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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Round and round with the Globes (again)

Just checking, but is anyone else out there as amused as I am over the irony of Sacha Baron Cohen receiving the Golden Globe for best actor in a movie musical or comedy? What we basically have here is a comedian, pretending to be a foreign journalist working in the U.S., getting honored by a bunch of foreign journalists, working in the U.S., pretending to be a film jury.

The choice of Mr. Cohen (or is it Mr. Baron Cohen?) is one that can be best described as interesting and unusual. One cannot help but wonder whether the voters saw something of themselves in their fictional colleague, Borat Sagdiyev. It’s an intriguing and entertaining thought, but we should not make too much of it. Let us remember that these voters also bestowed honors on actors playing the current British queen, the former despot of Uganda and a boss from hell at a famous fashion magazine. On the other hand… maybe that doesn’t disprove anything…

A heretofore unspoken (by me, anyway) corollary to my oft-stated law “movie reviews tell us much more about the reviewer than they do about the movie” might be: major movie awards tell us more about the people giving the awards than they do about the movies. Maybe some subconscious impulse caused a majority of the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to identify not only with a foreign journalist but also with authority figures whose personas range from imperious to despotic. In any event, they did seem to identify with fellow non-Americans, particularly Brits. The Golden Globes include no fewer than 14 different acting awards, and on Monday evening fully half of them were awarded to Brits. In fact, two of them went to the very same Brit for playing two identically named Brit queens (Helen Mirren for the movie The Queen and for the HBO television production Elizabeth I). Two went to Brits starring in a Brit TV production (Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt for the BBC’s Gideon’s Daughter). One went to a Brit playing an American in an American TV show (Hugh Laurie for House). And one went to an (American) actor in a movie with a Brit country in the title (Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland). On the other hand, they did give an acting award to an American actor whose name actually is America (Ferrera of Ugly Betty). And how come British actors are taking jobs away from hard-working American actors anyway?! (No, I don’t actually mean that. It’s just my own little way of getting back at the Radio Times critic who was going on and on, on BBC Five Live a couple of weeks ago, about how terrible it was that Renée Zellweger was playing Beatrix Potter in the film Miss Potter.)

Okay, I am way over-analyzing this. Persistent and attentive readers will wonder why I am even writing about the Golden Globes again this year, when I invariably trash them as meaningless, even by the standards of broadcast awards programs. The truth is that this year, once again, I resolved not to mention the Golden Globes. But, as you can see, that New Year’s resolution fared about as well as my annual resolution not to write my annual roll call of deceased movie/entertainment figures drunk. It just makes me want to write a scathing editorial calling for all media to stop paying attention to the Golden Globes. It would help if, say, movie web sites would just ignore the whole thing. Come on. Which blogger out there will be the first to not write about the Golden Globes. Huh? Well, I’ve done my bit.

Okay, I was trying to be funny there. But this is actually a serious journalistic question. Why do certain awards get saturation coverage by the press? When I was a journalism student at Ohio State University, one of my favorite professors taught us about scheduled news, as distinct from breaking news. Breaking news is, of course, news that you weren’t expecting, or at least weren’t expecting it to happen when it did. Scheduled news is news that you know well ahead of time that it is coming. Like national elections. Or like the Academy Awards. Or the Golden Globes. When they are not rushing out to witness a fire or the aftermath of a bomb explosion, reporters calmly look at their calendar and say to themselves, “Okay, it’s time to write about the Oscars again.” My professor (a streetwise veteran of the newspaper business, who bore more than a passing resemblance to Charles Durning) offered as the most high-profile of regularly scheduled news the Nobel Prizes. “Somebody got paid off well a long time ago for these things to get all the ink they do,” he mused.

When you think about, he had a point. Of all the awards that get handed out, by all the various bodies in the world, in the course of a year, why is so much fuss made of the Nobel Prizes? What is there about that particular jury that they should get so much media build-up and coverage? But every year the same thing happens. And long after awards like the peace prize go to people like Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat—after which these things should have little or no credibility. But journalists and news consumers alike are creatures of habit, and once a habit has been ingrained long enough, it doesn’t even occur to us to try and break it. That is why, the Associated Press can include toward the end of its report on the Golden Globes a paragraph that reads, “As Hollywood’s second-biggest film honors, the Globes are something of a dress rehearsal for the Oscars, whose nominations come out Jan. 23,” and then follow it up, with no apparent sense of self-consciousness or embarrassment, “The Hollywood Foreign Press Association that presents the Globes has roughly 85 members, while about 5,800 film professionals are eligible to vote for the Oscars.”

Well, not quite without embarrassment. The very next paragraph attempts to justify the coverage of these awards, despite their just-conceded unrepresentative-ness, by adding, “Yet the group has a strong history of forecasting eventual Academy Awards winners and providing momentum for certain movies and stars as Oscar voters begin to cast their ballots.” But then the article contradicts its own assertion by pointing out that the past two years the movies that got Golden Globes for best movie in the drama category (The Aviator and Brokeback Mountain) did not go on to get Best Picture Oscars (after mentioning four movies from the past 10 years that did). As for “momentum,” since there is exactly one milestone in the “race” for the Oscars (when the above mentioned 5,800 film professionals vote), how exactly do you gauge momentum? Are the Academy voters’ opinions on their peers’ work actually affected by the Golden Globes? Is there any data out there to suggest an answer, one way or the other? Not that I’m aware of. This is simply a case of something being repeated often enough that news consumers don’t even question it (which isn’t too surprising), and neither do journalists (which is really sad but isn’t too surprising either).

As I think I’ve said before, a lot of areas of media coverage (entertainment, sports) are really about promotion rather than actual reporting. Even if we are aware of this, we like to think that “hard news” (i.e. politics, world events) are held to a higher standard. Unfortunately… okay, you’ve heard that harangue before. Back to business.

Check back here next year when I will probably write something about the (by the way, totally meaningless) Golden Globes again.

-S.L., 18 January 2007

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