You can't take it with you.
I used to care about the Oscars—deeply care about them. When I was a teenager, I hadn't even seen most of the nominees, and yet I somehow had passionate favorites to win. It was based on my knowledge of Oscar history, gleaned from countless awards-show books. I had absorbed Oscar's genetic code, so that even as a kid from Michigan with no connection to the industry, I was confident I could judge whether it was time for a long-overlooked nominee to go home with the gold or when a young hotshot needed to win in deference to the box office and the next generation.
Even in my twenties, I would try to predict the winners in all the categories. A group of friends and I would prepare lists of every film we saw during the year and score them on a 1-to-10 scale, rank them and then rate their Oscar chances. Guess the winner, get 5 points. In a more complicated maneuver, we would list our five choices in each category from most likely (5) to least likely (1) to win. That way, if you didn't guess the winner outright, you still got points for coming close.
Just before I was seduced by the Internet and started a much more demanding job, I stopped caring about the Oscars. At least, I didn't care about them in such detail. I've had my picks over the years and have jumped up and down on the night-of for some deserving winners. But I lost the fascination I had for the ceremony.
I didn't think last night's Oscars were bad at all. I even thought they were kind of good. Ellen was not a laugh-riot, but she was amusing and amiable. I don't understand why so many commentators have snarked about it so viciously—for example, every sentence of Nikki Finke's analysis is a strangulated effort to top her own venomous zinger in the previous line. I just don't believe most viewers felt this telecast was a lowpoint. I remember when David Letterman tanked—everybody knew it. But I don't believe that was the case this year. Sure, I am always open to political jokes and topical barbs, but the latter can degenerate into insult comedy at the expense of the big star whose presence is employing the host. Not a fan of that.
Within the classic format of the Oscars, the things I'd change are simple: I wouldn't play music to get people off the stage (Ellen had promised not to...what happened?) and I would not allow any self-congratulatory packages devoted to the history of how writers have been shown on screen (I've never seen an Oscar montage that didn't feel like a random collection of clips that could have been directed by any dedicated YouTuber). The rest will sort itself out.
For me, the most unbearable aspect of the Oscars is the red carpet, where nobody has personal style, only personal stylists. I felt almost everybody (well, not Sally Kirkland) looked beautiful and most of the gowns made me flash back to dressing in my mother's clothes as a kid. But knowing that 99% of the attendees are wearing borrowed clothes or clothes chosen for them by others as free advertising kills it for me. And how disgusting is it watching a human turd like Ryan Seacrest chatting with haggard hacks Giuliana Depandi and Debbie Matenopolous about how fugly Anne Hathaway's dress is literally one second after he's just greeted her warmly. What's next? "Hi, welcome to the Oscars—what were you thinking???" I just think celebrities have become so inhuman in our minds that even other celebrities think nothing of treating them like stray dogs with foamy muzzles.
I'm happy or satisfied about most of the wins (and still think Eddie Murphy's loss is karma) and the show didn't put me to sleep. There were surprises and there were vindications. What more do you want?
I think that's the problem. The declining ratings of telecasts such as these do not mean they're badly done, it just means we're less interested in well-done versions of these kinds of shows as we're used to seeing them. I think in the same way I stopped caring about the Oscars, the rest of the world is slowly coming around to that same feeling. Maybe I got sick of them sooner because I was so intensely into them to begin with and burned out, but regardless, I think the Oscars are suffering from a big, international chill because they are a throwback in a world where we'd rather look forward most of the time.
So while I give credit to Ellen and to last night's team, I think the powers that be need to look hard at the format and consider casting aside some of our preconceived notions about what makes the Oscars the Oscars—before they lose their power completely.