Oscars. Worth More Than East Timor

The Academy Awards. Last night, a hundred-some-odd million viewers in over 106 countries watched the glitz-and-glam show. Personally, I don’t see the interest in watching rich, beautiful folks pat each other on the back. I’ve tried, but not once have I been able to sit through an entire Oscar show. These people already get way too much undeserved attention and money thrown at them for a what amounts to an easy job, too much freedom, and a "living the dream"-fueled superficial existence. There’s something very perverse about wanting to watch them gather in a room and getting singled out for this? True, there are more starving actors than there are wealthy ones, but, let’s be honest, the Oscars really isn't about hard facts and reality; Oscar Night is all about celebrating Hollywood excess and keeping those artificial wheels well greased.    

Selection biases; complaints of cronyism; popular and pathetic pandering; all the usual criticisms aside, what baffles me is the dollar amount associated with this one evening. What other industry spends an estimated $35 to 40 million just to hand out statuettes?  
The current ”world’s most expensive party” title is attributed to the luxury resort, Atlantis, The Palm, with a lavish grand opening beach party (Nov. 20, 2008) for over 2000 guests that cost $35 million. This included a $6.8M fireworks display and a $ 4M Kylie Minogue concert, as well as several other events. And yes, this was Dubai, where over-the-top extravagance rhymes with incredibly stupid spending.  
So, how the hell does Hollywood manage to spend $40M for a 3-hour-21-minute awards ceremony? Proof that watching people receiving awards then thanking countless others, especially god, isn’t an exciting activity per se if it warrants spending that much to make it magical? And what are we to make of the fact that, according to ABC spokesperson Andrea Canning, more than a year’s worth of preparation goes into each Oscar Night? Before 2011’s show aired, ABC was already in the planning for 2012’s.  
Only one thing can justify such expenditures: substantially larger revenues.

So one thing should be clear: it’s not really about the awards and recognition. Yet, the Academy Awards isn’t  "big business" as much as it is the whole of Hollywood giving themselves a Holy Day in the grand sense of holiday. Oscar Night has become an inescapable tradition that, like Christmas or Easter, relies on and propagates a myth that is able to create a major and lucrative pre, during and post event buzz for such an otherwise mundane, subjective affair. I’ll leave it up to readers to draw parallels between The Academy and Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Christ, et al., but it should be noted that The Academy, like them, is able to generate massive and unjustified spending and revenue streams. This is why The Academy isn’t big business by itself, it sits above it, belongs to all those that can profit from this yearly celebration; it’s a make-or-break event for certain companies and the reason-to-be-for others. For celebrants, it’s an unreasoned reason to spend unjustified amounts and to spread the ol’ joy. How much joy? 
According to CNN, had the 2008 Oscars been cancelled due to the writer’s strike, this “no-show” would have cost $400M to Los Angeles and the industry. That’s more than the GDP of at least 15 countries and Republics that’s generated out of one TV extravaganza.      
The salary of show producers, organizers, engineers, and technicians notwithstanding, vast sums are pumped into pure frivolity. From hotels to caterers, airlines and limo drivers, hairdressers and jewellers to fashion consultants and designers, personal trainers and all ancillary trades taking advantage of people with too much money and the warped sense of values that one inherits in a la la land where image is as all, convinced that this evening is their fairy tale moment; this validates a need for thousand-dollar hair styles, and tens of thousands on a one-time-only wardrobe as well as for car and jewellery rentals, all this for just a few hours.
But does that include all the drugs and escorts and other big-bash necessities?  

And there are the Paparazzi and tabloid magazines and gossip shows; Oscar-specialized publications and even “serious” news; betting pools and predictions of all sorts, all these and more generating billions of printed or broadcast words in the month that precedes and follows the event (which I’m partaking in, I know).

And then there’s all the advertising opportunities. Tremendous amounts of them. ABC was able to sell its 30-sec slots for an average of $1.4M, and that’s only one outlet—broadcast rights aren't cheap and offer plenty more 30-sec slots.    
Next, there’s all the indirect product-placement type opportunities. It’s estimated that one good red-carpet picture can translate into $1M worth of sales for jewellers or fashions houses.       
And why else would all sorts of companies—even those not selected or affiliated with the official Oscar Bag—be willing to give merchandise to be included in “swag bags” (gift bag) to be given to all nominees, people who already have all? Anything from spa certificates to diamonds worth more than $100,000? In fact, this year’s losers in the Top Actor categories were, on top of the official goody bags, all offered swag bags worth $75,000 by Distinctive Assets, an independent swag bag broker (speaking of event-specific job creation...).   

Let’s not forget the boost in DVD and ticket sales; nominated and winning movies automatically see their sales increase by 25% to 75%, and winning actors and directors invariably see a renewed interest in their filmography.

And I’m certain I’m forgetting to mention other areas... Feel free to point them out, below. 

Oscars. A-world-of-illusions celebration that's more important than an all-too-real third-world economy.       

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© 2011, Pascal-Denis Lussier
Photo credit: © 2011, The Academy Awards

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