I had a professor in college who taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my life as a media consumer, a film spectator, and an educated citizen. He told me to “value omnivorous consumption.” He exemplified this plea with a personal anecdote about taking a break from film scholarship and seeing a bloated action movie– and enjoying it. Ever since then, this idea– of embracing both the high and the low, the good and the bad, and the art and the business of cinema– has kept me grounded as a film student and as a moviegoer in general, and it has kept me grounded now as a film blogger too. Yes, I have a film education that is nearing its conclusion, and yes that may afford me at least the possibility or privilege of succumbing to snooty pretension. But when I think about my professor’s anecdote and my own varying film tastes, I remember that I am an omnivorous consumer, and that is, perhaps, how things should be.
So, with that long-winded introduction, I’d like to say– completely without shame– that I watch, and enjoy, the MTV Movie Awards every year. The awards, hosted this year by Conan O’Brien, aired last night at 9 pm on MTV (and are bound to be repeated ceaselessly for at least a week). The opening was undeniably funny and centered upon celebrity cameos (already indicating the emphasis on celebrity this awards show exhibits, arguably over actual talent), while some particular highlights for me included pre-recorded sketches and exciting sneak preview scenes from the upcoming X-Men and Amazing Spider-Man installments/sequels. All of that being said, however, I do also understand this awards show’s function in our media landscape; but I do think that function might be shifting slightly in extremely interesting, albeit limited, ways. First of all, it’s we-the-people who vote for the winners, and the awards reflect this potentially problematic sense of democracy in a fun and fairly self-aware manner. I say potentially problematic in the sense that MTV’s demographic is mainly teenagers and twentysomethings, so the winners are, in some ways, just as predictable as those of the Oscars– if there’s a teen-movie franchise like Twilight or, in this year’s case, The Hunger Games, it’s going to win best picture.
That doesn’t bother me though. In fact, I’d say that this is still proof of something pretty democratic at work– we voted online, but we also voted with our wallets, after all. These films make a ton of money, and at least in the case of last year’s winner The Avengers or this year’s winner, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, they at least do have the potential of pleasing critics, as well, and these are critically successful films which could never get recognition at certain other awards shows. But let’s be honest– the average movie-going teenager doesn’t care about the merit of these films on a sort of critical level anyway, and in that sense, this awards show is the antithesis of the Oscars; there are no stuffy politics behind the scenes, just a more upfront and therefore unashamed predictability: if a film was popular with those who are most likely to watch the MTV Movie Awards, then that’s going to win an MTV movie award.
I guess what I’m getting at is, there are two divergent trends in the realm of cinematic recognition, one being far more reputable even though the other is far more reflective of what audiences want– some audiences, anyway. So, by watching both kinds of movies and both kinds of awards shows, are we valuing omnivorous consumption? I’d say, we are. I respect (with skepticism) both of these very different awards shows for very different reasons. The Oscars are glamorous and, again, political but they’re still the biggest deal (at least outwardly) in the film industry. But, I still see it as a positive thing when someone wins a golden popcorn– the statue itself humorously and ironically glamorizes that which is already a symbol for mass appeal: popcorn is, of course, the ultimate icon of big budget blockbusters and chain multiplexes.
Another thing I’d venture to claim is that the MTV Movie Awards are doing a far better job than many other awards shows at valuing omnivorous consumption within themselves, doing some of the work for us so that we don’t necessarily even have to watch the Oscars (at least not in theory, for the intents and purposes of what I’m arguing here). For example, a few of the nominees of the night were also Oscar nominees, arguably the few that most teen-twentysomething audiences would have been most likely to see and enjoy. The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave were the three main nominees of this kind, traversing the awards-show-spectrum, even if their success at one end of it may have been better than at the other end. Did Chiwetel Ejiofor or Michael Fassbender really ever have a shot when pitted against fan favorites Josh Hutcherson or Mila Kunis? No, of course they didn’t. But I can’t help but feel like it’s pretty cool that they were nominated at all, as futile as it was. Lupita Nyong’o even introduced the first award of the night this year, looking as stylish as ever but less elegant and more hip, her dress reflecting the loud, colorful, boisterous atmosphere of this awards show. Jared Leto won for his on-screen transformation as opposed to his acting, but who are we to assume that his transformation didn’t factor into his Oscar win? As a fan of Jonah Hill’s, was I elated that he won best comedic performance for The Wolf of Wall Street? Of course. Did I understand, though, that many fans may have voted for him based on his other, less “serious” work? Yes, and I think he understood this as well, even bringing up This is the End in his thank yous.
My point is this: I think it’s great that the MTV Movie Awards has included these “higher” films among the ranks of “lower” ones; I think it’s hilarious that Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for best shirtless performance and predictably lost to the ripped Zac Efron, and that that’s even a category at all (not to mention best kiss and the slightly more meaningful trailblazer award); ultimately, I think it’s positive that MTV is valuing omnivorous consumption even if the value is certainly still placed more heavily on one end of the spectrum– it’s still more than the Oscars could ever say they’ve done. The MTV Movie Awards are more silly, less prestigious, and equally predictable, but they’re also less pretentious, more fun, and aren’t trying to be something they’re not. I’m not trying to bash the Oscars (because I feel as though I’ve done that enough in the last few months to last me until next year’s show) but to say that the MTV Movie Awards don’t mean anything in our cinematic world is discrediting and ignoring whatever it is that these awards do celebrate– the films and actors that the Oscars don’t acknowledge but which are immensely popular, even if they’re not necessarily “good.”
So, while I do think the balance can be struck even more effectively, and that an awards show needs to come along that will bridge this gap even more successfully, I think the cultural divide within cinema is so large that this is admittedly daunting and difficult. But I do think it’s possible, and I think it’s important that valuing omnivorous consumption becomes the goal at every level of our entertainment world, not just within individuals who watch both awards shows with equal interest and zeal– we are a good place to start, but it’s not enough, and I don’t see us as the end point either.