Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Sunday 28th May 2017 | Manchester, UK

Fatal attraction

Predictably, BuzzFeed has covered ‘Signs You are Obsessed with Awards Season’ with 20 appropriate GIFs. And there is little doubt that by reading this article you will conform to the majority of those signs, and how could you not? Awards season offers welcome respite from the dark, wintry months between November and February, but how did it become a fascination of global proportion?

The Academy Awards, known colloquially as the Oscars, was the first of spectacle of this kind. A black-tie banquet was held in the art deco Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for 250 attendees of the ceremony in May 1929. The winners had been announced three months prior to the evening, so there were none of the Shakespeare In Love style shockers of today. Nowadays, nominees have three months to prepare their ‘runner-up’ face as well as their winner’s speech, while organisers rustle up global publicity and anticipation for the evening. It is this anticipation, or more precisely our relish of reaction shots that allows the everyman to share the highs and lows of the beautiful and talented.

In order for the awards to be psychologically unifying, however, they had to become more accessible. In the aftermath of the initial Academy Awards, organisers quickly recognised that a quiet, private ceremony would hardly do justice to Hollywood’s greats. The allure of the glamour, elegance and exclusivity of the event made everyday people want to witness every bit of it. The following year, not only was the event accompanied by an hourly update on Los Angeles radio, organisers decided to keep the winners a secret, revealing only to the press the victorious half dozen, who would then print the winners in the 11pm news. In 1940, the LA Times surreptitiously printed the winners in the early evening newspaper, and nominees read of their success or their defeat prior to the official announcement. In 1941, following this breach, the sealed envelope was added to the dramatics of the ceremony.

The inception of other award ceremonies quickly followed: the Golden Globes began in 1943; the Tony awards celebrating theatre started in 1947; the Emmy awards for television came in 1949; and the Grammy’s presented music industry awards from the 1950s. In the same year that Queen Elizabeth’s coronation was televised to the world, the United States watched the first televised Academy Awards. By 1966, the event was televised in colour, and, three years later, the rest of the world got a look in. The other awards ceremonies promptly followed suit. Finally, a global audience could revel in the colour and sparkle of this untouchable elite gracing the red carpet.

Visually, little has changed between then and now. The dresses are still bedazzling and suits still adorn swashbuckling film heroes. Now, though, audiences contribute like never before: BuzzFeed offers the lowdown in 20 GIFs, Twitter splutters both accolades and insults by the second, and Vogue.com praises and admonishes the best and worst dressed. From the comfort of our homes, we can all obsess over a once private, but unerringly fabulous, awards season.

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