Hollow Gold – The Decline of the Golden Globes and When Awards Lose Their Value

In case you didn’t know, the Golden Globes were handed out last week.  It wouldn’t be your fault if this event had passed you by without notice.  The Golden Globes, to put it bluntly, has been going through an existential crisis lately; one in which may eventually lead to it’s complete and total demise.  At one point, the Golden Globes was seen as second to only the Oscars in importance within Hollywood.  It bridged both the theatrical and television side of the industry, and for a time gained a reputation for being the looser, more hip awards show in comparison to the stately Oscars.  But, that shine has diminished in the last decade.  Combined with a general decline overall with televised awards ceremonies and internal politics that have spilled over into public view, the Golden Globes are now seen by many to be irrelevant as a part of the Awards season.  Other awards, such as the Guild honors as well as the Critics Choice have become more reliable bellwethers for the Oscars in recent years, and the Globes track record for picking winners has grown ever more shoddy, mainly due to the untrustworthy way that winners and even nominees are selected.  And with the society of publishers and journalists that make up the voting body called the Hollywood Foreign Press becoming ever more scrutinized for their poor judgement and lack of reform, does Hollywood even need to acknowledge the Globes anymore.  In many ways, the Golden Globes are both an incredible Hollywood success story (managing to stay around for 80 years) and also a cautionary tale of the industry at it’s worst.  And the decline that it has seen recently begs another question as to what value should we culturally put into Awards ceremonies that are increasingly insular and out of step with the industry as a whole.

It helps to understand what the Golden Globes are and how they evolved over time in the history of Hollywood.  Founded in 1943, the Hollywood Foreign Press was a collection of Los Angeles based foreign journalists that were looking to bridge the gap between Hollywood and non-U.S. markets.  As a sign of their desire to court favor within Hollywood circles, they created the Globes as a special honor recognizing the yearly achievements within the industry.  It was risky, adding another Awards ceremony in the shadow of the firmly established Academy Awards, but the Golden Globes managed to succeed, with the first ceremony taking place in 1944.  One of the traditions that helped to distinguish the Globes apart from the Oscars was that it retained the banquet style of the presentation; something that the Oscars had once had, but eventually abandoned as they moved into bigger LA venues like the Shrine Auditorium and the Pantages Theater.  The Globes, on the other hand, has continually maintained their commitment to smaller ballroom settings, moving around to venues like the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Hollywood Roosevelt, and then eventually to the Beverly Hilton where it has remained a fixture since 1961.  In the 1950’s, the Globes expanded to include honors for achievements in television, and the ceremony has remained more or less unchanged since then.  Because of the banquet aspect of the ceremony, guests have indulged themselves with the offerings of alcoholic refreshments available, which has led to the Globes feeling much more like a free-wheeling party than most other Awards.  It wasn’t uncommon for winners to come up on stage after having a few and saying stuff in their acceptance speeches that they normally wouldn’t at any other awards show.  The sometimes bawdy nature and unpredictability of the Globes for a time helped them to look like the cooler Awards in comparison to the Oscars, although it could never quite break free from the latter’s shadow.  And as the years rolled along, the Globes began to experience it’s own internal drama that unfortunately turned ugly as the years rolled along.

One of the main problems people have with the Hollywood Foreign Press itself is that it is an increasingly insular voting body that up until recently hadn’t faced any accountability for it’s sometimes questionable practices.  As of today, the Hollywood Foreign Press is made up of only 105 members, and they are the sole voting block that picks the nominees and winners for the Globes.  Compare this with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the voting block behind the Oscars, which has a membership that numbers in the thousands.  With a small group of people voting on these awards, you can see how there can be the danger of manipulation from studio influence.  For many years, The Hollywood Foreign Press has been accused of taking bribes as a favor for awards recognition, whether or not the movies themselves were any good.  And there are plenty of instances in the past that have given fuel to those accusations.  One was the award given to Pia Zadora as “New Star of the Year,” in 1982.  It was revealed that Zadora’s multimillionaire husband had flown members of the HFPA to Vegas on an all expenses paid trip, and had set up private screenings at his mansion with lavish dinners, which made it appear that the members were being purposely wooed towards giving the award as a favor.  Similar accusations arose in 2011 when a Johnny Depp film called The Tourist received numerous nominations despite being a box office flop and was panned by critics.  It turns out that a movie studio this time (Sony) had also been wooing HFPA members with trips, and it was speculated that the movie only got nominated so that the stars Depp and Angelina Jolie would attend the awards that year.  Studio influence, to be honest, is nothing unusual in Awards season, as the Oscars themselves have seen incidents of questionable campaigning practices that cloud the eventual awards given.  But, the instances at the Globes have been so brazenly obvious, that it has given the HFPA the unfortunate reputation of being suck-ups to the stars and one of the least trustworthy in deciding the best achievements in entertainment in the course of a year just based on merit.

