Up The Other Academy

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019-03-03 17:00:00-05:00 No comments

I'm as peeved as many of you likely are about the lousy Academy Awards results. Mainly because what I thought was one of the best films of the past year (Widows) was shut entirely out of the running, but also because we never seem to learn just how little these things actually mean, in any venue.

Awards in creative fields are typically popularity contests, and the only thing that distinguishes the prestigious awards from the less so is the way the more prestigious ones are designed not to look like popularity contests. The technical Oscars always interested me more than the ones allegedly about artistic achievement, in big part because the judgments for the technical awards seemed the result of a different process.

But most Best Picture winners are embarrassments, testaments more to the blinkered tastes of the age than anything like actual artistic recognition. Most of the really great movies of any period go unrecognized, or at the very least underrated, while the things hailed as great in the moment quickly fade and become trivia questions. Hence Oliver!, instead of 2001: a space odyssey; hence dreary Miramax bait like The English Patient. (A sincerely bad movie is far better than a bad movie that thinks it's a profound one.)

"Success" in the sense of being well-known has little to do with the quality of one's work and everything to do with the ability to leverage network effects. If you want to be any kind of artist, you should want to be it in spite of whatever becoming famous would offer you in that field. Awards should be the least interesting part of the job. The problem is that award recipients tend to be the most visible things in a given field, and thus the ones most likely to be seen as a model to emulate, even when they're not.

Tags: awards