It will be interesting to see what the press conference scheduled for 13 January brings. For the first time in many, many years, the Golden Globes, the more party/perfunctory wrap up of the annual awards season is unable to shower the deserving and the questionable (Pia Zadora?) with their tiny trophies. Thanks to the writer’s strike, and the complementary decision by the Screen Actors Guild to honor same, there will be no soirées, no foreign press corps preening, no bifurcated categories, and perhaps most importantly, no early gauge as to who and what might walk away with an Oscar come 24 February.
Film fans have had a love/loathe relationship with the blatant schmooze/shill fest since it dropped the outsider pose (with all its easily bribed and/or bought rewards) and became an Academy bookie. It used to be that the Globes played also-ran to the more formidable, formal cinematic BMOC. But by trying to legitimize itself as more critical and less comical, performers and studios have seen the event as a excellent catalyst. It’s a way of building momentum for an underdog. They’ve also used is as a way of gaining recognition for an unheralded project/person or plugging the gaps in a failing publicity campaign.
But thanks to a unionized effort to get already well paid insiders a few cents more for their services, the Golden Globes are forced to cancel this year’s ceremony. Even a proposed plan to have presenters travel to the different industry parties and hand out trophies to the winners was nixed. With Oscar nervous, and sponsor ABC jockeying to prevent a similar situation, we could be facing an awards season without the very thing that makes it attractive/aggravating - the self-serving spectacle of an overproduced, overlong, self-serving ceremony. Unlike the year where a walk out by baseball players caused the cancellation of the World Series, however, few will probably bemoan the loss of the famed black-tie blight.
The sports analogy is viable since, for many outside the Hollywood wire, the strike appears like two groups of unfathomably wealthy individuals arguing over who gets the last serving of caviar. Of course, that’s unfair and untrue, but we’re talking about the all important concept of perception here, not the clauses and subsections of a collective bargaining agreement. There is much more on the table than the money derived from the medium’s rapid digitization, but tell that to the family unable to afford a night at the movies, or the triple digit cable bill, and you’ll find little sympathy. This is not meant as a slam against workers demanding their rights. It’s just a reminder that not everyone sees this as a selfless stand.
Cancelling shows that most outside the business already dismiss may not be the best strategy. It will win a few fans - on a recent podcast, Clerks king Kevin Smith said he’d LOVE to see awards season reduced to a series of brief, by the book announcements - while others have lamented the fact that artists who’ve worked, sometimes for years, are not being allowed that additional moment in the limelight that a nomination (and potential win) provides. It’s an intriguing concept, since a statuette and a gift bag are nice. But in a realm where everything is ego, is that five minutes of mega-fame, followed by a network mandated musical cue play-off, the ultimate validation?
Think of it this way - you spend years working at crap jobs and minimal corporate positions, all in pursuit of a single, always elusive goal. You try, are turned back, and try again. You make inroads only to have the pathway ripped up and placed along some other topography. Somehow, through persistence, place, and a good deal of personal sacrifice, you make it in. You’re talent is rewarded, you never again have to sling hash or wonder if someone would like fries with that. Your friends and family finally stop thinking of you as a slightly insane pipe dreamer, and your every career wish is now just a mere pitch/contract/greenlight away.
Now, let’s go a step further. Let’s say that the fruit of your intense, lifelong labors have finally come to fruition. Success - measured in money or mentions - is here, and it feels oh so good. Then, something wonderful happens. Said triumph turns back at you, and your peers are demanding to recognize and reward you. It begins with those typically critical of your career, and then begins to bubble up from those who you directly compete with. Before long, certificates and other swag are shoved in your direction, with promises of the big party just around the corner. That’s right, the ultimate goal, the final fulfillment of all you’ve worked for…and then the door is closed. No one is invited, no one is allowed to attend.
No matter how nominal, actors and actresses, writers and directors, tech people and other production crew work damn hard for something like the Globes. For every person recognized, thousands would kill just for the off chance at replacing them. Receiving an award, like recent Emmy recipient Kathy Griffin noted, means that every time someone mentions your name, they have to preface it with “X Winner…” such and such. So forget all the George C. Scott/Marlon Brando machinations about rejecting competition among fellow artists - in a biz that will spit you out quicker than it will ever embrace you (especially in the talent interchangeable ‘00s) - reducing any award, by definition, lessens its significance.
Someone like Diablo Cody must be shifting uncomfortably in her ex-stripper pants right about now. As the out of nowhere flavor du jour in this awards season (she wrote the pop culture reference heavy script for Juno), she’s that highly touted talent who, on a yearly basis, gets both sides of the issue enflamed. Some see her as a new, novel voice in a realm where everything is predictable and pat. Others view her as Quentin Tarantino after one too many estrogen laced pixie sticks. Whatever the case, Cody has enough steam to plow through the next few months with many trophies, a fashion faux pax or two, and a three picture deal from some suckered studio.
But instead of getting to gloat over all this ‘sudden’ success, Ms. Cody gets to protect the picket lines. As numerous critics groups hand out their plaudits, she gets to sit at home and enjoy an indirect moment of satisfaction. If the Oscars should be cancelled, or truncated somehow, the biggest moment in what could be a very short career as a screenwriter will be traded for some far off monetary equilibrium. And let’s say the writers fail to win their position. Will someone like Cody appreciate the fact that her one chance at universal acknowledgement came at the expense of a losing cause? For an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis or Johnny Depp, the Golden Globes and The Academy will probably be everpresent concerns. But many first timers will feel the pinch come the time to rip open the envelope.
Of course, no one will miss the bad speeches, the political grandstanding, the numerous mentions of God, Jesus, the little people, “everyone I’m forgetting”, the bad presenter banter or horrendous ‘live’ versions of the Best Song. The spectacle of seeing your favorite film star bathed in the glory of his celebrity constituency will be lost, but so will a great deal of needless pomp and backslapping circumstance. Besides, Oscar tends to get it wrong more times than not. Do we really need to see another Shakespeare in Love/Saving Private Ryan moment, or the long lapsed recognition of someone (Spielberg, Scorsese) who should have been acknowledged decades before? Being out of touch is one thing. Having such a stance forced upon you by disgruntled employees just may be the remedy the entire system needs.
Shake up or not, it will be interesting to see what happens come Sunday. How will the media treat the marginalized moment? How much play will the Writer’s Guild get, and will their message be mired in the appearance of arrogant impropriety? Frankly, will anyone outside the obsessive really care that there’s no glitzy show biz-y banquet, that their favorite faces aren’t gussied up in red carpet accoutrement waiting for an entertainment talking head to ask them who designed their duds?
As with any ongoing issue, the strike will harm more everyday elements (favorite TV shows, upcoming movie releases) than a once a year entity of entitlement. Yet when a labor disagreement can adversely effect the most superficial of spectacle (cue Golden Globes theme song), it may be time to reconsider the structure all together. Maybe it’s time to revamp the entire awards season strategy once and for all. It’s been a long time coming. A passive approach only guarantees that someone - or something - else will end up doing it for you…and you see how that’s worked out so far.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.