But there have been even far greater problems with the Golden Globes that have recently come to a head with a reckoning within the last couple of years.  The number of members in the Hollywood Foreign Press used to be even smaller than the 105 that make up it today.  And as many pointed out a year or two ago, that small voting body was noticeably lacking in diversity.  The foreign body that makes up the HFPA is mostly journalist from Europe, along with a couple from Latin America and Asia.  Until recently, not one black journalist was within the ranks of the organization.  In the wake of Black Lives Matter and the racial discussion that arose out of the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and many other incidents like his, the attention to the racial make-up of the HFPA began to gain focus and scrutiny.  People were rightly concerned that the lack of a black voice within the organization creates an unfair blind spot when it comes to movie and shows from black creatives.  It’s something that all the awards ceremonies have had issues with, but it seemed especially egregious that up until now, no one in the HFPA had been a person of color.  The recent growth of membership has thankfully added more diversity to the HFPA ranks, but for some it’s a remedy that still falls short of addressing racial attitudes within the HFPA as a whole.  The slow change at the HFPA came to a head in 2022, as major studios bowed out of the ceremony altogether, and celebrities joined the boycott as well, saying they would not attend the ceremony unless significant change was demonstrated.  This resulted in the ceremony being untelevised for only the second time in it’s history; the first being in 2008 because of the months long Writers Strike.  Strangely, the ceremony had managed to survive the Covid-19 pandemic, with a virtual presentation keeping it alive as presenters and winners remained at home, but only a year later the Golden Globes were facing the reality of annihilation if they did not make serious change quickly.

It’s hard to say if the Golden Globes has righted the ship in the year since the boycott.  They managed to get back on the air this year, with NBC carrying the broadcast (which normally gets passed along to each of the networks except ABC, which hosts the Oscars exclusively).  But this year’s Globes seemed oddly desperate on the part of the HFPA.  It seems like they are fully aware of their issues and that they need to appear contrite.  But, with this year’s host Jarrod Carmichael calling the HFPA out on their hypocrisy on the Globes stage itself in front of the Hollywood elite, it seems that the HFPA is trying to present the image of contrition while at the same time desperately trying to get things back to the way that it used to be.  But, the issues with the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Globes themselves extend far beyond just the reforms made within the past year.  There is a general lack of trust that exists now between the industry (particularly with talent) and the HFPA.  One of the biggest problems that the Globes has right now is that fewer people within the industry see any value in winning one now than they did years ago.  Case in point, to protest the lack of reform with the HFPA, actor Tom Cruise gave back the 3 Golden Globes that he has won over the years.  It’s not a good sign when one of the biggest names in Hollywood no longer values the award you gave to him and seems so willing to depart with all of them.  Obviously it’s a statement on Crusie’s part towards his disgust with the HFPA, but it’s also a reflection of the Globes diminished value.  It’s also not surprising that even with the Globes back on TV this year, there were quite a few no shows who were still boycotting the awards, and with good reason.  Oscar hopeful Brendan Fraser has an especially justifiable good reason to never attend the Globes ever again, as he has accused past HFPA president Philip Berk had sexually assaulted him at an awards luncheon in 2018.  It was an incident that led to Fraser’s years long exile from Hollywood which he has only just now returned from with his Awards contender The Whale (2022).  Fraser, despite a nomination, didn’t attend this year’s Globes, stating in an interview, “my mother didn’t raise me to be a hypocrite.”

