled out the latest news on the Cuban Missile Crisis. There wasn't some "channel X" that half the citizens tuned to which told them  "we repeat again-  this whole Cuban Missile crisis is a hoax, this is a big nothing burger."

We watched and enjoyed the Academy Awards as we do every year because we are hard core movie lovers  seeing on average 16-20 movies a year, by which I mean actually showing up to buy tickets, get cokes etc. and recline in the new D-Box seats.  By contrast, the typical American sees only four films a year at the cinema  - according to another WSJ piece. (Mar. 5).  Given this difference, I would conjecture people like us are much more likely to tune into the Academy Awards and pay attention to the awards for 'sound mixing', 'best animated feature'  and 'best musical score' as well as 'Best picture'.

It is true, as the WSJ piece notes,  that "most of the nominees and winners  came from films that weren't box office hits",   and this could also explain part of the lack of  U.S. viewer interest.  But on the other hand, the Oscars ceremony and fanfare on a global stage, enables the opportunity to highlight little known,  quality movies that  -  while not "block busters"  -  are well worth seeing.  Not every great film has to be about super heroes, or be  a super hero sequel.  Finally, bear in mind while the U.S. audience may have dwindled, there's still a global audience that dwarfs it.  While it's not "a billion" - as frequently cited, e.g. by Oscar hosts-   it is in the high nine figures and from 30 to 40 times the U.S. viewership in any given year. So if 26.5 m U.S. viewers watched this year, do the math and you find at least 795 million would have watched this year, globally. Not too shabby!

Maybe one day my young Padawan nephew will appreciate that and also be more inclined to move out of his entertainment -viewing comfort zone.

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