Pimp My Oscar

What do you think the Oscars are about? Rewarding the best films of the year? Acknowledging great performances? Designer dresses? If so, I apologise in advance for corrupting your innocence. These things are merely incidental to the real business at hand. It's all about the money. And Hollywood has no qualms about how to make money. On Oscar night, when you strip away all the baubles and hype, what you are seeing is a skilled, many-headed prostitute at work. And you, dear reader, are the trick it wants to turn.

For the purposes of the rest of this editorial, it might be useful to personify Hollywood as an individual dressed like a pimp. Here's a picture to help you, but feel free to accessorise Hollywood's outfit to your own tastes. A cane. Some bling. Platform shoes with goldfish in them. Nice! Let's pimp up his name too ; Holly Wood. A somewhat tacky and superficial fellow, but undeniably stylish, exuding power and wealth where'er he goes. A good guy to know, but not one to be crossed. Can you dig him? Okay, here’s how he operates.

Just lie back and
think of Oscar
Holly Wood is a big-time pimp. He controls a large market and employs many workers in a range of roles. It's a big industry, so he promotes some within his ranks to the role of associate pimps. These people are called producers and work in houses of ill-repute, called studios. With Holly Wood’s backing, they arrange for skilled performers and workers to entertain and stimulate expectant customers. For a fair price, naturally. The performers consist primarily of actors and it is their job to present themselves in a way that makes them stand out from the rest in order to boost Holly Wood's takings and even make some money for themselves on the side. To do so, they must undertake the sordid business of selling themselves (and their films) to every possible buyer, in a process commonly known as advertising, PR and promotion. Some are happily complicit in this, but many turn to drugs and alcohol to dull the pain. Others do it through gritted teeth, all too aware they cannot afford to bite the hand that feeds and protects them, and conscious that Holly Wood can hold a long grudge. And that's just the high class end of things. Behind the scenes, Holly Wood's back street workers eke out a living in grubby, low-budget fare, lured to the industry with promises of fame and wealth, now too dependent on it to leave and too ashamed to return home. And he presides over all these minions with just one aim in mind: to tempt you into parting with your money for a few hours of private entertainment.

"Am I pretty? Will anyone want me?"
This goes on all year round, of course. But Oscar night is special, because there are so many more customers to tempt. It's like a particularly big ship has just docked in port and there's a special effort for the extra sailors in town. Several hundred million people world-wide watch footage of the Oscars and that is too good an opportunity to miss. Everyone in Holly Wood’s harem is expected to turn out for the night. Even those past their best and unable to perform anymore are expected to slap on some make-up, hoist up their sagging chests and make themselves presentable for the sailors. And that's just the men. And woe betide those who refuse to flaunt their stuff on the red carpet. Marlon Brando and George C. Scott may have thought themselves too good for such a meat parade when they refused to accept their Oscars, but a furious Holly Wood tightened his vice-like grip on them and slowly, surely, their careers withered, meaning these once proud performers were brought to their knees and forced to swallow the indignities of cameo roles, TV movies and animal snuff like The Island of Dr Moreau. (Incidentally, a notable exception is Woody Allen, who continues to garner favour with Holly Wood, despite his continual non-appearance on Oscar night. Then again, many actors in Allen's films end up Oscar-nominated, so this suggests he acts as a East Coast based feeder pimp for Holly Wood, luring actors with his smooth-talking dialogue and then trafficking them cross-country into Holly Wood's clutches.)

"Pick one! I got Picture, Actor, Screenplay, Editing...."
So, on Oscar night, Holly Wood assembles his harem and invites you to sample his wares. Naturally, though, he will have been careful to highlight a select few for this night of nights. Those new additions who show good potential for earning, and who have made a good impression upon punters at events like the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, will be pushed forward for everyone to ogle at. The films, the stars, the celebrities. All tarted up and laid bare for our inspection. "See how handsome and glamorous they look?", he murmurs seductively in our ears as we watch. "Looks good, hmmm? Wouldn't it be nice to see more?" He also caters for all tastes. "Sir prefers something a little more exotic, perhaps? Please, consider the Best Foreign Film category. We have African, Middle Eastern, or perhaps an Oriental flavour might be to Sir's palate?" Even niche markets are accommodated. "You like dressing up, sir? Of course! Right this way we have the Best Costume Design for your perusal". "Some Reader's Wives realism? Oh, Dwarf Readers’ Wives realism? No problem. May I present the Best Short Documentary category". People may scoff at some of the vulgar behaviour on display, but everyone has their secret movie preferences and Holly Wood's Kodak Pleasure Theatre accepts all comers.

"Would Sir like to watch a film?
Oh! Suits you, Sir!"
Ah, but Oscar night allows us only brief glimpses of the treasures on offer, like the shutter closing on a peep-show or the coy displays behind the windows in a red light district. A tantalising clip of a film. An interview with a star actor. Diamonds. Jewels. Smart suits, pretty frocks. This is product placement, dear reader, the whole ceremony a 5 hour advertisement for Holly Wood’s services. Like one of those adverts at the back of grubby magazines, only with fewer stains. And as we contemplate it, Holly Wood sidles up and regrets to inform us that any further dalliance would require some exchange of money, but, perhaps, if Sir has the cash and would care to....? And with our interests aroused we, the public, are inevitably tempted to part with our money when some of these films and performers that caught our eye turn up at a nearby cinema. And how often have we left those darkened rooms afterwards, feeling a little empty inside, because they weren't all they promised to be? And perhaps even feeling a little ashamed at being suckered in by good-looking appearances because, in truth, they actually had many faults and flaws when you spent some time with them, which you hadn't noticed when they looked so nice at the Oscars. Does Holly Wood care about your feelings as he cruises the streets of LA in his Pimp-mobile fanning himself with your money? I'm afraid not. You are already forgotten as you are ushered out and another customer queues up to take your place in the darkened room. Sorry to break it to you like this.

But you and I will come crawling back for more and Holly Wood knows it. We've been hooked ever since our first taste of his colourful action when we were wide-eyed, innocent kids just looking for a good time. Everyone loves the movies! But he doesn't want our love, he wants our money. And Holly Wood knows that the films he features on Oscar night make more money. Traditionally, he can expect them to generate as much as 50% more business at the box-office in the weeks around the show, simply because so many people have been seduced by the hype, although this has been less evident in recent years. That is why Holly Wood now no longer limits the Best Picture nominees to five. Why put only five of his best workers out on the streets to love you long time when he can offer nine or ten in an effort to maximise return? It also means he can force some films, who had thought their time on the streets over, back out to earn some more money on re-release. They'll be milked for all they're worth until newer additions replace them. You didn't really think it was because he had so many good films, he couldn't bear to leave some out?

Some readers will be shaking their heads sadly at such a cynical point of view and they will be well within their rights to expose me for the spineless hypocrite I am when I shamelessly lay my money down for another visit to the pictures. Others will wonder just how I know so much about pimping and prostitution. (I....er.....seen it in a film.) Holly Wood himself may publicly deny it, but he knows deep down I’ve seen his true colours. Besides, Holly Wood does like his hookers with a heart of (Oscar) gold and he’s not above a little in-joking about the true nature of Oscar night. Here’s a selected (but not exhaustive) list of successful films and performances that were either nominated for, or won, an Oscar. Jane Fonda in Klute, Farewell My Concubine, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, Kim Basinger in LA Confidential, Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite, Nights of Cabiria, Elizabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas, Pat Siske in The Hairy Hoor, Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. Spot the connection?

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