Despite making a return to live broadcast, the Golden Globes still has to contend with another existential factor, in that all awards ceremonies are on the decline; even the prestigious Oscars.  People just aren’t that interested in the glitz and glamour of the Awards season like they have been in the past.  Awards shows have always been a bit of indulgent self congratulation on the part of Hollywood.  It’s a bunch of rich celebrities all dressing up fancy and handing each other gold statues; something that seems very much detached from the actual issues that society deals with today.  Overall, Hollywood rewarding itself is taking on a more trivial place in the minds of audiences around the world.  But, it’s actually always been trivial.  The Golden Globes and even the Oscars for that matter have never exactly reflected what ends up being considered the greatest movies and shows of all time.  Some of the best films recognized today never even got anywhere close to recognition from awards like the Globes.  So, why should we as an audience put any value into Awards shows?  Well, for many decades, apart from the movies themselves, the Awards ceremonies have managed to distinguish themselves as entertainment in their own right.  There was a time when the Oscars, and even the Golden Globes were appointment television, even in the same company as events like the Super Bowl.  And this was due to the fact that these shows knew back then how to grab the attention of the audience.  They were spontaneous and grandiose spectacles.  What unfortunately has happened is that the Awards ceremonies have tried to play it safe and conventional, which has made awards shows feel more like manufactured chores to get through rather than major events to be astounded by.

What the Awards shows need to do is to make the ceremonies feel as rewarding for those watching at home as it does for those watching live in room itself.  The shows have increasingly felt like ceremonies for elites rather than shows worth tuning in for, and it needs to strike that right balance between glitz and spectacle.  In this case, the Golden Globes has historically had an advantage.  It’s more spontaneous moments have been the highlights of Awards season throughout the years, with slightly intoxicated celebrities breaking loose a bit more than they would elsewhere.  But, there are cases when then anything goes approach can back fire.  You want your awards ceremony to be remembered for the people who won, and not for one celebrity smacking a presenter across the face on live TV like what the Oscars experienced last year.  In the end, the thing that people want to see is their favorite celebrities be rewarded for their achievements and given the chance to speak from the heart on stage.  The moment the names inside the envelopes are read to the acceptance speeches that are given are always the highlights of any awards show, especially if it’s a surprise.  Unfortunately, the producers of these awards try to micro-manage these moments too, by playing the person off with music to cut their speech short.  And when audiences recognize they are watching something that is trying way to hard to be pleasing to everyone, they begin to grow less interested, because of the artificiality of it all.  For the Golden Globes, they are facing these kinds of headwinds within the industry as well as renewed competition.  When the Globes were off the air last year, the Critics Choice awards took it’s time slot and increased it’s own televised audience, helping to make it’s own case for being the number 2 awards show of the season.

A lot of the woes facing the Golden Globes are certainly self-inflicted.  Years of shady practices and unlawful activity on the Hollywood Foreign Press’ part has justifiably made Hollywood lose trust in it.  And the unusual way it chooses it’s nominees and winners still leads to questionable choices as well.  The ceremony has split awards between Drama and Musical/Comedy for years in several categories, but when a film like Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2015) is nominated in the Musical/Comedy category, it definitely becomes a head scratcher.  But the problems it faces are also problems systemic with the industry as a whole.  Awards only have value if there is an understanding across the industry and among the general audience that the certain award is worth winning, and the Globes are beginning to falter in justifying it’s value these days.  It’s always played second fiddle to the Oscars, but the gap between them seems even more pronounced now.  The Oscars has the benefit of being the original industry award, and the one that stands as the gold standard nearly a century later.  We aren’t at the point where even the most passionate industry insider will give back their Academy Award in protest.  Some have refused Oscars (George C. Scott and Marlon Brando) but no one has actually picked up their statue and then returned it after a dispute with the Academy.  And yet now, we are at the point where celebrities have no qualms about returning their Golden Globe.  The Globes may have meant something in the past, and the ceremonies at one point were must see events on television, but those days may be coming to an end faster than the HFPA would like.  Can they turn things around, or is the end inevitable?  Somehow they have survived for 80 years, despite all the scandals, two cancelled ceremonies due to a strike and a boycott, and a pandemic.  They have been under-estimated before, but with an industry becoming far less trusting in a historically corrupt organization like the HFPA, it might be time to let the Globes sunset and fall out of the orbit of Hollywood’s increasingly competitive Awards season.

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