Why Watch the Oscars? Wise Advice for Families

Parents Television Council exec shares precautions moms and dads should take if they're going to tune into Academy Awards

When I was a child, I remember watching many of the awards shows on television with my family.

It was the tail end of the variety show era, and there was still something of that aesthetic to many of the Awards shows.

You could usually count on some dazzling live performances, often by some of the biggest names from Hollywood’s Golden Era, such as this one:

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Beyond that, there was a good chance, even if you were a kid, that you would recognize and maybe even be cheering for some of the nominated movies and stars.

But now I am the mother of a nine-year-old boy, and it has never even occurred to me to suggest that we might watch the Oscars — or any other awards show, for that matter.

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What’s changed? The Oscars stopped being fun for me to watch when I stopped recognizing the titles of many or most of the nominated films. Watching as a child, I always felt there was always a possibility I might have seen one or more of the recognized motion pictures. Feeling like you’ve got a dog in the fight, someone to root for, always makes the viewing experience more fun.

In the ’70s and ’80s, movies like “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Star Wars,” “Chariots of Fire,” and “E.T.” were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, and all were reasonably family-friendly. Today it seems no movie is considered a serious contender for the night’s top award if it doesn’t carry an R rating.

“The King’s Speech,” which won Best Picture in 2010, was given an R rating by the MPAA primarily for a scene that contains multiple uses of the F-word. After winning the Oscar, Miramax cut the scene and re-released it with a PG-13 rating to broaden its box-office appeal. The f-words, in this case, appear to have been necessary only to garner the R rating — signaling to Academy voters this was a serious work of art worthy of their consideration.

The Deseret News noted that “since the 1968 end of the Hays Production Code, which had regulated the content of movies for more than three decades, the Academy Awards have almost always tended to favor more ‘adult’ films. Case in point: The Best Picture winner for the awards held in 1969 was the G-rated ‘Oliver!’ The following year, it was the X-rated ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (the film has since been rated R).”

The piece continued, “In the nearly 50-year history of the voluntary MPAA ratings system, less than 40 percent of the Best Picture winners have been rated G, PG or PG-13, and after the introduction of the PG-13 rating in the mid-’80s, all but two of those have been PG-13.”

This year, six of the nine films nominated for Best Picture are R-rated, and the other three are rated PG-13. Not surprisingly, not one general-audience or PG-rated film was nominated.

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Even beyond the lack of recognizable, broad-appeal films that are nominated, the show itself has become less family-friendly. Many of the jokes are edgier and the live performances more risqué. It should surprise no one that last year’s broadcast was the lowest-rated in nine years. When the producers do everything in their power to make the show less appealing to family audiences, they shouldn’t be surprised when families don’t watch.

But if you do decide to watch with your family, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.) Research the nominated films and performances beforehand. If the themes of the nominated movies are discussed during the program, or if excerpts are shown, will you be comfortable with your child seeing those clips, or discussing those themes with your child? One of this year’s nominated films is about a 17-year-old boy who becomes sexually involved with an older man. Are you prepared to talk to your child about the potentially coercive nature of a significant age difference in a sexual relationship, or other questions that might arise from discussion about that film? The answer will be different for every family, depending on the age and maturity of the child or children watching.

2.) Learn about the host and scheduled live performances. Is he or she known for working clean — or for edgy humor? What songs will the person be performing? Ellen DeGeneres is known for upbeat, clean comedy, and her stint as Oscars host was consistent with her established persona. As a late-night talk-show host, the comedy of Jimmy Kimmel — who is this year’s host — is topical and often edgy, and it is safe to assume he will bring some of that late-night edginess to the Oscars.

3.) Have a plan B ready. The overall tone of the show may become evident in the earliest moments of the opening monologue. Have a backup plan ready — a board game or a favorite movie — in case things take a turn early on and you decide not to watch any further.

4.) If you have a DVR, use it. Skip categories, performances, or anything you think would be unsuitable for your family.

With enough economic pressure, maybe the Academy will start to turn the ship around by honoring films that are watched and enjoyed by a broader audience — and by making the Oscars a fun, lively, family viewing experience again. Until that happens, it is best to be prepared and to take appropriate precautions.

Melissa Henson is the program director for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. 

The opinions expressed by contributors and/or content partners are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of LifeZette.

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