Jim Bennett: What I learned from not watching awards shows

Published: Thursday, Jan. 17 2013 12:40 p.m. MST

Actors Anne Hathaway, left, and Hugh Jackman pose with the award for best motion picture comedy or musical for "Les Miserables" backstage at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday Jan. 13, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Associated Press

People are still talking about Jodie Foster’s transcendent, inspiring and mildly incoherent speech at the Golden Globes. I didn’t see it. I confess that I haven’t watched any of those awards shows for a very long time.

I say this as a former Academy Awards junkie who cried like a baby when "Star Wars" lost the Best Picture Oscar to "Annie Hall." I remember cheering when "Chariots of Fire" pulled an upset and beat out Warren Beatty’s "Reds" for the top prize. I was furious when Jeff Goldblum didn’t earn a nomination for his performance in "The Fly"; I breathed a sigh of relief when Paul Newman finally got his due with a Best Actor trophy for "The Color of Money." I was probably the only guy who thought David Letterman’s “Oprah/Uma” thingee was really, really funny.

In the ensuing decades, I scrutinized every telecast and tallied winners and losers as if there’d be a test after the show. (I still have no idea how Marisa Tomei scored the Best Supporting Actress win for "My Cousin Vinny," but, for reasons I don’t fully understand today, I was glad she did.) The last Oscar ceremony that I watched from beginning to end was in 2004, when "Return of the King" won a record-tying 12 awards and vindicated its Academy-Award-losing predecessors. It tied "Ben Hur," even though it had hobbits in it! How cool is that?

But I haven’t watched more than five minutes of the Oscars since. Ditto the Emmys, Grammys, Tonys, Herbies, Lulus, Goobers or Peppermint Patties. I simply don’t care.

What happened?

I can’t pinpoint the time or the date when I completely lost interest. It wasn’t an overnight thing. No, it snuck up on me gradually, almost imperceptibly, until I discovered that the awards didn’t matter in any substantive way. I don’t hate them, per se; I just have no practical use for them — which, incidentally, is precisely how I feel about my cats.

But even as my interest wanes, hordes of folks still tune in to these spectacles to ogle the dresses they wear as they walk down the red carpet. Their devotion is predicated on an implicit acceptance of the fact that these people are better looking, savvier, smarter, wiser and much, much more nifty than we are.

They aren’t.

That’s not an indictment. Sure, they’re no better, but they’re not necessarily any worse than the rest of us, either. Fact is, they’re just people. Attractive people, yes, and people with exceptional teeth, but just people all the same. They do a job. Sometimes they do it well. Other times they don’t. But they’re well-paid for their work, and I’m not talking just about money, either.

Remember, these are movie stars, not plumbers.

The folks who win these awards are not people thanklessly toiling in obscurity. We’re not talking about America’s unsung heroes who never get the pat on the back they deserve. Prominent entertainers are constantly seen and they’re constantly praised, yet their need for approval remains insatiable — a bottomless pit of need.

There’s something vaguely unsettling about that.

I know where it comes from, though. Most actors face constant rejection and spend their careers earning a meager living attached to a nomadic lifestyle that is antithetical to any sense of stability or security. (Indeed, that’s the primary reason I’m no longer an actor.) So when a handful break through and hit the big time, it’s only natural that they seek the recognition they have so desperately craved for so long, and that they do it on a massive scale.

But that doesn’t make their bloated rituals of self-congratulation any more fun to watch. That is, unless they have Letterman back. “Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah.” Comedy gold!

Hmmm. I wonder who’s hosting the Peppermint Patties this year…

Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.

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