Pop Culture

Let This Be What Ends Oscar Night. Please.

It's time to pull the plug on this nonsense.
It's time to pull the plug on this nonsense. Photo by Davidlohr Bueso/Flickr
Will Smith laid some fresh prints on the face of Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards ceremony after the comedian made an ableist joke onstage at the expense of Smith’s wife’s appearance. The high-profile smack Smith delivered has launched a thousand think pieces of what is an isn’t an appropriate response to hateful remarks, but let’s talk about something else.

Could we use Smith’s actions as an excuse to finally put Oscar Night in the ground for good?

Whatever side of the fight you fall on, I think we can all agree that the Oscars cannot have unscripted fisticuffs as a normal occurrence. If we want to watch middle aged men have slap fights over insults, WWE comes on Monday nights. So, will future ceremonies need bouncers in the front row? Will the hosts need bodyguards? Should we strip people who act violently of their awards, and if we do can we start with the 81 that Harvey Weinstein still has?

Or, let’s just skip all that and nix the archaic, dull, overly-indulgent affair all together.

It’s become increasingly clear that the Oscars are more chore than event, almost like a religious obligation for cinephiles and the industry. The ratings for the show have dropped steadily since the turn of the century, and like a Rock in the last decade. The Academy already charges ABC something like $100 million annually for the privilege of broadcasting the show, and now other networks are expected to pony up exorbitant licensing fees to shoot the red carpet.

That’s to say nothing of the fact that hosts no longer even want the gig. Having to be both banal enough to not offend the general public or the prickly stars in attendance while also not being boring is such a challenge that the previous three years didn’t even have hosts. For all that Rock’s joke was bigoted and awful, you can kind of see how the environment of Oscar Night drives comedians into the lowest common denominator for laughs.

All this expense and pressure is just not worth it for the spectacle that we get. Oscar Night is a rush of awards where in general only the most prestigious get big moments and the technical aspects of the movie business get sidelined. This year, even major awards like original score, animated short, makeup and hairstyling, and documentary short were culled from the broadcast. It’s done because people want to see stars and stars want to be seen, so integral parts of the movie making process are put in a sideshow to make way for more pomp.

Wouldn’t it make more sense at this point to simply release all the results at once on a certain date and time? Rather than arbitrarily decide which winners are worthy of the spotlight and which are not, everyone gets their name out there in one big dump without having to worry about the ratings on a Sunday night. Winners can have pre-recorded or pre-written statements, meaning that they don’t have to waste their moment in the sun because a studio executive is offstage tapping their watch. Those wins that are particularly historic or meaningful can have a chance to be more fully explored outside of a ticking clock or the restraints of the Oscar Night broadcasting policies.

If the stars, studio, and media want their red carpet, they could just host a preshow gala where nominees are all invited. There would be plenty of red carpet to go around and no one has to sit through hours of stilted presentation. The memoriam video could simply be released ahead of time through the internet and wouldn’t have to be shortened for time. All of this could be done better by being done away with.

Let Will Smith be the man who killed Oscar Night with one good slap. Let the whole thing die because we can’t have another incident like that again. It’s a good enough excuse to do something that has needed doing for a long time.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner