Awards shows continue to be produced because they appeal to the natural competitiveness all humans possess (whether consciously or not). While the expression of the human condition may be best conveyed through art, the concept that appeals to our instincts is sport; someone wins, someone loses. The only way for art to approximate achieving the attention that sporting events receive is to become sporting events in their own way; someone has to win to prove dominion, even if it's completely subjective.
For example, a show that merely listed a bunch of worthwhile films would not garner the attention laden on the awards shows such as the Oscars. Just like we have interest in seeing someone hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the Super Bowl, we find the holding of the little gold statue to be important enough to observe. Admittedly, far more people watch the Super Bowl, because that's an actual battle decided before our eyes, not merely the dominant collective whims of those who are in an organization to which most of us don't belong, but far more people watch the Oscars than watch the Ebert & Roeper show where the movies were initially reviewed (which, at best, pitted the films opening at the same time against each other, but even then there's not one left standing, so to speak, when the show is over; all could be deemed worthy or all could be deemed unworthy).
If nothing else, the fact that awards shows continue to be produced gives me a chance to mention this anecdote on the subject.
My girlfriend and I continue to watch some of these awards shows. We are often at best only somewhat familiar with the works nominated, and even less so with the works being awarded, but that does not stop our vicarious participation in the process (viewing a tape-delayed broadcast of the festivities, despite being mere miles away from the venue).
We go to the movies with some regularity—probably at least a couple times a month. I'm not sure whether that frequency puts us above, below, or at the average, but it strikes me as having at least a reasonable familiarity with the contemporary cinema. However, when the awards start to be announced in the early part of the year, invariably there are more movies nominated that we have not seen than we could possibly see before the awards show if we watched two each day.
My girlfriend still puts us on a heavy viewing schedule in January to try to catch what we can, but it is always futile. Still, that's the point of them having the shows in the first place: to spur those who seek to be kinda with-it to get out to the theaters so we can delude ourselves with thoughts of having a basis for judgment.
Why judging art is encouraged this way is another issue, and one we shan't explore now.
I don't track entertainment news with any fervor, but in the interest of full disclosure it should be noted that she has a subscription to Entertainment Weekly. Occasionally while flipping through channels I stop for a few minutes at the E! network, when there's absolutely nothing else on (not even sports highlights on ESPN). Of course, the coverage that leads up to the major (or even minor) awards shows gets makes it difficult to claim to be oblivious to what those who handicap the races (so to speak) have to say about who is considered the front-runner in the most prominent categories.
Nonetheless, the favorites don't always win. At the Academy Awards last year, Crash beat out Brokeback Mountain. However, that's all I remember about the awards from a year ago. Okay, that's all I remember about any Oscars show. Ever.
(Don't worry. Other people are keeping track of remembering these things. I presume.)
Just like there's no reason we should have any active interest in the broadcasts, there's even less reason we should try our hand at predicting the winners; it's not like we have any inside connection to the voting process, or, as noted, even much personal basis to judge one performance over another. It's the equivalent of going to the track and placing a bet on a horse because it's pretty, from the standpoint of making an informed decision. Nonetheless, my girlfriend prints out ballots for us to try our hand at guessing who will win.
I do watch a reasonable amount of TV. I spend far more time watching shows than I do watching movies. I would not consider myself any more fanatical about TV than I am about movies, but by virtue of it being available in my home, I see more of it.
For the recent Golden Globes show, there were 14 movie categories, and 11 television categories. Out of those 25, there were three were I had seen all the nominated works. (It is no coincidence that they were all comedy-related ones.) There were many where I'd seen none of the nominees. All in all, I had little foundation for my speculation on my ballot. Still, it stood to reason that I would fare better with the small screen awards than the big screen ones.
In the movie categories I correctly guessed 11 of the 14; in the TV categories I correctly guessed 5 of the 11. Of the three categories where I saw all of the nominees, I guess only one correctly. (Even that doesn't fill me with pride; it's not like any of the comedies had a chance against Dreamgirls. Why musicals are put in the same category I still don't understand.)
Clearly, familiarity with the material works against me in such games.
Frankly, actually seeing the works probably runs contrary to being able to guess how journalists would vote en masse; there's no emotional connection to any of the movies or shows to cloud one's ability to go with the name whispered by the little voice in one's head. Really, of course, the game is not so much deciding which one was actually better than the others but attempting to anticipate how the Hollywood Foreign Press is likely to vote; there's an art to that, I suppose, but it has little to do with the art nominated.
"I am vacant of my own opinions sufficiently to guess how those with opinions ostensibly more important than mine will vote. Hooray for me!"
The only award for choosing so well in the one category: Being in the doghouse because I got more right than she did. (Just kidding, honey!)
There's really no justifying any of this. Really. But we'll still be watching the Academy Awards next weekend.
A spectacle is a spectacle, I suppose.