Sunday, March 7, 2010

More equal than others?

Tonight (US time) the latest round of Academy Awards will be announced. The Oscars are one of the biggest events on the annual international arts calendar. But why?

There are a number of answers. The film industry sees the decisions of the Academy as markers that each year slightly readjust the celebrity hierarchy. An Oscar not only boosts the earnings of the current crop of films. It also tells the studios who is hot for the next round.

For cinema goers, the Academy's verdict acts like an arbiter of good taste. It not only tells us the films we ought to have seen, it also confirms our own taste if the films that we like are also those that the Academy's experts give their stamp of approval.

The role of this kind of authoritative approval in contemporary culture is full of contradictions. Traditional authority in the form of the university professor talking down to us about the virtues of renaissance art is out. Experts talk about a democratisation of the arts occuring. Postmodern relativism told us that everybody's opinion on what made art good was equally valid. But our enormous adulation of the Academy Awards (and the attendant opportunity for some celebrity worship) shows how reliant on expert validation we remain. Clearly, while our opinions are all equal, some are more equal than others!

Photo: Stephen McKay