'It’s all plastic': Why red carpets are so boring today

Ryan Seacrest has hosted E!’s red carpet coverage for more than a decade. Now, people wonder if it’s time for fresh faces. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ryan Seacrest has hosted E!’s red carpet coverage for more than a decade. Now, people wonder if it’s time for fresh faces. (Photo: Getty Images)

The 2018 awards show circuit concluded with the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday, capping what has been a season heavy on symbolic gestures and low on entertainment value.

And with that end comes the question: Is the decades-plus-long tradition of red carpet arrivals and fashion dissection stale?

A quick social media scan indicates as much, as would the ratings from the Oscars. Viewership for Sunday night’s awards show were at an all-time low, following what’s been a continuous, decades-long decline.

That ratings decline is perhaps attributable to a handful of things, including overall television ratings declining in the internet age, Americans’ general disdain for Hollywood elitism, and uninspired hosts who are more likely to make a gaffe than glean anything interesting from a minute-long interview.

As evident in this year’s broadcasts, stalwarts like E! hosts Giuliana Rancic and Ryan Seacrest are increasingly irrelevant and insufferable, given their respective histories of culturally ignorant comments and harassment accusations, adding to what’s already a lack of charisma on the carpet. But there’s a reason they’re still around, it seems.

Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, explains to Yahoo Lifestyle, “I find the Ryan Seacrest approach to things to be extraordinarily dull and uninteresting, the same old stuff. However, the people who program these things don’t cast their shows to please me — they cast to maximize their audience.”

He continues, “Keep in mind, Seacrest hosted the most popular show on television for a long time — American Idol. Maybe that sense of blandness from a guy like Seacrest is the way to please the most people by not pleasing anyone as much as they might. It’s that game show host aesthetic, where you put someone on that everyone will tolerate. That worked fine in the old days where there were only three networks and fewer choices.”

Joan Rivers, who died in 2014, was a roast-comic-turned-red-carpet mainstay who pioneered the hit show <em>Fashion Police</em>, which ended in 2017. (Photo: Getty Images)
Joan Rivers, who died in 2014, was a roast-comic-turned-red-carpet mainstay who pioneered the hit show Fashion Police, which ended in 2017. (Photo: Getty Images)

There’s also the unfilled void in awards show season entertainment that’s haunted broadcasts since Joan Rivers’ death in 2014. Say what you will about Rivers’ “muddled legacy” and whether her interview style would resonate today, at the very least it was entertaining for entertainment’s sake. Mathieu Deflem, a sociology professor at the University of South Carolina, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he doubts any new talent will emerge to fill Rivers’ niche now that awards show coverage is “all too safe, because of ratings, [and] competition in the market for viewers and advertisers.”

Assuming that the hosts at the helm of coverage don’t change, perhaps the format for pre-show coverage might. As it stands, the outdated format necessitates that stars arrive on the red carpet, pose for photographers (even though many of the celebrities would have already posted their beauty and style looks to their personal Instagram accounts), then conduct speed-date-style interviews with myriad press outlets, who often ask many of the same bland questions.

“The level of conversation that goes on on those red carpets is not much more detailed than the level of a tweet,” Thompson says. “The form is really antithetical to getting anything interesting, and you get the sense everything someone has said has already been said before.”

There isn’t anything inherently bad about the “frivolity and excess” of the red carpet, notes Andrea McDonnell, assistant professor of communication and media studies at Emmanuel College. This issue is in how we relate to celebrities today versus before social media, when gossip magazines served as the primary source for celebrity news.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

“If I follow Jennifer Lawrence on Instagram, her pictures are coming in alongside pictures of my friends,” McDonnell tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “That dividing line between celebrities and ordinary people, and our interaction with them digitally, has dissolved a bit; it’s certainly loosened.”

She adds, “One reason awards red carpets start to feel stale is because celebrities are so ubiquitous, and we feel we’re getting information directly from them when we follow them on social media. So, having this very scripted, mediated experience with a host like Ryan Seacrest, or snapping back and forth, feels staid and doesn’t resonate with how we experience celebrity in everyday culture.”

There’s also the matter of whether we should continue to ask actors about their wardrobes in a post-Weinstein and #AskHerMore era. Even though current hosts have yet to nail the right balance, questions about fashion and sociopolitical topics aren’t mutually exclusive and are equally valid.

If you’d advocate for the red carpet parade simply to enjoy the fashion frenzy, there are those who argue that Hollywood stylists have killed all the fun of red carpets past. And even though Hollywood is trending toward inclusivity on the carpet itself, designers still woefully fail to serve actresses above sample sizes, save the notable exception of Christian Siriano, the godsend who dressed 17 people at this year’s Oscars alone.

Thompson suggests, “If one were going to try to revamp this pre-show programming, it would mean structural changes like not spending the whole time on the red carpet or instituting casting changes or performances rather than politely asking questions.

“Moses didn’t come down from the mountain saying that’s how you had to do these pre-shows,” Thompson continues. “They could do anything in those two hours, which could include the red carpet or comic sketches or make it animated, for all they care. But now’s probably the time to rethink it rather than do it the same old way.”

Of course, a red carpet pre-show won’t be all things to all people. (Indeed, some won’t tune in to the pre-shows no matter what happens: “I find [red carpets] un- or anti-democratic, when not simply silly. … I do think people should be celebrated for their attainments, but … I don’t keep up with the Kardashians,” Michael Rockland, a professor of American studies at Rutgers University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.)

“The fakeness of it all is what amuses me the most,” Deflem says. “The stars are fake, the questions are fake, the answers are fake. It’s a feel-good moment for celebrities who make way too much money for anyone’s good, pretending to care for the common folks out there. It’s all plastic and we love it!”

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