It’s funny, but the people who claim to hate the Oscars are far more readily found talking about them months after they’ve passed. Some feel the awards too often go to the most beautiful and not the most talented nominees — the most privileged and not the hardest working. Despite the salaries and unimaginable fame attained by the people on stage, we see a bit of ourselves in the nominees we feel get snubbed. There’s something inherently competitive, something that endlessly seeks justice, perhaps something capitalist in Americans that makes the Oscars appeal to people who “hate” them as much as people who “love” them.


In America, it’s no matter how much we resist the idea of electing a prom king and queen; we still hold our breaths the second before the winner is announced, like we do at the Academy Awards.

The Oscars are important. This much cannot be debated, as an Oscar win can catapult someone young into superstardom as easily as it can cement an aging artist’s body of work as legendary. They’re the way we most directly immortalize our best cultural creations — our favorite stories, films, characters and even songs.

It follows that the Oscars are tradition. They are the exclusive club of exclusive clubs, the closest thing to royalty in a country that has always elected its leaders. Winners become the artistic establishment, and the names etched on their golden idols cannot be erased.

The Oscars are power. They are a way for the rich to get richer. They are prestige. They are what gives Jack Nicholson the right to a lifetime of courtside seats at Lakers’ games, and what help him pay for the $10,000 sunglasses he wears to them.

But the Oscars are also counterculture. They award directors and actors whose art defies social and cultural norms. The Oscars show us that there are epic tales to tell in everyday scenarios, and how insane, conflicted, confused or controversial characters often end up being the most meaningful to us. They are the governing body that awarded and applauded a much younger Jack Nicholson for screaming, spitting and cursing at the powers that be in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Some call the Oscars fake. A symbol of our culture’s vanity and shallow “Did-you-see-what-she-was-wearing?” celebri-worship. But the Oscars are as real as the emotion that an earnest Tom Hanks or an exuberant Cuba Gooding Jr. displayed while accepting their awards for unforgettable performances in “Forrest Gump” and “Jerry Maguire,” respectively.

The Oscars are a formality for some films — directors and actors that everyone assumes will win before their films even finish production. They are cherries atop epic cinematic sensations like “The Lord of the Rings,” “Gladiator” and “Titanic.”

But the Oscars also help films “break even,” as Woody Allen quipped while receiving his award for a film that actually lost money (1977’s Best Picture winner “Annie Hall”). The Oscars help lesser-known directors, writers, actors, costume designers, editors, sound mixers, musicians and production companies finally gain recognition. Oscar is a jack of all trades, hobnobbing with diamond-encrusted legends while simultaneously lifting struggling filmmakers out of obscurity. Even an Oscar nomination boosts an artist’s career, guaranteeing an increase in his or her status within our cultural canon — or, at least, in his or her ability to pay the gas bill.

The Oscars are America. Thus, they are a paradox — they contradict themselves and contain multitudes. They are modern artistic decadence. They are tearful, answered prayers. They are exclusive. They are nationally televised. They are nods to the past. They are signs of where the art of film is headed.

The Oscars are a three-hour spectacle that gives us something to argue about between football and baseball season. They are timeless, connecting us to previous generations of film lovers we never met, and to those we’ve yet to birth.

They are the only American tradition we count on to reinvent itself. They are scripted. They are live.

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