Originally published on thedickinsonian.com February of 2013.
The Oscars are about celebrating the multiple facets of the art of film—the actors, the costumes, the special effects, the screenplay, and so on. To some, it honors the behind-the-scenes work of an art form that many people all over the world admire and enjoy. To others, it is a fashion show to drool over and critique. Yet one common theme among discussions about the Academy Awards is the brevity and general superficiality of the acceptance speeches.
Something that I find really irritating is fake gratitude. Whether or not their actual feelings are genuine, reflective, or gracious, the expectations put upon the award winners by the structure of the show tend to facilitate remarks with minimal inspiration and reflection for the public and other artists to internalize.
First, the enforced time limit with “chasing out” music cuts off the displays of gratitude too quickly in my opinion. Sometimes the music can’t come soon enough to rescue the audience from awkward moments. Most of the time, however, they barely have three seconds to say something personally crafted after they finish name-dropping the 10 plus “most important people” they worked with to make the film great. Of course I understand the need for a cut off point, but for the love of etiquette, don’t signal that time’s up with the suspenseful, eye darting iconic tune of JAWS! That is the instrumental version of heckling.
Second, I find the custom of name-dropping annoying, impersonal, and not at all inspiring. I guess the point of it is to demonstrate that many kinds of talent and vision go into the making of a noteworthy film and to give credit to the people behind-the-scenes who make the movie possible. But we all know that. The Oscars celebrate more than just the actors and directors because each award category represents the different departments of artistry that contribute to a film’s excellence. Plus, if you led an effort that supported the making of the film and someone else receives an award for their role with the film and they don’t mention your name, does that negate the significance of your work? No, but that is the fear behind name-dropping: your work only counts if everyone knows about it.
So I want to thank Jim Erickson, the winner of the Production Design Oscar for Lincoln, and First Lady Michelle Obama, who introduced the award for Best Picture with actor Jack Nicholson, for being the exception to the rule. They shared remarks that at least sound like they come from the heart and not from a manager. While Michelle Obama’s introduction had the tone of a political message aimed to support the inclusion of arts programs in education, it also served as the perfect climactic closing message to acknowledge the power and importance of art forms in our lives.
When I am watching movies and the Oscars, I am looking to be inspired. I want food for thought. I want to have something to reflect on and apply to my own life as an artist and young professional. So forgive me if I am not satisfied with the many speeches that throw away the opportunity to reiterate the importance of art, creativity, vision, and the faith to see it through. What could be a better time to inspire people than at the show that is meant to celebrate the significance of these very things? That is what I would call an untapped resource.