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Schwartz: In light of the 2017 Oscars debacle, we should place less emphasis on award shows

Alex Schwartz, Columnist

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When I watched the snafu that unfolded as “La La Land” was mistakenly handed the Oscar for Best Picture instead of “Moonlight,” I couldn’t help but wonder why we allow The Academy to have so much authority to judge art when they couldn’t even hand the right envelope to the presenters.

The mix-up proved that the people who organize these prestigious awards are just like the rest of us: they’re human. They make mistakes — like handing Warren Beatty the wrong envelope — and the people who judge these awards are prone to having their own biases and subjective opinions. Members of the Academy may be “Hollywood elites” and have more experience with consuming movies, music and other media, but that should not give them the ultimate credibility to tell the public what constitutes “good” art.

I have never really understood the point of award shows, talent competitions or anything that pits artists against each other. We’re taught that art shouldn’t be a contest, yet we give so much weight to arbitrary awards like the Oscars as measures of artistic worth. These awards are seen as the end goal, what every artist should get if they want to “make it.”

This creates a culture of competitiveness in a domain that should be collaborative. It discourages upcoming artists from finding value in their own work when others do not, and it ignores the fact that “good” art is subjective.

The critically-acclaimed film “Moonlight” spoke also to viewers’ desires to see stories of marginalized identities honored by the traditional establishment. That a movie centered on the life of a gay black man won Best Picture over a film about singing, straight white people certainly helps to legitimize stories often ignored in popular culture. Why, however, do we consider awards given by a slowly-fading establishment pinnacles of success instead of just circumventing that establishment altogether?

The often-elitist standards that awards shows held art to have been challenged and subverted by the work of artists like Chance the Rapper, who was able to become popular without help from the established music industry yet still took home multiple Grammys this year. This points to an influencing of these award shows by these artists instead of them simply accepting the standards. Independent music and films are increasing in popularity, signaling a departure from the established norms of their respective industries. Instead of conforming to the industry’s ideals of success, producers and consumers of art alike should reconsider what it means for art to be successful outside of an award.

Success for art can be decided organically. Should it tell a compelling story? Should it reach a wide audience? Should it spur social change? Or should it do a combination of these? Whatever we choose, we should make winning awards a smaller part of it.

To be sure, award shows like the Oscars can have merit. These shows can provide platforms for political statements — from Meryl Streep’s critique of Donald Trump at the Golden Globes to Asghar Farhadi’s boycott of the Oscars over Trump’s Muslim ban. But we should not uphold award shows as ultimate measures of artistic success.

A truly powerful work of art should not be measured by awards, but rather by its honest representation of lived experiences and impact on the world around us.

Alex Schwartz is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at alexschwartz@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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