An avid and lifelong follower of the Oscars, I have made it priority since my time as a undergraduate film major to watch every nominated film across all 24 categories. This year, however, I took a different approach: To watch ceremonies with a critical eye on acceptance. As we approach the 85th annual Academy Awards, to hold the shiny statuette on stage at the Kodak Theatre has become a signifier for prestige and a commercial marker for "what counts" as good cinema. In our culture of reality and Internet entertainment—where "authenticity" may be coming to lose its sheen—it seems the coveted Oscar "himself" (or, more accurately, itself) signifies one last modernist art remnant that separates taste from trash, substance from surface, and "true" artists from overnight YouTube celebrities.
Since Marlon Brando's 1973 Academy Best Actor win for The Godfather and his controversial "non"-acceptance speech, it has become common practice for industry professionals to accept Oscar alongside some activist rally cry (at best) and political soapbox (at worst) as it relates to their film. In the new millenium, the award is often given to films whose aesthetic themes are marked by a potent socal/political message. And the pressure for artists to stand behind some cause has become exeeding: Look no further than Sean Penn’s Best Actor win for Milk where he deemed Academy voters “Comi-Homo-loving sons-of-guns;" or Hillary Swank's call for "uniting through difference" in her win for the provocative portrayal of a Female-to-Male transexual in Boys Don't Cry; or Jody Foster’s recently lauded Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award speech at this year's Golden Globes and her relunctancy to "come out."
I wonder whether these "calls to action" are attempts at genuine activism or political ruses in which Hollywood capitalism attempts to use (or use up) celebrities to catapult its cultural-political-social-economic agendas into mainstream public discourse. If artists are ultimately being commodified by Hollywood, how does the elusive and powerful nature of capitalism construct socially constientous celebrity advocates for political change as a way for, as Zizek remarked, "buying [their/our] redemption from being only a consumerist"? I assess the current award season cycle of acceptance speeches from the Golden Globes to Screen Actors Guild to the “granddaddy” of ceremonies, The Oscars. As a film critic, communication scholar, and ten-year veteran of public address, I hope to see we how activist sentiments become commodified by the entertainment industry vis-à-vis artists and their acceptance addresses.