Written by: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor
I watched the Golden Globes on Sunday night mostly by accident: I was on my laptop checking Twitter at the time and I saw several posts remarking on the over the top opening monologue by Ricky Gervais. Thus alerted that I was missing a chance to watch Hollywood types practice their nervous laughter, I flipped it on and was bombarded by overly sparkly gowns and incoherent acceptance speeches. And, of course, Ricky Gervais. But as I watched Ricky deliver his barbs to the assembled stars I felt I was watching a parody of an awards show–something that might show up as the frame story of Soap Dish or in an episode of 30 Rock–rather than an event with any real cultural significance. The Golden Globes have always been the tackier younger sister of the more elegant Academy Awards, but even their lip gloss and glitter approach can’t hide the failing facade of relevance that the Golden Globes failed to project. Perhaps the future of pop culture as a space where power is really in the hands of the people is already here: and, indeed, the cultural gatekeepers that once were emperors have no clothes.
As promised, Ricky Gervais was among the only entertainment in what is supposedly an entertainment awards show. Much of what he said was predictable, and has been said so many times before it’s hard to believe it warranted any reaction at all. A joke about the Betty Ford clinic earned him a particularly cutting retort from Robert Downey Junior–“Aside from the fact it’s been mean-spirited, with mildly sinister undertones, the vibe of the show is pretty good.” Gervais even took on the Hollywood Foreign Press, pulling the red carpet out from under the evening with a remark about The Tourist that had too much of a ring of truth: “I’d like to crush this ridiculous rumor that the only reason The Tourist was nominated was so that the foreign press of could hang out with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. That was not the only reason; they also accepted bribes.” Ricky Gervais’s joke underscored the theory that The Tourist was nominated mostly in hopes that Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp would show up and boost ratings. And, ratings-wise, 17 million people still tuned in to the Golden Globes, but that number has been going down. And it is hard to imagine that it will ever again really recover.
After Ricky Gervais delivered enough of these lines, there was a sudden change of tone. Ricky Gervais was no longer introducing the presenters: instead, the disembodied announcer seemed to have taken over. Humor was noticeably absent. I started to wonder…had Ricky Gervais crossed a line? I couldn’t find anything in the “live blogging” that a few entertainment sites were doing, so I went back to Twitter. There I quickly learned I was not alone in my questions.
Speculations ran wild on Twitter, particularly under the impromptu hashtag “#FreeRickyGervais” which I started to follow avidly–frankly, it was more entertaining than anything happening on the awards stage. Top theories involved death by scientologist, thanks to a shot during the opening monologue about famous scientologists in the closet, too much alchohol, or a backroom beating by the Hollywood Foreign Press. Others went with the notion that he’d been locked in the bathroom. A subset of folks even tweeted “#RIPRickyGervais“, suggesting that the murder investigation would be a more star-studded affair than the awards show itself.
Now articles pointed the blame for the entire upset on Piers Morgan, host of a new show with guest Ricky Gervais lined up for Thursday. The Observer called Piers Morgan a “social media genius“. But Piers Morgan wasn’t alone–the Twitterverse didn’t need another cultural gatekeeper to notice Ricky Gervais’s absence. Plenty of people noticed it all by themselves. Will it boost the ratings for the show on Thursday? Of course. But that’s in part because Ricky Gervais wasn’t on Twitter himself to share his location and the Golden Globes folks have stuck with the same PR line in their own response: people will turn into Piers Morgan in hopes of getting the answers to the only interesting question the awards show left them with.
Ricky Gervais was funny Sunday night because he was in many ways the only voice for those of us watching from the couch. The reception he received validated his status as an outsider happy to point out the absurdity of the whole farce. After a while, I was watching only to see how this outsider fared: would he emerge? Was he really fired halfway through the night? It was almost a disappointment, then, when he came back on stage and read from his notecards without much enthusiasm but also without a word on the absence. The upset on Twitter, the rampant speculation—all this was completely outside the world of the Golden Globes. Piers Morgan might not have started that rumor, but he does understand social media. Clearly, the same cannot be said for the Hollywood Foreign Press.
If you think about the awards themselves, the Golden Globes (and, for that matter, the Academy Awards) are exercises in extreme elitism. They are content gatekeepers telling us what they think we should have liked last year, in often funny ways (The Tourist, anyone? And—with apologies to the amazing cast—Burlesque? Really?). But in the end, the winners of the Golden Globes are already nearly forgotten. Coverage of the night is more likely to focus on the incredible dress Helena Bonham Carter pulled out of Tim Burton’s wardrobe department than the idea that we all now need to watch more Glee.
The greatest farce of these awards is this: we don’t need them anymore. When awards shows were founded, they were important. They decided what films the rest of us might get access to in second runs, they made careers with the studios, and many of the films they honored remain on classics lists and get restored Bluray editions today. But now, if we want to know if we should see the Tourist? We’ve got film-savvy friends on Facebook offering their dire warnings—or big fans of the two leads expressing their love. We’ve got Twitter with sarcastic one-line reviews. And, of course, we have Rotten Tomatoes offering the summary judgement of 150 movie critics at once: 20% liked it. At the same time, of everybody else, all 7357 as of last count, 78% liked it. We don’t have just one review in a local paper and slow word of mouth to go on. The awards nights aren’t going to show us anything we haven’t already heard about.
The awards shows are a relic, and they ask us to be passive. And yet, in the most ironic moment of the show, The Social Network won the top honors for drama. This is a movie about all the things the Golden Globes are not. A fundamentally antisocial and elitist organization that believes their opinions matter in the “ranking” of popular culture picked a movie about the democratization of information and taste as its standard. When I wrote about The Social Network in this column, I noted that the film itself walks a tense line between loving and hating what Zuckerberg has created. The Hollywood Foreign Press should feel no such ambiguity in their loathing. Their reviews are now factored in to the percentages on Rotten Tomatoes, their “liking” of a movie holds the same value as anyone else’s in Facebook’s study of cultural taste.
Rotten Tomatoes–the Facebook of the movie review industry–even predicted the outcome of the Golden Globes “big” awards. Not by trying to make predictions, or thinking about what the HFPA might favor this year. Their ratings math did it for them. Take a look at the best picture categories as listed here at Rotten Tomatoes—in both cases, the movie with the highest rotten tomatoes score won.In Best Animated film, a category with a number of highly scored movies, the 99% rated Toy Story 3 was at the top, and won. The best performance categories are not as cut and dry–an actor can outshine their picture, and a great picture can rely more on ensemble than star-turn performances–but when looking for movie night picks, you’ll do just as well or better counting the red tomatoes than following the Golden Globes. And that, perhaps, is the greatest irrelevance: these awards nights have nothing new to say.