One of the oldest traditions of the Academy Awards is to say that the ceremony was too long, too boring and too predictable. But then, out of nowhere, came the hostess, Ellen DeGeneres, dressed like Mickey Mouse and standing on a stage several sizes too big for her. During the ceremony, DeGeneres made entrances from all over the hall, took the stars’ seats or startled them from behind, ordered pizza and was photographed with celebrities.
She looked like a kid from the Make-A-Wish Foundation whose big request was to host the Oscars. On the stage were dozens of plastic statuettes that looked like used bottles of mineral water. Among all this recycled stuff, DeGeneres tried to steer the heavy boat of tradition through the evening.
Then the truth became clear — this year’s ceremony was neither outdated nor predictable. It was a disaster.
The Academy Awards don't know what to do with themselves, at least since somebody got up one morning and invented the Internet. About 60 years ago, when television began making its way en masse into people’s homes and threatened the film industry, Hollywood tried to minimize the new toy. Movies ignored the presence of television sets almost entirely, and when the television began appearing in film plots, TV reception would usually be awful and the boob tube described as a nuisance.
Today, the traditional movie and television industries are both in trouble, and the Academy Awards ceremony — a television event that deals with cinema — is going down with them.
Instead of playing down the importance of the Internet, DeGeneres tried to hitch a ride on social media — in a clumsy way. And so it happened that the moment that is most remembered from the 2014 Academy Awards was not actually part of the awards show. The much-shared photograph of Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Bradley Cooper, Lupita Nyong’o (and her brother), Jennifer Lawrence, Jared Leto and, of course, DeGeneres was an event that everybody talked about (online, at least) but that those who watched the ceremony did not see.
Those who sat on the couch and watched the Oscars on TV could see the moment building: the embarrassing beginning when DeGeneres approached Streep, the hesitant assembly of the group, Spacey’s contortions, and the joyous pyramid that finally took shape. But they did not see the final product: the most famous selfie of the year so far.
That is because the Academy Awards — like television, cinema, history, fashion and just about everything else — has become little more than fodder for social media. The most fascinating thing about this year’s Oscars was the tension between the award show's enormous sense of self-importance and its recognition that it is on its way to becoming extinct.