The Oscars were a real doozy, right? From Pharrell boogying with Meryl to J-Law tripping on the red carpet back into our hearts (backlash? what backlash?), from Jared Leto’s sweet (but tone-deaf) acceptance speech to John Travolta ushering beloved Iranian New Wave cinema star Adele Dazeem into the public imagination, Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony was practically teeming with GIF-able moments.
The reason why I didn’t watch last night’s Oscar ceremony didn’t stem from a lack of investment in popular culture or from a sense of self-righteous indignation toward award show politics. I am just as susceptible to the allure of red-carpet snarking and mimicking the sobs of overwrought Best Actress winners as the next (shallow and extremely petty) person.
My reasons for not watching the Oscars, and similar award shows like the Grammys, the Emmys, and the Golden Globes, are twofold: 1) I don’t actually own a TV, and 2) I don’t feel the need to invest four hours of my life watching one of the Afflecks pretend to care about presenting the award for Best Sound Mixing, when I can just stream Sherlock on Netflix and catch up on the recaps and the vines and the GIFs on the Internet the next morning.
From reading the morning-after coverage of an event like the Oscars on Twitter and BuzzFeed and Gawker and Slate and, of course, the Daily Dot, I could probably summarize the events with such facility that I could convince any layperson that I was sitting in the audience, close enough to get spat on by Matthew McConaughey during his acceptance speech. The fact that I can do this indicates our Internet culture is gradually moving toward the point where the only people who will actually be watching events like the Oscars in their entirety are a) entertainment journalists, and b) the attendees themselves. And I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.
Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that awards shows like the Oscars are inherently meaningless, nor am I making the case that the Internet is eliminating the necessity for televised content altogether. Both of these arguments have been made before, repeatedly and with great vigor, and at this point they basically retain the freshness of a week-old deli rye.
What I am arguing, however, is that social media and the BuzzFeed model of Internet journalism is starting to reduce the incentive for fairly pop-culture-savvy millennials like myself to watch major televised events, like the Oscars or the Winter Olympics or even the State of the Union. The coverage of these types of events is so immediate and so comprehensive that unless you’re actually covering the event itself, there’s little need to tune in. Why slog through a few minutes of presidential rhetoric on energy policy when you can read a point-by-point breakdown on Politico literally a few minutes afterward, accompanied by a GIF of Smilin’ Joe Biden?
Does the fact that I avoid watching major events in favor of reading their recaps online reflect poorly on my attention span, not to mention my intelligence? Yes, definitively, on both counts. Additionally, I’m not ignorant of the fact that “hey, let’s skip the Oscars and check out the 36 Moments Jennifer Lawrence Won At Life At The Oscars instead” sounds an awful lot like the 21st-century, post-collegiate version of “hey, let’s skip reading Hamlet for third-period English and watch the Ethan Hawke version instead.” And I realize how hypocritical it is to say that if my kid ever dared to voice the latter statement to my face, I’d lock him in his room and make him memorize the Norton Critical Edition until he turned 18.
But the thing is, I don’t think the two scenarios are really analogous. While anyone who watches the movie version of Hamlet in lieu of reading the book is getting less than a fraction of the experience of reading the original text, anyone who checks out the Oscar coverage on E! News in lieu of watching the event itself isn’t actually missing much. Let’s face it: Before there was such a thing as listicles, the Oscars was basically just a four-hour long listicle in televised form.
Think about it: pre-BuzzFeed, pre-Twitter, when you went to the office the morning after the Oscars, what did you talk about with your coworkers? Did you scratch your goatees and mull over the sociocultural significance of Cher’s Bob Mackie headpiece, or collaborate on an intricately worded post-colonial analysis of Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves acceptance speech? No, you ranked the top 5 worst Oscar dresses and snarked about how ridiculous Gwyneth Paltrow is. For all the arch sophisticated analysis critics and bloggers devote to the Oscars, for most people who watch it and talk about it with their friends, they might as well be speaking in Doge-speak.
The Oscars, the Emmys, even the Olympics: For the most part, these are not events worthy of serious discussion. They are events that are of great importance to the industries they honor and celebrate but are ultimately of fairly little significance to the public at large. They are meant to be consumed in bits and pieces, in GIFs and vines and tweets, maximized for virality and tailor-made for social sharing.
It’s OK if you disagree and want to respect the sanctity of these events by watching them in their entirety, but you know what? It’s also OK if you don’t. And if you’d prefer to apply this philosophy to this specific piece and skip it entirely, you’re welcome to do that as well, and here’s a GIF to sum it up:
Photo by Dave B/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)