An incredibly easy way to test whether someone is in a defensive crouch is whether or not they’re claiming that all publicity is good publicity. And the producers of the Academy Awards are doing precisely that after a widely-maligned ceremony hosted by comedian Seth MacFarlane.
“People have complained for years and years that the Oscars were becoming irrelevant,” Neil Meron told The Hollywood Reporter. “And I think what we did this year is to really make them part of the cultural conversation, and I think that’s the important part that people will take away.”
It’s awfully depressing that the ambitions for a production with a purported billion-person audience that’s meant to celebrate an industry that creates internationally compelling images and stories is to be “part of the cultural conversation.” Hosting awards shows is a difficult thing, requiring the hosts to be funny, potentially to be musical depending on the show, to frame guest presenters artfully, to act in sketches, to switch tones effectively between humor and honor. That’s not an easy mix of skills to find in a single person, and I understand why there are so many failures to design effective ceremonies, and why people like Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg end up hosting so frequently.
But in a good awards ceremony, the content itself ought to be the news, and the host’s primary job should be to showcase the content. And if you have good content, particularly that which represents conflicting viewpoints and styles, which was the case at this year’s Academy Awards, that content should propel you into the news cycle. The contrasts between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, and between Django Unchained and Lincoln alone should have been enough to generate a compelling drive towards the end of the evening. And if Meron and company weren’t interested in making the event into a competition, then why not stick with their theme, which was music in the movies? It could have been a way of narrowing the host’s tasks, and the kind of guests that the producers needed to recruit. But then, if you’re going to screw up the sound mixing on Adele’s performance, maybe that wasn’t a good idea either. At minimum, I’d hope the ceremony could have the same technical competence as the movies it’s celebrating.