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Published:December 27th, 2006 09:24 EST
Tis the Season to be Holly

Tis the Season to be Holly

By Julia Bottles

It is December in Los Angeles, and that can mean only one thing: awards season is fully underway for the film industry and as it does every year, it is taking the city by storm.  

The aware observer in Southern California can discern the changes that begin to take place during this time of year easily, but so many Los Angelinos live with the self-congratulatory awards hype that surrounds these events "especially the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscars "that it hardly registers as a blip on our radars.  However, alterations in everyday life certainly manifest themselves during these next few months, and everyone in Los Angeles is touched by it whether they recognize it or not.

The hometown newspaper of Southern California, The Los Angeles Times has not missed the opportunity to capitalize upon its region`s entertainment savvy public.  Open the newspaper`s Calendar " section and out falls an independent tabloid size segment from between the theater reviews and actor interviews that normally populate the pages of the arts and entertainment segment.  The Envelope, " as it is called, is dedicated to everything awards-related, highlighting the hot studio buzz for the week and hype leading up to the grand dame of shows, the Oscars.  Most prominently featured, however, are ads boldly announcing the nomination of various films for industry accolades.  The awards show du jour is the Golden Globes.  However, despite being a legitimate awards ceremony in their own right (and ironically one I prefer to the Oscars for the more casual nature of the broadcast), the Golden Globes only aspire to touch the importance of the Oscars within the film industry.  As far as movies are concerned, the Academy Awards have been the gold standard since the first awards show held on May 16, 1929, and media frenzy has surrounded the distribution of the golden statues when a live radio broadcast covered the results the following year.

One must take note of the fact that The Envelope " reads more as a trade publication dedicated to voting academy members than a common newspaper.  Therein lays the essential importance of these awards shows.  Despite what critics might say about these shows being self-congratulatory (which they undoubtedly are), one cannot ignore the fact that the American public pays attention to these events.

Oscar Day is a prime example of the public frenzy surrounding these ceremonies.  That day in March might as well be declared a regional holiday in Los Angeles.  All across Southern California, people leave work early or set their TiVos and VCRs to ensure they do not miss a moment of the comically long ceremony.  Office Oscar pools are legendary for being both fiercely competitive and famously lucrative for winner members.  Thus, an upset in one of the major categories quickly triggers multiple calls to friends not currently present as viewers rant or cheer the results.

I am personally no different from these people.  Movies have always been around me, and since I was old enough to fall in love with film as an art form, I have been a loyal view of the Academy Awards.  Every year, my family sits down to watch the red carpet arrivals as we flip back and forth between channels to guarantee that we never see a commercial.  Shortly before the opening sequence, pizza arrives; this is one of the few nights my family deviates from cooking and orders in.  Hunkered down on the couch, we watch the entire broadcast.  Inevitably, we will affectionately lament that the show might as well be the same broadcast from the year before with different names inserted into the badly read teleprompter text.  We will groan over long, ego-stroking speeches and become personally offended at poor fashion choices.  As happens every year, we will do while acknowledging that we love the Hollywood`s grand dame of awards shows. 

Because of its seeming shallowness, award season leading up to the Oscars meets with criticism every year.  People call the shows self-congratulatory and ridiculous.  They say that they are excruciatingly long and painfully boring.  Critics are right on all of these accounts.  The world would be just fine without the film industry`s awards shows.  People would live their lives, and the order of the universe would remain intact despite the protestation of Hollywood agents.  However, to understand the hype and excitement that surround these shows is to understand something about our culture.  I contend that the Oscars and every subsequent awards ceremony have value in that they embracing of an element of popular culture, which in turn reflects the ideas and trends that comprise our society.            

There is a great deal of intrinsic value in these shows.  An examination of social history leads one to the understanding that elements of popular culture ranging from tabloids to popular literature to blockbuster movies all give social critics and historians an opportunity to explore a society`s cultural composition.  Thus, through the naming of Best Picture, the Academy members leave behind a record of the social trends, political opinions, and economic motivators, which informed their decisions regarding that award.  This is why films such as Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, On the Waterfront, and In the Heat of the Night to name just a few won the Best Picture award; these are all films that captured some element of society that comprised culture whether that be race issues, warfare, or social conditions.  This bit of popular culture is vital not only in understanding film history but also in capturing a glimpse of the political, social, and economic climate of a film`s time. 

The coming of awards season is about as surprising as a 70 degree day on Christmas in Los Angeles.  The city thrives around the film industry`s excitement and hype.  It becomes entwined in the everyday lives of residents and comprises a vital role in the identity of not only Los Angelinos but also the society being represented through these films.