Sunday evening was highly anticipated. From the red carpet to the after-parties, the 83rd Academy Awards was a night to remember — as indicated by tweets, facebook statuses, and even the CNN hot topics list. All eyes might be on the red carpet fashion police and the list of winners and nominees now, but the first Academy Awards ceremony took place out of the public eye. The celebration and recognition of filmmakers and actors still exists, but has the Academy Awards become, along the way, an adversarial institution?
Once upon a time…
May 16, 1929 marked the beginning of a phenomenon – one that now garners more attention and acclaim than some political campaigns. An initially non-adversarial arena, the Academy Awards began as a way to honor the best of the best in the film industry. The first ceremony had a modest guest list, with 270 people in attendance, and only 15 awards were given. It took place during a brunch that was served at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, followed by a party at the Mayfield.
Being recognized as the best in the industry had yet to become center stage, literally. Shortly after its inception, however, enthusiasm for the Academy Awards skyrocketed — a Los Angeles radio station even produced a live hour-long broadcast of the event. Public interest grew exponentially over the years. Rules, regulations, and qualification criteria began to develop. Actors and actresses began to compete for leading roles. Studios sought out the most highly acclaimed producers, directors, and writers in the industry. Thus, an adversarial institution emerged.
“And the Oscar goes to…”
The first awards ceremony had no real surprises. Winners were announced three months before the ceremony took place. The following year, the Academy decided to reveal the winners during the ceremony. The anticipation of winners and the growth in media attention surrounding the second award show aided in the shift: taking something essentially non-adversarial — the recognition of works of art — and putting it in a competitive setting.
Those within the film industry eventually began to take into account the actions of other players in anticipation of what they may or may not do to win. They have also developed tactics to improve their own chances of winning. Some of these tactics involved spending huge amounts of money on gifts and other goodies to influence the voting members of the Academy. And this in turn led to the Academy developing increasingly complicated rules and regulations to forbid “unhealthy” competitive attempts to “buy votes.”
Some accuse the Academy Awards of being influenced by marketing, rather than artistic quality. Others defend artistic merit as the sole requirement to win in this adversarial game. Whatever the case, for many filmmakers, actors, and spectators, the Oscars are not about the impartial recognition of an artistic achievement. They about winning – and by any means you can get away with.