Oscar: Award as Symbolic Ritual

The Oscar show has become an integral part of American culture, an annual symbolic ritual with a lengthy tradition of seventy-seven years. Rain or shine, the Oscar show must–and will–go on.

Indeed, on a few occasions only, the Oscar ceremonies were postponed, though never canceled. The first disturbance occurred in 1938, when heavy floods delayed the show by one week.

In 1967, a national network strike threatened the April 10 telecast, which, among other things, meant a substantial loss of money. However, the Academy’s board of directors decided to keep the ceremonies on schedule, with or without television. Fortunately, the strike was settled just three hours before the show was to begin.

The second delay, by two days, occurred in 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The Academy’s President, actor Gregory Peck, felt that “postponement was the only appropriate gesture of respect,” a feeling that was embraced by the entire industry.

In 1981, the ceremonies were suspended by twentyfour hours after the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan the very day of the scheduled event, March 30. Ironically, the Oscar show was going to begin with a pre’taped greeting from the President. Emcee Johnny Carson commented: “Because of the incredible events of yesterday, that old adage, the show must go on, seemed relatively unimportant.” But the show did go on–only a day later–signaling the eminence of the Oscar as a sacred ritual in American culture.

If you want to know more about the Oscars, please consult my book, All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards (Continuum International: New York, London, 2004 paperback)