With 2015 now in the record books, a look back shows just how busy and…
With the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Grammys already come and gone, the granddaddy of the red carpet season arrives Sunday, Feb. 22.
Yes, Toto, it’s the Oscars.
Millions of Americans who earn normal salaries and actually pay for their own clothes, haircuts and jewelry will gather around televisions to watch beautiful, wealthy famous people celebrate each other.
We laugh when they laugh. We cry when they cry. We fawn over designer dresses that actually might cost as much as our cars. We sit through hours of essentially meaningless trophies and cheesy scripted banter to learn if a movie we loved, hated or never saw is named “Best Picture.”
“It’s a spectacle, and we all love spectacles,” says Kerry Ferris, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Sociology. “We don’t get a whole lot of them in our everyday lives, and so we have to watch them on television. We enjoy the glitz and the glamour.”
Adding movie stars to the pageantry makes the Oscars hard to resist.
“Celebrities are aspirational for us. We look at them and we wish we were that attractive or that talented or that rich or look that good in designer gowns,” Ferris says.
“We see their good qualities in aspirational ways but thank our lucky stars that we don’t live their lives in terms of the gossip, the divorces, the drug addictions, the rehab. They lead lives that are complicated in ways we ordinary people don’t have to deal with, so we can wipe our brows and feel relieved about that.”
Victory speeches, whether tearful like Halle Berry, exuberant like Roberto Benigni or just boring recitations of the names of agents, directors and caterers, also stir a double-edged response within Academy Awards viewers.
“We say, ‘Isn’t that lovely! She didn’t forget to thank her mother and God,’ ” Ferris says. “At the same time, we know they’re actors – and they’re acting. It’s hard not to feel cynical about what they’re saying.”
Ferris has conducted plenty of research into the concept of celebrity.
She’s the co-author of a book titled “Stargazing: Celebrity, Fame and Social Interaction” and a journal article titled “How Does it Feel To Be A Star? The Identification of Emotion on the Red Carpet.”
With scholarly examination of celebrity impersonators also in the spotlight on her vita, Ferris calls the stars of the silver screen “exceptional people.”
“They are exceptional people, even if you argue that they shouldn’t be paid as much as they are, or that they’re thin just for the sake of being thin, or that they’re famous just for being famous,” she says. “We are attracted to exceptional people, and we like basking in their reflective glory.”
So, will she pop her popcorn and prep her scorecard for the big night?
“Like so many things, I’ve sort of ruined myself for them by studying them. I used to host a big Oscars party, and invited people to dress up and bring dishes that were named after the nominated films,” she says.
“But then my friend and colleague at St. Louis University and I wrote a couple of articles about the red carpet, and after that fine-grained analysis, I have never watched another red carpet,” she says. “Maybe I’ll try again this year.”