THE ANSWER IS MONEY. WHAT IS THE QUESTION?

I suppose that’s an answer that applies to more questions than I choose to think about. I also admit that I am an incurable idealist and ask that you forgive me, if you must, or applaud me, if you prefer, as you read on.

The topic to which my title refers is the OSCARS, the star-studded event that will be watched by millions tonight.

Though some of you may not know this, the first awards were presented on May 16,1929at a private black tie dinner at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with an audience of about 270 people. Since that year, the awards were broadcast publicly first by radio and by television in 1953.

Clearly, if we as a society were not invested in competitions, an event such as the Oscars would not be the extravaganza it has become. But there must be something inherent in human nature that enjoys pitting one person against another, one team against another. Competition captures our attention and is something that children as young as 5 and 6 participate in and enjoy a particular feeling of victory when their team has won, whatever the emotional cost may be to their best friend who happens to be playing on the opposing team.

As for the Oscars, some think it’s admirable that the votes are cast by members of its own industry. Considering the vast sums spent on soliciting votes through advertising (and other means), however, it’s interesting to note that as recently as last year in 2009, William Friedkin, an Oscar winner and producer of the Academy Awards, spoke critically at a conference in New York, characterizing the Oscars as “the greatest promotion scheme that any industry ever devised for itself.”

Has it been a successful scheme? By most standards, I suppose we’d have to say YES. But, in my Walter Mitty fantasy of how to honor those in the industry, I’d go so far as to nominate the 10 best in each of the current categories. I’d then have them stroll down the same red carpet, dress in whatever way makes them feel regal, and offer each of them his or her well-deserved trophy.

While I do believe that we should recognize and reward talent, if we are to value the performance of one actor, for example, as being better than another, should we not do so only if we are comparing how each performs the exact same role? To have two accomplished actresses this year such as Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock, for example, compete against one another, when the roles they portrayed were so totally different seems preposterous. Each needed to make significantly different choices, drawing upon totally different skills in order to best portray two totally different women. Considering that, does it make any sense to compare their performances? And, yet, that’s exactly what’s being done in every single category, not just acting.

My question is why? Is the only goal for the industry to profit financially and for money to be the ultimate reward? To stretch a metaphor, would a jury find it acceptable to consider the guilt or innocence of an industry’s system of awarding its members by not examining the entire body of evidence but instead calling a mere side bar and excluding ALL the evidence in the case?

So, while I’m rooting for all who have been nominated, I still maintain that the hoopla played out in the media prior to tonight’s event is misguided. In deciding who and what is BEST, “best” often points to what has and what will continue to make the most money. Furthermore, as far as I’m concerned, it turns all artists into money-making machines for the studios as well as for themselves, diminishing the worth and deserved recognition of those to whom the Oscar does not go.

Extraordinary talent is raw, raucous and rare. Why not award ALL those who deserve our gratitude for entertaining us in original and often outrageously miraculous ways?

I’m not so naive as to be unaware of the fact that artists have always needed patrons, that art does not begin and end with an artist’s creation. Producers, backers, promoters of all sorts are needed to market even a masterpiece, let alone what’s mediocre. Yet, in the end, neither the art nor the artist should be a victim of the marketplace.

And while winning an Oscar has made many talented people more sought after for a while, the opposite has also been true. A moment of fame has been just that, a moment! With a great deal of money perhaps, but at what cost? And for the studios, a mega profit as in any other business.

Still, I will end where I began. Meryl Streep’s greatness as an actress` will not be diminished for me should she not be handed an Oscar tonight and, along with many others, I will be happy for Sandra Bullock should she be given one.

The artistic process itself is an act of creation in any medium which is at its best original, intense and a labor of love. Yet, for it to be made visible to the public – whether in a gallery or museum, on the stage or in the cinema, in a concert, opera or the ballet – I understand that there must be those who are financially willing to back it and produce it. My only gripe is that when an event such as the Oscars becomes larger than the arts which have led to its creation, something is essentially wrong. Those of us who are hopelessly idealistic will continue to question its primary goal when it appears to be no different than that of any other business, and puts into question what the competition adds to the artistry, value and morality of those who have participated in sharing their talent with us?

I will feel differently only if and when the nominees will all walk down the red carpet and we, in turn, will all feel gratified in knowing that everyone goes home a winner!