It’s been a few weeks since this year’s Academy Awards. The images of beautiful actresses in their sparkling gowns have faded from our minds and the smiles of the many winners are but a distant memory. This, then, is the perfect moment to look back at the annual event and reflect. Who watched? Who won? Does it even matter?
First held in 1929, the Academy Awards have been celebrating artistic achievement for decades. Watching the show on television has become an annual tradition for many families, with “Oscar parties” held across the country on the night of the ceremony. Yet the Academy has struggled to maintain the relevance of their lavish awards show. Each year, it selects hosts and performances that it hopes will attract viewers between 18 and 49 years of age, and each year it seems that the host has been asked to remind viewers incessantly that movies are more than just moving pictures. At this year’s show, host Neil Patrick Harris reflected on the capability of movies to “remind us to stay brave in the face of danger, to chase impossible dreams, and to stand up for our rights”. While watching a movie can be an entertaining and even moving way to spend an hour or two, Harris’s claims seem like a bit of an overstatement, a fact reflected in this year’s ratings.
Despite attracting a charismatic host known for his role on the hit TV sitcom “How I Met Your Mother”, the Academy was unable to prevent this year’s Academy Awards from being the least watched since 2009. While this might well be a result of the relative obscurity of some of the films nominated for Best Picture when compared to the nominees of previous years, such as Avatar or even The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it is just as likely a reflection of the evolution of entertainment. When College Prep students were asked to choose between movies, television, or online videos such as those uploaded to YouTube and Vine, only 37% of students claimed to prefer watching films. Over 50% chose television, and an impressive 10% chose the online videos. As the attention spans of the younger generation shrinks and we shift towards forms of entertainment that take less and less commitment and time, it seems unlikely that in the years to come large amounts of people will choose to set aside four to five hours to watch celebrities win golden trophies.
Furthermore, the movies College Prep students enjoy just aren’t being recognized or awarded by the Academy, a group of experts in the film industry that is made up primarily of white men. This year, the movie that captured the title of Best Picture, Birdman, was the second-to-least watched by College Prep students of any of the movies in that category. Remarkably, American Sniper, the highest grossing of any of the nominated films, was actually the least watched by students, with only 10.34% of those who took the poll having seen it. Birdman was watched by 13.79% of the students, while The Grand Budapest Hotel, seen by 44.83% of students,was the film most commonly watched. About a third of responders (29.31%) hadn’t seen any of the films nominated for Best Picture. Additionally, when asked to name their favorite movie of all time, students chose movies such as The Avengers, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Mean Girls, and The Devil Wears Prada, which, while being wonderful and often hilarious movies, just aren’t really Academy material.
So do the Oscars matter, and does anyone still care? With all of the evidence pointing otherwise, it would seem that they still do. Though only a fraction of College Prep students had seen the movie that would take home the top prize, 53.45% of them made the decision to spend the final hours of their weekend honoring the individuals whose efforts produced what the Academy deemed the best movies of 2014. It is unclear whether, in the years to come, the glitz and glamor of the Oscars will be enough to attract teenagers who would rather watch Tyler Oakley answer fan tweets than Michael Keaton pretend to be a washed-up actor, but, as the saying goes, only time will tell.