It’s “everyone gets a trophy day” this year at the Academy Awards but let’s leave that aside for now. According to Media Daily News, the Oscar telecast targets older female viewers, a kind of “Super Bowl” for women. But that analogy doesn’t really work. Most men watching the Super Bowl know who’s playing the game.
The reality is that the women who seem to love this show don’t often go to the movies. [Note to Hollywood: we would go, and do go, when the content on screen is engaging, not merely stimulating. There’s a difference.] In fact, most of the movies that break box office records sell tickets to everyone but women of a certain age. And the blockbuster ticket-buyers who create these huge hits don’t seem to watch the Academy Awards.
Let’s not overlook the Independent Spirit Awards ceremony; distinguished by the number of stars wearing their glasses on camera. They celebrate the films almost none of us saw but almost everyone says they plan to; movies you never even heard of because they played in exactly seven cities nationwide for one week, movies that bring back a legend (Mickey Rourke) or give us the first peek at a legend in the making (Quentin Tarantino.)
Let’s recap, shall we? The Academy Awards telecast is popular and largely viewed by older women, who don’t go to the movies. It is not popular with younger people, who do go to the movies. The Independent Spirit Awards seem too cool to care about—or track—who watches their show or who sees their films. (I’m sure that’s not true but it feels true.)
We may soon reach the point where the people watching the Oscars and the people going to the movies are mutually exclusive groups. A time when the movie industry cranks out “hits,” that allow them to make smaller movies that few will see, the very same ‘small’ movies—“Avatar” and its ilk notwithstanding—they will celebrate just about every year at the Academy Awards, a telecast viewed by women who didn’t see many of these “boutique” films. In the spirit of Churchill, “Never have so many worked so hard and so long for so few.”
Oscar ratings have been dropping for years for a variety of reasons, including the popularity of the nominated movies. In 1998, 55 million viewers tuned in, the year “Titanic” won 11 Oscars. Last time the program approached that number was in 1983, when some 53 million people watched “Gandhi” win Best Picture. By 2008, the numbers had dropped to about 32 million, its lowest ratings ever. Last year, it reached just over 36 million, making it the third-lowest broadcast in history.
Quite frankly, none of this should surprise us. Years ago, you went to the movies to see a “movie star.” Television wasn’t packed with movies and ‘movie channels’ ranging from five or six versions of HBO, Cinemax, and Starz, to TCM to TNT (for “old” and “new” classics, whatever that means) to Lifetime to O to WE to FX.
Once a year, we saw movie stars on television, when they appeared at the Oscars. This has become less and less special. My theory? As Dickens reminds us, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Plus, this year especially, many of us are out of work; we’re tired, we’re cranky and we’re just not that enamored by the excess of Hollywood paraded before our eyes.
People magazine debuted in 1974; Entertainment Tonight in 1981. Previously, entertainment “news” was limited to Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and “The Tonight Show,” to newspaper photos showing us Elizabeth Taylor’s latest husband, and to snapshots of Raquel Welch or Steve McQueen in Life magazine or a tabloid newspaper. Let’s not even talk about the societal impact of the “E! True Hollywood Story,” “TMZ” or “Access Hollywood” or the arrival of Perez Hilton.
Now we read about, hear about and are barraged with ‘news’ about actors and actresses who are: in rehab, out of rehab, pregnant, might be pregnant, adopting, divorcing, reconciling, losing weight, gaining weight, writing a children’s book, a self-help book, or a tell-all book, joining a new religion, finding an old religion, endorsing a candidate or becoming a candidate, becoming a journalist, a photographer, or a musician, getting a tattoo, getting arrested, or getting released from jail, coming out of retirement, coming out of the closet, or coming up on the next Oprah.
Those untouchable aspects of “stardom” that used to fascinate us have faded. Everything that made Hollywood mysterious and sort of wonderful has been replaced by unrelenting coverage of celebrities of specious talent being scooped up out of the gutter. Please. If I wanted real life, I’d watch “Celebrity Rehab.”