||Jeff Greenfield is senior analyst for CNN. He will provide weekly, Web-exclusive analysis during Election 2000.|
Jeff Greenfield: The Oscars and the presidency
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It was long, it was tedious, it will have no impact on how we live ... and 78 million people watched the Academy Awards on Sunday night. And that number doesn't even measure the pre-Oscar shows, nor the thousands (really!) of local news pieces in the days leading up to the Oscars. It doesn't measure the rain forests worth of trees leveled to publish all the newspaper and magazine accounts of the contest, the fashions, the telecast, and the post-Oscar parties. Clearly, the awards amount to something of a national, if not worldwide obsession.
Now contrast that with the presidential campaign. Even in the midst of John McCain's insurgent run at the Republican nomination, a thumping majority of Americans, according to an ongoing Harvard survey, pronounced the campaign "boring." Roughly a quarter of our citizenry still cannot identify the nominee of either major party. And if you measure the combined cable ratings for Super Tuesday, it amounts to a tiny fraction of the Oscar audience (the broadcast networks, of course, no longer bother to provide wall-to-wall coverage of anything save the presidential election night in November).
In short: the public is transfixed by an election in which they have no voice and no real stake (unless they have entered an office betting pool), while it is less and less interested in an election where the decision is in their hands, and whose outcome could well shape the future.
It is senseless to deplore this condition. Instead, I offer this modest proposal: it is time to let the public in on the process that has claimed their emotional involvement.
What I propose is a constitutional amendment giving the people of the United States the right to nominate and elect the Oscar winners.
Each January, anyone who has seen at least 12 movies over the course of the preceding calendar year -- whether in a theater or through a video rental -- will be able to participate in the nominating process. (Ticket stubs or rental receipts will constitute proof of eligibility). Since such a high percentage of moviegoers are teen-agers, the voting age for the Oscars will be 12. (This will encourage our young men and women to enjoy the voting experience; it might have an impact on the dismal youth turnout in political elections). The ballot would be drawn up by the Academy, thus giving them some say in the process, but the five nominees in each category would be up to the public.
Further, the Academy members could actually pick the nominees in those categories no one actually cares about: makeup, sound, editing, and the like. These "Rat's Hindquarters" categories -- i.e., areas nobody gives a rat's hindquarters about -- would be determined by a poll indicating when a majority of Oscar viewers choose to visit the bathroom.
By the way: one section of my constitutional amendment would ban the telecasting of these categories during the actual Oscar ceremony, thus cutting the length of the broadcast by roughly two and a half hours.
On Oscar night, citizens would vote by telephone or the Internet, and the awards would be determined during the actual telecast. Hey -- if it worked for the "Miss America" debate on the swimsuit competition, it could work for the Academy Awards.
I am still considering Phase Two of this proposal: namely, to remove the selection of presidential candidates from the public and hand it over to an Academy of Political Arts and Sciences. I realize there may be some constitutional issues here, but the way things are going, if we wait another few years, nobody is going to notice.