Oscar: Definitions, Meanings, Perspectives

oscars_2016_4About 35 years ago, I published my second book, And the Winner Is: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards.  I am delighted to say that the book, in enlarged and updated version, is still in print, now titled All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards.

The research for the book took place while I was teaching sociology and film at Columbia University and Wellesley College.  In our collection of data, we came across some very interesting–and vastly different–perceptions of the Oscar Award.  The only fact that the observers have shared in common is that the Oscar is the King of Awards, the most influential prize, not only in the film world but in showbusiness in general.

neil_patrick_harris_underwear_oscarsHere is a sample of opinions about the Oscar, its various meanings and differential effects.

Leroy Johnston: The Academy award is the Nobel Prize of motion pictures.

British journalist: Nothing denotes success so visibly and tangibly as the Oscars.

Vincent Canby, the late N.Y. Times film critic: The Oscar is the most particular of American phenomenon.

Richard Corliss, the late Time Magazine film critic:  Aside from the campaign for President, the Oscar derby is America’s most contentious horse race.

Oscar_statue_2Martin Scorsese, Oscar-winning director (The Departed, 2006):  When people see the label Academy Award Winner, they go to see that movie.

Hollywood executive: The Oscar show is Hollywood’s orgy of self‑congratulation.


Federico Fellini (Oscar-winning Italian director): In the mythology of the cinema, the Oscar is the supreme prize.


Lily Tomlin, Oscar nominee (Nashville, 1975): The Oscars are classic American Kitsch.


Jack Nicholson, three-times Oscar winner: The Oscar is as valid as any award around

lupita_nyong'o_oscarsHarvey Weinstein, Miramax and The Weinstein Company’s co-president: When I was a young boy, the two seminal television events in my family were the World Series and the Academy Awards.

As the aforementioned quotes suggest, the Oscar Award and the Oscar telecast fulfill various functions and convey many different meanings in American pop culture.