Oscars don’t assign a film’s value

Last September, I wrote an article claiming “Firefly” fans construct the show’s significance. The idea of “Firefly” is more culturally important than anything the ill-fated program ever achieved.

Most responses assumed I hadn’t seen the show or the film, fans bristling at the idea that what they valued didn’t have as much inherent importance as it’s accumulated since its end.

When we create something and assign it meaning, that act of assigning that meaning is sometimes more significant than anything found in the thing itself. That, simply put, is the Oscars.

Right now, many of you are rolling your eyes. I agree. The ever-widening divide between popular film and “awards fare” means the Academy Awards are, frankly, failing in relevancy. Add in misguided attempts to nab “cool” hosts and the result is James Franco in drag, drinking games and excessive gifs.

Even Academy voters aren’t as reverential as we’d assume. The Hollywood Reporter recently released “An Oscar Voter’s Brutally Honest Ballot,” detailing an unnamed film director’s somewhat arbitrary process of selecting the best films of 2012.

Between flipping to choose Best Animated Feature and calling one Best Actress nominee “Alphabet Wallis,” the article is both dismissive and candid, a peek into the flippant reality of Hollywood’s most prestigious event.

For instance, much has been said about Ben Affleck’s Best Director snub, especially in light of (or simply resulting in) his string of wins at every other major award show. His lack of a nomination has done more for his career than any Oscar could. The list of artists who have never won in the director’s category alone is enough to delegitimize the show.

If the honors don’t matter and the voters don’t care, why should we?

Like “Firefly,” the Oscars have become more potent as a concept, imbued with meaning beyond the actual creation itself. The kerfuffle over Affleck’s snub and his consequent impressive winning streak proves not that the Academy Awards don’t matter, but that they matter a great deal. Bringing up “Oscar” when regarding a work or artist is an automatic assignment of value.

The award itself may not mean much, but the idea of the “Oscar” is crucial to the conversation of quality film, reaching a point when the award’s prestige has surpassed the award itself.

“Skyfall” didn’t get a Best Picture nomination, but we talked about it. Christopher Nolan and Ben Affleck have never been nominated, but we talked about them. If the campaigns have illustrated anything, talk is powerful.

Arbitrarily chosen, steeped in politics and reflecting the taste of the few and not the many, “Oscar” is nonetheless a widely accepted indication of value — a buzz word charged with implication.

“Firefly” fans assumed I couldn’t see the same value they did. Academy Award commentators assumed Academy voters are equally blind to the film works they value. In these scenarios, meaning isn’t derived from the thing itself but from its connotations.

To say a work is “Oscar-worthy” isn’t acknowledging a state of being, an intrinsic quality revealed and legitimized with nominations and wins. It’s providing a basis of measurement or a descriptive term to navigate the tension between personal sentimentality and objective analysis.

That terminology is pivotal in discussions of any art. Rather than choose between pure objectivity and pure subjectivity, we establish a frame of reference crucial to opening a dialogue.

Let’s talk about art and make the Academy Awards the facilitator, not the finality.

 

Reach the columnist at esther.drown@asu.edu or follow her at @EMDrown

 

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