In Defense of Shameless Oscar Campaigns

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That ringing of bells and clinking of glasses and smattering of applause you're hearing is the sound of the movie awards season starting, which means it's time for studios and producers to roll out their great and thundering Oscar campaigns. And you know what? That's OK.

The Academy is trying to stamp campaigning out by banning fancy campaign receptions and parties and the like, because people typically complain about the practice, calling it boorish and desperate and not a little arrogant. And it is! It definitely is all that. Surely the best way to win an award is to not have plead or begged for it. Award winners are supposed to be shocked and humbled and sincerely grateful. They should not have mounted huge, expensive campaigns to get themselves on that stage. So yes, Oscar campaigns are all a bit tacky and unseemly, we can all agree on that. But also? Tacky and unseemly is a whole lotta fun. 

Take Harvey Weinstein. (Please.) He's basically the inventor of the modern Oscar campaign, the guy who wasn't afraid to advertise, bully, harangue, and whatever else to get people to vote for his films. And it's worked splendidly in the past, with victories like The English Patient and the surprise upset Shakespeare in Love. But his success in his campaigns hasn't earned him any respect, if anything it's just earned him even more derision than his famously bellicose behavior has already engendered. People think Harvey's campaigns are ugly and tasteless, probably because they kind of are. But boy has everyone followed his model anyway! Why? Because it works. And we're glad for that, because the sad dances of Oscar campaigns add that much more zest to what is, when you boil it down to just the simple syrup, a pretty shallow perennial carnival. 

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You want zest? Here's zest: Weinstein is promoting his two big entries this year, My Week With Marilyn and The Iron Lady, both prestige biopics (of a sort) boasting impressive impersonations. with a whole nice guy routine. Which is bizarre. Wonderfully bizarre! Like, look at the embarrassing old-softie shtick in this Huffington Post essay he recently wrote, called "How Marilyn Monroe Got Her Groove, and How Dad Became Cool":

As we filed out of the theater, [my daughters] started talking about Marilyn Monroe saying she was a strong independent woman. They said she was smart, funny and determined. They said she had a kind streak in her. That she was misunderstood and that they could feel her warmth.

They said that in the 1950s, when women were just going along with the status quo, she stood out. That she was rebellious, but had a sense of humor about it and was thus very effective.

And then finally, the corker. They said Marilyn Monroe was cool and that as a result, I was kind of cool for making the movie.

The epilogue to the story, is that two weeks ago, Katy Perry saw the film and tweeted about how much she liked it. When I told my girls she wanted to meet me they said, "you're not cool enough to meet Katy Perry," and that they should go in my place. As a father of four daughters, I've learned that COOL is a gift that only comes occasionally, but for a short time, Marilyn Monroe made dad cool.

Isn't that terrifically awful??? Harvey Weinstein is trying to pass himself off as the kindly old daffy papa, all while slyly (well, some approximation of slyly) promoting the girl-empowerment merits of his big Marilyn Monroe movie. It's dumbly brilliant and brilliantly dumb and the awards season would be so much less entertaining without it. 

And then there's Weinstein doing a little nod to those on the right in the pursuit of plugging his Margaret Thatcher movie, going on Bill O'Reilly's show to, yes, support Obama, but also to gently assure Fox News' Thatcher-mad viewers (she's England's Reagan! All hail Queen Reagan!) that the movie isn't some lefty screed against the old minx. Weinstein is willing to go into the lion's den just to give his movie a little more push, and we're cheering him on. 

And it's not just Harvey who's so entertainingly shameless. Remember Melissa Leo's unfortunate self-bought ad campaign last year? Sure at the time we might have balked at such a seemingly classy actress doing such a decidedly unclassy bit of begging, but in retrospect it was just about the only exciting thing about her inevitable win. (Well, she did swear on stage, too.) And don't you fool yourself into thinking that every other actor who goes on some talk show and acts all casual and whatever about awards shows isn't on that very talk show with a secret golden goal in mind. Everyone's hustling, just at different volumes.

And that's really the only fun thing about the awards season at this point. Sure the speculation and all that is passingly engaging, but that's over so quickly. It's increasingly easy to pick the big five winners every year, partly because there are so many damn events before the Oscars that favorites get singled out pretty quickly. So it's really left to all the mad bowing and grasping to be the satisfying, surprising substance of the season. Which is why we shouldn't complain about it! Or try to get rid of it, Academy. We should accept it as part of the sport, it's really the sport, and enjoy it. It's all ultimately meaningless anyway, so why not just sit back and happily watch all the manic vote grubbing unfold. That's what we're submitting for your consideration, anyway. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.