Wall Street Journal article lamenting the Oscars

On Wednesday I read an article in the print edition of the Wall Street Journal entitled “Put the Oscars Out of Their Misery.”  This one wasted ink on all the familiar criticisms—the three hour telecast is bloated and boring, no one has heard of the nominees, and no one wants to hear the political posturing of a bunch of rich celebrities preaching to a friendly crowd.  Articles like this have become as much a part of the Academy Awards as the red carpet and gold statues. 

The criticism falls into two categories:

Point One:  No one cares because no one is watching.

It’s a cheap shot to point out that less than 10 million people watched the Oscars in 2021, a year when no one went to the movies and the ceremony was stripped down due to pandemic restrictions.  The WSJ article condescendingly sniffs that in comparison nearly 100 million people watched the Super Bowl. 

But if you have to compete with the Super Bowl to matter, than literally nothing does.  Twenty-nine of the top 30 all-time rated broadcasts in America are Super Bowls. 

The other is the 1983 M*A*S*H finale.

Yes, it’s an undeniable fact that fewer people than ever watch the Oscars.  But fewer people watch everything these days.  In an age of endless choice no individual show can capture the audience of its heyday.

Chart of the decline of ratings for the Academy Awards ceremony

In 2020, the last year before the pandemic, the Oscars were still the 8th most-watched event on television, surpassing even the presidential debate. 

And yes, these number are incomplete because many of the streaming services don’t publish their numbers.  But regardless of its actual place on the list, a lot of people still watch the Oscars, even if just to complain about the show on Twitter, the world’s modern day work-from-home water cooler.

Point Two:  No one cares because they don’t matter

Today, there’s little doubt that the buzz is all around episodic televisions shows.  The talk is of Game of Thrones, Tiger King, and Squid Games.  People binge six old episodes of The Office rather than watching a film.

How can it possibly matter who wins an award for a movie no one’s seen?

In some ways, the Oscars matter more than ever.  They’re no longer a coronation for the year’s favorite films.  They’re a road map leading viewers through a noisy world filled with network television, cable television, a myriad of streaming options, and You Tube.

As Theodore Sturgeon once said, “ninety percent of everything is crap.”  We’ve never had a bigger pool of mediocrity to wade through to find film’s hidden gems.

Raunchy comedies and superhero movies don’t need Oscars for exposure.  Today’s Oscars help viewers find a certain kind of film, what are often called films for adults (not to be confused with adult films.)

The Oscars don’t always get it right—and pointing out when they get it wrong is one of my favorite hobbies—but over time they’ve created a catalogue showcasing the best of American cinema. 

The Oscars don’t matter?  The Oscars are the surest way for a film, director, or star to reach immortality.

Maybe you don’t care about that.

But I do.

And the Wall Street Journal cares too, despite its protests to the contrary.  It gave over a quarter of a page in the print edition—some of the most precious real estate left in journalism—to complaining about how the Oscars don’t matter.

When the Oscars really don’t matter, they won’t have to write articles explaining that they don’t.

When the Oscars don’t matter, no one will talk about them at all.

This year, the Best Actress Race has my full attention.  You’ve got five great choices, but my rooting interest is with Nicole Kidman for her role as Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos.

If she won, she’d become only the 15th woman to hold two Best Actress Oscars, vaulting her into the company of such legends as Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, and Meryl Streep.  I’d like to see Kidman among them—she’s survived thirty plus years in Hollywood, and reinvented herself as a television and now streaming movie star.

She’s got a touch of old Hollywood about her—everyone has heard of her, but she remains unknowable in the way of a true legend.  She doesn’t post her every inane thought on Twitter or a picture of every breakfast on Instagram.

Plus, I loved Being the Ricardos, and she’s sensational as Lucille Ball.

So who cares about the Oscars?  Who’ll be watching tonight?

I do.  And I will.