For awards, ‘getting younger’ comes at a price

Ageism creeps into the discussion

Before Oscar season gives way to Emmy voting, let’s consider how the desire to invigorate these cobwebbed ceremonies has allowed one of Hollywood’s uglier traits to creep into the discussion — namely, ageism, usually via handy euphemisms like the membership being “stodgy” or “out of touch.”

In both cases, there are voices who advocate shaking up the entertainment industry’s academies in the name of fostering bolder choices among the nominees. On its face, this certainly sounds like a good idea.

Yet the primary concern here isn’t necessarily about overlooking quality. Few would argue movies like “The Hurt Locker” and “The Artist,” or series like “Mad Men,” don’t deserve accolades. It’s the fact not enough people saw them, coupled with the arbitrary determination (in real-world terms, anyway) these titles don’t attract enough people in the hallowed under-50 age group sought by sponsors.

Now, never mind young adults weren’t weaned on award shows and grew up amid a dizzying number of kudocasts, which makes marquee events less unique and special. Because they’re where the money is — and for whom summer tentpoles are designed — that’s whom the shows need to reach.

Will choosing movies or TV programs dearer to this group’s heart actually move the needle, ratings-wise? The evidence is far from conclusive, but hope springs eternal.

Admittedly, there have been lapses in the academies’ vision — creative cataracts, if you will — when it comes to certain genres. There is such a thing as a firstrate superhero movie or zombie drama, and there have been omissions in recognizing as much.

For the most part, though, the issue isn’t older people having lousy taste; it’s because they’ve resisted honoring projects aimed at the key targeted demo. Or, as Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein put it, “For years, we’ve suspected that the academy’s aging membership was about as connected to today’s turbulent pop culture as the Council on Foreign Relations.”

So what’s the solution? According to Goldstein, retire members — say, those over 85 — to “open up the membership rolls to a younger, more vital constituency.”

But if that’s truly the goal, why stop there? Ousting anybody over 65 would free up even more real estate, and potentially introduce more members who aren’t burdened by unhelpful memories, like having seen often-superior original versions of movies the studios keep remaking.

It’s worth noting this lament is hardly unique to the Oscars. Last year, for example, producer Kurt Sutter skewered Emmy voters for overlooking his FX biker drama “Sons of Anarchy.” Among the less colorful barbs via Twitter: “If my mom and dad were alive this Emmy snub would kill them. That’s not true, they were too old to understand my show. Just like the Academy.”

OK, so I’ve mostly ignored this in the past. At times I’ve participated in the cheap laughs that come from teasing the academies’ for possessing more than a touch of gray.

Pursuing a youth-movement agenda, however, requires a few acknowledgements. One is understanding people with more experience are deemed acceptable judges well beyond Hollywood. Perhaps that’s why you don’t see a lot of 30-year-old CEOs or Supreme Court justices.

The second is whatever the stated objective, seeking to revise the profile of these professional academies means prioritizing one constituency at the expense of another. So while I understand the desire — even the need — to be younger, and becoming more inclusive is always a laudable goal, there’s no way to spray perfume on purging the old to make way for the new, or grading on a curve hoping your award rosters will suddenly become more “in touch.”

As it happens, the Oscars arose in conversation over the weekend with a friend’s mother. She enjoyed this year’s show, and wondered why they were so desperate to change it — potentially alienating people like her — to chase younger viewers who frankly don’t give a damn (and probably have no idea that’s a reference “Gone With the Wind”).

It’s a perfectly reasonable question. And I didn’t relish telling her given how the current winds are blowing, those gold-plated statuettes she professes to love are trying to let her and viewers like her down easy, in order to go out and find somebody younger.

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