Each year, millions of Americans tune in to award shows for various mediums, be it musical theatre at the Tony’s, audio-based works for the Grammy’s, or the more recent Emmys for television. Award shows can provide great entertainment in their own right, but in the modern era, as James Brown might put it, what are they good for?
The Emmys started as quite the small operation in the 1950s. They was originally designed as a community-building and public relations event within the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and the award show only honored local television in the Los Angeles area. Soon after, the ceremony took off, warranting the establishment of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in New York to serve as a partner organization to the Los Angeles version. The year after the first local Emmy Awards, the event became a nationally televised ceremony honoring programs that were broadcast across the United States. Smaller localized award shows popped up for various regions, but ultimately the nationally syndicated version of the award has stuck in the public’s mind. The award ceremony is normally divided into two different sectors as well: Daytime and Primetime.
The whole thing starting as a public relations event seems kind of fitting because that’s really all it is now. People not associated with the film & television industry watch these award shows, but why? It’s tough to say. The various award shows are not in the slightest bit democratic in the sense that the people who are watching at home don’t get a say in how the awards are doled out. That is decided by the mysterious Academy. They sound like a shadowy group of supervillains but in all actuality, they are a professional service organization that is “dedicated to advancing film and television arts in America” according to their mission statement.
While that all sounds fine and dandy, award shows, not the least of which the Emmys, have received quite a bit of criticism from all fronts, especially in the time of COVID-19.
One of the larger criticisms that award shows and celebrity culture in general has received is the use of masks and distancing on recorded media. In many shows filmed during the 2020, all production staff were required to wear masks and keep distance but you’ll notice that much of the “celebrity talent” doesn’t. This has garnered some ire from people, leading to a perceived hierarchy between people who are on camera and people who are operating them. This dichotomy was already in place before but the pandemic, like most areas of life, only made it worse.
A second criticism that many of these award shows have received is their emphasis on gendered categories (i.e actor, actress). Critics of this practice have said that it can exclude nonbinary people who do not fit into one of these traditional categories. It can also cause discomfort when the award wants to honor someone who is nonbinary and tries to pigeonhole them into one of the gendered categories. Additionally, many of these award shows have been criticized for lack of diversity in both the governing boards and in awards allotted to actors and actresses.
There’s nothing wrong with watching award shows like the Emmy Awards. It’s important, however, to watch critically and understand the context of celebrity culture as it relates to everyday life.