Actress Melissa McCarthy’s name was discussed quite a bit during the awards circuit this year. The actress capped off February with nominations for some of the most prestigious awards in the film industry. Most notable among them was a chance at winning the famed golden statuette; for her performance in Can You Ever Forgive Me
What makes this a special year for the actress, however, is a nomination for another award known not for its prestige, but rather for its notoriety—the Golden Raspberry Awards. The two awards typically don’t appear in proximity to one another. The golden Oscar statuette is considered the ultimate nod to a recipient’s artistry, while actors and artists alike try their best to avoid being associated with the Razzie. The infamous awards show, which has been around since 1981, recognizes and celebrates not the best, but the worst productions in cinema.
Melissa McCarthy won in the “Worst Actress” category this year for her roles in Life of the Party and the adult puppet comedy The Happytime Murders. While definitely not a career highlight moment for McCarthy, she is in good company.
Other accomplished actors such as Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, and Eddie Redmayne have also fallen victim to the old switcheroo. Some of them, like Sandra Bullock, also received a Razzie in the same year they received an Oscar; McCarthy was not able to do the same at the Oscars.
The curious predicament in which Melissa McCarthy finds herself poses some interesting questions. As her double nomination indicates, brilliant actors can also be guilty of subpar acting.
So what’s the standard, if there is one at all? In the rapidly changing cultural landscape of the 21st century, who is entitled to judge the performance and artistry of artists?
In the good old days of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, the esteemed body of the Academy ruled. Oscars were nearly irrefutable tokens of artistic achievement and success. That system gave rise to the giants of classical cinema, whose names still reverberate in the industry to this day—Humphrey Bogart, Laurence Olivier, Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor.
Method acting, based on Konstantin Stanislavski's system developed in Russian theatre, also ruled the acting world. It came stateside as American visionaries Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner worked together in the 1930s. With its training and rehearsal techniques focusing on psychological and behavioral qualities, method acting encourages actors to emotionally identify with their characters in order to produce the most sincere and expressive performances.
Once the gold standard of acting, method acting has lost significant influence in recent decades. As film became more accessible to the general public with the advent of the home entertainment industry, an increasingly diverse range of artistic styles emerged.
As the playing field widened, actors have also discovered unconventional ways to achieve success; some discovered great popularity through methods their predecessors might not have approved of, and a variety of independent and auteur films have found success with the mainstream audience. Film studios have also evolved, seeking ways to capitalize on their star power and earnings.
As audiences became exposed to more diverse films, many have brought to attention the homogenous aesthetic standard once upheld by the rigid Hollywood establishment. The predominantly white, male body of the Academy has come under fire for lacking an appreciation for diversity in their voting patterns. As the judges’ authority is questioned, many have also begun to lose faith in other elements of the film as an art form associated with the establishment.
The same kind of confusion has occurred across all spheres of the artistic world. The latter half of the 20th century saw a blossoming of the arts. The National Endowment For the Arts, founded during the depression to sponsor a multitude of art forms, saw an heightened diversification of sponsored projects. The institution came under fire on numerous occasions, most notably during the Piss Christ incident, for its sponsorship of projects considered by some as “unworthy to be called art.”
These controversies, along with attempts by many to abolish the institute, sparked further debate regarding what exactly constitutes art. As the public gains access to an ever-expanding array of artistic expressions, the once objective and rigid standard for evaluating art has gradually lost its authority. Some have resorted to popularity as the sole measurement of artistic achievement.
Recording artist Ariana Grande recently became the first to break a Billboard record held by the Beatles. This revelation inspired remarks that juxtaposed the pop star with the perhaps the most iconic act in pop music history. As accomplished as Grande is, it would be rather unfair to claim that she has achieved the same level of cultural significance as the Beatles, simply judging from to Billboard rankings. By the same token of popularity, should the Kardashians be considered as serious artists? Many would beg to differ.
In a society more interconnected than ever, the interpretation of art curiously has become unprecedentedly individualistic. It would seem that the appreciation of artistry will continue to be a matter of personal judgment; as the public is allowed to navigate through the progressively vibrant and diverse landscape of artistic expression, it is also able to ultimately arrive at its own personal assessment. The relationship between art and the viewer seems to be increasingly symbiotic and intimate—which could arguably create a more fertile ground for the advancement of the arts.