The midlife crisis is this: Oscar appeals to older people, but advertisers market to the youth. Lesson one in performing a dialogue onstage at the Oscars: look at each other, and ad-lib when the teleprompter tells you to read this:
“Anne, I must say, you look so beautiful and so hip.”
“Oh, thank you, James. You look very appealing to a younger demographic as well.”
If James Franco really was high, I can’t blame him with a script like this.
With younger hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco, both under the age of 35, social media elements and imagery of Gen-y movies, producers went out of their way to try to connect old-style Hollywood with today’s generation of brand groupies. It also expanded the “Best Picture” category to ten nominations to include popular Gen-Y films, such as Inception and Toy Story 3 that wouldn’t otherwise make it into the pool.
They even created an “Oscar Backstage Pass” app for iPhones and iPads, which gave users live video streams of both the show and live backstage video. James Franco tweeted the entire ceremony and uploaded his own backstage videos on Youtube. Interactive media was the theme for this year, with the Academy offering online coverage of red carpet arrivals, exclusive peeks into backstage areas, and press-room interviews with the winners.
“We’re taking fans closer to the action onstage and behind the scenes than ever before,” said Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney.
Midlife crisis seeks trophy wife
It really felt like a midlife crisis looking for a hipster trophy wife. The ceremony’s biggest falter: the obvious lack of actual young people on its writing and production staff. Instead of hip and edgy, the script read more like Leave it to Beaver for the new millennium. Robert Redford in a button-down and black cardigan trying to rap his way through the ceremony would have been less fuddy duddy than the condescending posture lessons, missed pop culture references, and “isn’t that cute” zings at a media culture now driven by cell phone apps and Twitter feeds.
Never mind the fact that this is the same media culture that’s helping young people in the Middle East stand up to tyrants. The Academy’s already doing its social good by having Oprah present the award for Best Documentary. It’s not the Oscars without some level of irreverent self-congratulatory masturbation.
It’s gotta be real
Think social media is the key to attracting the youth? Guess again. The answer is what it’s always been- authenticity. It’s a hard pitch to sell to the youth market, which is perhaps the most fragmented media landscape today, and where most people go wrong is that they go with what’s popular, not realizing the savvy skepticism that most young people have in what’s credible.
Marry that misunderstanding with the nostalgic motif of Hollywood’s golden past, and you have a perfect example of what happens when you try to reach everybody and end up appealing to nobody– lackluster ratings, a ceremony that ran as sedative as a Vicodin pill, and sinking ad sales revenue.
Young are too smart
Social media, the very tool the Academy is using to reel people in, is also its double-edged sword. “Social networking has sped up word of mouth, turning teenagers and young adults into more discerning moviegoers- a phenomenon pushed along by rising prices,” reported The New York Times. “People age 18 to 24 bought an average of seven tickets per person in 2010, down from eight in 2009.” According to media research firm GfK MRI, the number of older moviegoers has been growing by 67% since 1995. Last year’s median Oscar audience age was 50. Advertisers are more interested in the buying power of the 12-34 age bracket.
In the end, the Oscars aren’t about the audiences at home, but American Film Academy’s image of itself and what it wants to project to the rest of the world that year. There’s an insulated quality to Hollywood’s golden night in that respect, one that most don’t understand because it uses the “intimate strangers” element of celebrity culture to make you feel like your loyalty to an actor, director, writer, or film had something to do with its nomination and award, when in reality that determination is made by about 6,000 people in the Hollywood establishment.
An insider view
To think we had anything to do with it is like the British thinking their opinions had something to do with our presidential elections. Hollywood is an insider’s world, and nothing exemplifies the have and have-nots that keep it running like an awards show that proudly exploits the money and fame that most of the world has the scantiest opportunity to enjoy. All these methods to bring in the younger audiences aren’t about giving us a better Oscar experience; they’re about us giving them better ratings.
Maybe next year the Academy should go a step further and enlist Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus as their hosts. Just make sure to end the show in time for their curfews.
Photo courtesy of Miss Karen via Flickr