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Subject: Re: The Oscars ( 2 of 4 )
Posted by Douglas Adams

Thanks for this illumination!

In fact, my question about whether Randy Newman shouldn't qualify for an automatic, free Oscar after twelve nominations was meant to be facetious. I'm well aware that this doesn't actually happen.

As to the issue that there are politics involved in the voting, I think I mean something more general than you are taking me to mean. I'm not suggesting that there is deliberate corruption or vote trading or whatever (of course, I don't personally know whether or not anything of the kind happens (!) it's just not the point I was making.)

Every decision or choice we make is weighted with all kinds of personal preconceptions, preoccupations, all those things we now lump together and misname an 'agenda'. How could it not be? This is not a criticism - what else could we possibly be basing our judgments on? It's hard enough to try to exercise that imaginary thing we call 'rational objectivity' if we're trying to choose which of two fridges to buy, but when you're trying to award prizes to actors and directors etc, it must be impossibly difficult. How do you compare two films like Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love? Seriously you can't (I would submit!), but that isn't at all an argument against trying, and having such great industry fests as the Oscars, generating a huge amount of heat and enthusiasm and argument. The fact that you can't seriously decide an argument is no reason at all for not having it.

I'd be very interested in what sort of criteria you try to bring to the decisions you make. I know that when I've been on judging panels it's been impossible to fence off all my own preconceptions. I can't help but be aware of a contestant's body of work and what I think of it, whether I think they are well recognised or under-recognised. I'm sometimes aware of a difference between what I actually like and what I think I ought to like. I sometimes think I'd like to recognise a failed attempt to do something interesting instead of a successful attempt to do something straightforward. There are temptations to vote for something you don't think is that good in order to try prevent something you think is really rotten from getting the prize. There are temptations to vote for a plucky independent as opposed to a big, well-financed corporate effort (however good the latter) There are temptations to be prescriptive - to vote for the sort of thing you think the judging body ought to be recognising and encouraging.

In my experience you can't avoid being subject to all of these and other biases. Even being aware of them and trying to neutralise them (if you do) just gives rise to a different kind of bias. In fact the very reason you've been asked to be a judge or a voter is that the set of attitudes you bring to the job is recognised to be of positive worth.

If we had the option of having - for instance - the Oscars judged by a team of Martians who knew nothing of Hollywood and were just judging between, say, Private Ryan and Shakespeare i.L on apparent merit, we wouldn't want it. We don't want outside objectivity. We want informed subjectivity. We want politics! We are political animals, this is the lifeblood of our culture. We want to be able to argue about it, to point at all kinds of "obvious" inequities and complain about them. If we were to look back at the history of the Oscars and see that the judgment of history was exactly in line with the judgments of the Academy members of the time, that all the right people and all the right films had got all the right Oscars (assuming that any two people could agree, even in retrospect), wouldn't we feel a bit cheated, even suspicious if life was so neat? Would you deny that we slightly relish the obvious inequities that Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick all failed to get Oscars? It's a stitch-up! It's a travesty! It's all just politics! Of course it's politics. We're political animals. We can't help it. Interpreting the politics of life is what we do every waking minute of our lives.

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