Commentary: The declining (and rising) relevancy of awards shows

Awards shows have been dying for years. This has been the narrative ever since cable’s popularity dropped and streaming became the medium through which many consume their favourite TV shows and movies. Ask anyone under 30 and they may not remember the last time they went out of their way to turn on the television to watch three hours of elaborate gowns and movies they don’t recognize win awards.

Awards shows have been losing their lustre the past decade. Last year’s Oscars drew the smallest audience since 2008 and the viewership counts have been smaller compared to previous decades’ numbers. Students have noticed.

Christen Curran-Wall, a first-year student at St. Thomas University, sometimes tunes into awards shows, mainly for keeping up with her favourite celebrities and the red carpet, but believes they are held for the purpose of enforcing an inspiration for others, that is, if Hollywood still has an influence on their life.

“A lot of people just don’t care anymore,” said Curran-Wall.

Zachary Hansen, a STU first-year student, believes the Oscars are important for the actors themselves. They exist to award those who have performed well.

He’s never watched the Oscars before, but he implies he doesn’t need to. He hears about it in other ways.

“It’s online … and there are plenty of other shows to watch, so no one cares,” said Hansen.

(Vincent Jiang/AQ)

However, in the midst of the changing tides, flavours of social justice has added to the mix of awards shows. The 2016 campaign of #OscarsSoWhite and the 2018 #TimesUp and #MeToo movement have all dominated the discourse over more mundane celebrity gossip.

Jamie Gillies, a communications professor at STU, is a self-proclaimed fanboy of awards shows. He loves movies and music. So, to him, feeling like an “active participant” in these cultural industries is appealing.

But, in the case of more recent awards shows, he has noticed a change in tone.

“[Actors, directors, and those in that industry] see their role to advocate or champion things where public opinion hasn’t caught up,” said Gilles.

Hollywood, as a liberal-minded industry, usually focuses on issues not yet widely accepted by the public. Directors and producers launch movies about issues they feel need to be faced and are at liberty to do so in the safety of their creative sphere.

Gilles believes awards shows are the perfect place to push these messages and make a difference in the world.

“Awards shows provide platforms for these cultural industries as an opportunity to highlight things in larger society,” said Gillies.

So, even if cable is part of a dying world which is being replaced by streaming services, these awards shows remain relevant in popular culture for a reason: they have a message to share. Gilles remains a fan, for one way or another, even if students may not see a reason to tune in.

“I’m sure there’s other people who think they shouldn’t try to combine politics and activism with the arts,” he said.

“If you’ve got an opportunity to, as they see it, do some good, they probably want that opportunity and the awards shows are the perfect spectacle to do that.”

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