And the Oscar for Best Meme Goes to...
It must have been a thrill, or at least a remarkable novelty, to watch the first televised broadcast of the Academy Awards ceremony in 1953. It was the first time the larger-than-life stars of the big screen — so many of them, all dolled up and beaming — were delivered right into the living room.
Things have changed. Movie stars are not a seldom-glimpsed species anymore, and as a culture we’re less fixated on the big screen than the little bitty ones we carry in our pockets. And yet the Oscars still draw quite a crowd — of 40 million viewers last year, for instance — and the broadcast remains one of the year’s biggest advertising events.
But why do people still watch the Oscars? Is it about the movies? The celebrities? Or, in the social media era, is it all about us?
In 2014 it’s about the stars and us — in a relationship that would have baffled, and perhaps horrified, the Hollywood royalty gathered to see The Greatest Show On Earth take Best Picture 61 years ago. In those days there was a distance and mystery to movie stars that gave them a shot at achieving writer Virginia Postrel’s idea of “the power of glamour.”
But nobody today watches a celeb-stuffed awards show in a state of starstruck awe. In fact, many watch for basically the opposite reason: to witness (and digitally share or comment on), the humanizing gaffes, the goofy moments, things that could become GIFs or memes.
It’s not even about what the stars say and do at the ceremony, but what they say and do on social media. Think about what the most recent Grammy broadcast added to popular culture: Pharrell’s hat, Taylor Swift’s GIF-able reaction to losing, Macklemore’s post-event public text-admission that someone else should have won Best Rap Album.
This may sound more cynical than I intend. Perhaps, as Shia LeBeouf or Alec Baldwin could tell you, we live in a meaner media culture. At the least, we now approach this spectacle with no particular reverence — and with the assumption that the audience (certainly not the Academy) is fully in charge of deciding which moments from the show really matter. And those moments are unlikely to be the mere revelation of who won Best Supporting Whatever.
Tommy Wesely, BuzzFeed’s director of development and a contributing editor to the site’s Celeb section, says that covering the Oscars or similar awards shows is all about recognizing “gem moments” from the broadcast — the three to 30 seconds of, say Emma Thompson flinging her shoes at the Golden Globes, or Jennifer Lawrence photobombing Taylor Swift. (Or, he adds, Jennifer Lawrence doing almost anything: “I love me some Jennifer Lawrence.”) By now, Wesely suggests, “Awards shows would be foolish not to almost plan those moments.”