Friday, March 4, 2011

rationalizing the Oscar's

The 83rd Academy Awards were held Sunday night, Feb. 27. Millions watched but ratings were incomparable to previous Oscar shows. There was a reported 10 percent decrease in ratings to 2010's (viewership was at 41.7 million, while this year's was 37.6 million), despite the show's efforts in ringing in a younger viewer pool by having James Franco and Anne Hathaway host. "Producers have developed the idea of making this year’s Oscars a ‘visual journey through movie history’ and should be hosted by ‘young and energetic actors,'" the IBTimes reported.

While their efforts fell short, and both received harsh criticism for their highly awkward hosting skills, it is still unknown why the response to the show was so bleak. Is the answer in capitalism? In sociological studies, Max Weber argues that capitalism is a rational system in the sense of being calculating, efficient, reducing uncertainty, and increasing predictability. Using capitalism to describe the Academy Awards is a loaded term but the underlying factors in creating a show that has a specific target audience far from what is normally expected is intrinsic of good marketing and PR, both consumer capitalist industries.

Weber developed four types of rationality, but the one I am interested in is formal rationality, under which "we are not left to our own devices, but rather we use existing rules, regulations, and structures that either predetermine the optimum methods or help us discover them." Formal rationality paved the way for institutionalized structures like bureaucracy, whose systems are intended to make an individual's life easier, more efficient. However, they have become so entrenched and so immovable and inflexible that the individual is trapped and controlled by them.

At the Oscar's last week, young adults were presuppositioned to watch because its hosts would be the youngest in history. Is the their method for vying a younger audience a rational tactic? If so, it worked because according to Reuters, the night kept 95% of their young audiences, ages 18-34, tuned in.

Fusing the young with the old actors is touching, and taps into the background of each actor's craft - young actors are here because the old have paved the way for them. Halle Berry acknowledged this in her presentation of Lena Horne, for instance. However, I don't recall Franco or Hathaway introduce each film category in its historic context. The presenters did. If young Hollywood isn't able to embrace and present the classics, then what was the point?

This ploy for 20-somethings to watch an awards show they normally wouldn't is similar to one form of formal rationality, calculability. It involves means that are "calculated, counted, and quantified." At the Oscar's, the primary concern was to draw in the quantity of viewers, not the quality. Perhaps producers rationed the calculability of young viewers in casting Franco and Hathaway, since 80% of the nominated actors and actresses are over the age of 30. The youngest nominated actress was 14 year old Hailee Steinfeld, while the youngest male actor Jesse Eisenberg is 27. So long as a younger host can keep viewers entertained, it doesn't matter who is or who isn't nominated. Quantity over quality.

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