NEWS: Democracy Fails in Hollywood

A fascinating experiment in democracy is going on in Hollywood right now, and it has nothing to do with government. From the Los Angeles Times:

The mercurial branch has been trying to refine its voting process for the Academy Awards for years. In its latest iteration, announced in January, the branch instituted two new policies: first, that every member of the documentary branch could vote on the nominees, as opposed to the secret committee that used to decide the chosen five; and second, that titles could be deemed eligible if they received a review in either the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times.

Unfortunately, they all got more than they bargained for, as evidenced when a box of 70-plus movies showed up on the doorsteps of all 176 members, to be screened before the shortlist of 15 titles is announced in November.

So let me get this straight. First, people are upset that the process is too undemocratic; a small cadre of elites used to create the shortlist of 15, which was whittled down to five by the voting members of the Academy. In order to rectify the situation, the Governing branch institutes these new rules to make the process more fair – and now people are complaining that there is no time to watch all the movies? Ugh.

This reminds me of my exact thought process when I become dissatisfied with our current two-party electoral system and start wishing we employed a plurality voting system, like they do in California. It sounds better to do away with political parties – effectively whittling down the choices for voters who do not fall neatly upon party lines – and let voters choose from a wide variety of candidates with different views. But that system has its own problems. First of all, it assumes voters will take the time to learn the positions of multiple candidates when there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they have enough trouble deciding between two.

But more importantly, an election with so many candidates affords corporate interests even bigger opportunities to help voters cut through the fog by flooding them with campaign ads. Why would a voter take the time to learn the policies of 10 candidates when they can just watch television and learn about two of them during the ad breaks? This is exactly what happened in California, when voters elected Schwarzenegger in a gubernatorial recall election. In other words, a seemingly more democratic process may be actually more easily corruptible – or at the very least puts more of the burden on low-information voters. And that is exactly what has happened here.

After the new rules were announced in January, the Los Angeles Times decided to review all films that screen during the DocuWeeks festival, a two-week program in August.  The only problem is that the festival requires a $20,000 entry fee to participate. Michael Moore sits on the executive committee that weighs the Academy’s rule changes on documentaries and was predictably miffed about this:

It becomes a class issue. Ones that can game the system are the ones that have deep pockets: Either the filmmaker is wealthy, comes from a wealthy family or has wealthy backers so they can put up the money.

Sound familiar? Apparently, democracy is hard. Perhaps it would be best to acknowledge that there is no perfect system here, and the best – nay, only – weapon against tyranny is a voter who is willing to be educated. Short of that, we’re all screwed.

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