While the internet is abuzz over Ricky Gervais’ mean-spirited material as host of this year’s Golden Globe awards, much of the controversy comes from his remarks relating to closeted scientologists or his show-closing remarks thanking God for making him an atheist (you can see his whole monologue here). There is similarly less controversy, however, surrounding his remarks suggesting that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – the shadowy organization who gives out the awards – only nominated The Tourist in order to entice stars Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp to attend, that they only nominated Burlesque because of the Sony-sponsored trip to a Cher concert in Las Vegas organized for voters, or that they also accept bribes.
These jabs contributed to what James Poniewozik describes as an almost roast-like atmosphere to Gervais’ second hosting gig, wherein the awards and the people who worship them came under attack; while there may be some of us who feel bad for the celebrities who felt the sting of the host’s wrath, it’s hard to feel bad for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. They are Hollywood fetishists rather than Hollywood connoisseurs, enamored with the shiny and new, the star-studded, the zeitgeist-chasing, and whatever else will put together the most attractive, audience-drawing collection of people into the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.
Every year, the Golden Globes give us a large collection of reasons to dismiss them entirely. The Tourist and Burlesque are perhaps the two most prominent examples on the film side this year, and Piper Perabo’s Lead Actress in a Drama Series nomination for USA Network’s Covert Affairs offers a similar bit of lunacy on the television side. While these may lead us to dismiss the awards as a sort of farcical celebration of celebrity excess, the fact remains that the Golden Globes hold considerable power within the industry.
It is a power that is more political than creative, with the Globes serving as a primary election of sorts ahead of the real honors being bestowed at the Academy Awards next month. Despite reports of bribes, and the clear incongruence between the HFPA and prevailing notions of quality and taste in regards to certain nominees, the awards are placed in such a way that they take on importance regardless of their dubious nature. Their legitimacy stems from studios looking for a way to propel themselves to an Oscar, and thus the Golden Globes are provided legitimacy they have not earned so as to help facilitate certain films/performers in their efforts to gain the earned (albeit fallible) legitimacy of the Academy Awards five weeks later – it was here, for example, that Sandra Bullock began her run to Oscar just last year, and The Social Network certainly seems well on its way to Oscar success in light of its victories for Best Drama, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Original Score.
On the television side, however, there is no such linear notion of legitimacy for the HFPA to hang its hat on. The odd placement at the end of the calendar year differs from the Emmys’ adherence to the traditional September-May television season, and ends up creating races which could be completely different than the Emmys depending on how the Spring unfolds – the Emmys used to be given for the calendar years in the 1950s, but moved to the TV season after controversy surrounding Nanette Fabray winning an award for Caesar’s Hour in 1956 despite having left the show in the Spring of the previous year.
However, the legitimacy of the Golden Globes carries over from film to television thanks to the power of spectacle and their specific value to premium cable networks. In regards to spectacle, the awards offer an opportunity for networks to have their series featured alongside Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, for their “television stars” to share screen time with real, live movie stars – it’s the kind of association that money can’t buy, and so from a purely promotional standpoint there is value in according a certain degree of legitimacy to the awards themselves so that the cast of Glee can all crowd onto the same stage as the cast of The Social Network.
For HBO and Showtime, meanwhile, that value is considerably higher. While broadcast and basic cable networks are looking for eyeballs, the premium cable outlets are looking for paying subscribers, and their substantial presence within the nominations is a key source of promotion. While this goes for all awards shows, with cable’s entry in the Emmys in the late 1980s helping to spark Cable’s expansion into original programming in the decades which followed, the Golden Globes are an outlet for Showtime and HBO to showcase the breadth of their lineups in order to convince viewers that there’s a reason to cough up $15 a month. Two wins for Boardwalk Empire, Best Drama Series and Best Actor in a Drama Series for Steve Buscemi, will certainly not hurt the chances of viewers considering picking up HBO in the near future, and Laura Linney’s victory for The Big C might make Globes viewers more likely to subcribe to Showtime when the series returns later this year.
In the end, though, the value of the Golden Globes very much depends on how we, as viewers, approach it. While it may carry certain weight for the studios and the networks, and the HFPA is not quite self-aware enough to realize that it isn’t just their host who considers them the butt of the joke, so long as viewers are aware of the artificial nature of its legitimacy it seems that there is a perverse pleasure in a celebration of all that is wrong with Hollywood.
And thus, perhaps, pleasure in watching Ricky Gervais call a spade a spade.