American culture adapts to the rapid decline of mass media

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The odds that you’ve seen this year’s “Best Picture” winner are probably as low as the odds that you’ll tune in to the Oscars or be a fan of the three hosts. What about your chances of playing Wordle today?

It’s possible that a hit like “Don’t Look Up” will win the ceremony’s top prize, but given the Academy’s recent track record, it’s more likely that a less popular film will win the statue. That’s at least part of why Americans are far less likely to tune in when Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes host the show next month.

There are many explanations for the steady decline in Oscar ratings: a dearth of nominated blockbusters, politics, length. But the most influential factor would seem to be choice.

The ceremony was first broadcast in 1953 on NBC. Bob Hope hosted. Thirty-four million people were watching. As recently as 2014, the Oscars drew audiences comparable to 1980s shows. The most-watched ceremony of all time remains the 1998 affair, when 58 million viewers watched “Titanic” win evening. Just nine million people watched last year, continuing the ceremony’s steep and dramatic decline.

But choice alone cannot explain this pattern. It’s true that the vast proliferation of entertainment options is steering us all towards niches, eliminating the fodder of water coolers and shared cultural experiences. Still, Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast drew 112 million viewers. The most-watched Super Bowl ever aired in 2015, well past the Oscars peak.

Americans are still watching movies, so why are the Oscars (and other awards shows) suffering while the Super Bowl is blooming? As we covered three years ago, popular culture is dying. The consequence is a decline in shared values ​​and cultural landmarks. There will be fewer Jennifer Anistons and more Sydney Sweeneys, fewer “Titanics” and more “Parasites”, fewer Kronkites and more Acostas. There’s good and bad in all of this, as Guardians lose power and better products win.

Enter Wordle. The New York Times Traffic jumped up significantly after acquiring the game, the popularity of which is soaring. Morning consultations The figures a month ago, 14% of Americans played it. It is in the same baseball stadium like the part of the country that had even heard of several of last year’s “Best Picture” nominees.

Part of Wordle’s appeal is the shared experience. Everyone guesses the same word. When people publish and send their results, the fact is that we see our different paths towards a common destination. We all play exactly once a day with exactly the same result. The game would be less fun if people played for different words at different paces. There’s something magnetic about shared entertainment experiences.

But it takes the willpower and knowledge to create something people want to consume. The Academy is lost on both counts, culturally isolated each year thanks to the “Coming Apart” phenomenon, which has also spawned a snobbery that has made the awards less relevant. A similar fate befell legacy media like The New York Times, which at least had the business sense to acquire Wordle after seeing its success.

Could any given late-night host put on numbers that rival Johnny Carson? I don’t think so, although someone managed to channel Carson’s broad appeal. The format worked in the golden age of mass media, but 24/7 news, YouTube, streaming, and other factors made the ritual of tuning live every night obsolete. . This is where the selection of Hall, Schumer and Skyes from the Academy comes in.

Stephen Colbert is both the most polarizing and successful late-night host on the networks. Why? He jams a niche. Its writers don’t sit around midday wondering, “How can we make America laugh tonight?” They’re thinking, “How can we make liberal baby boomers laugh tonight?” If the Academy can turn the Oscars into must-see TV for progressive millennials, perhaps the only segment of the population that appreciates Amy Schumer, they might get more bang for their buck. (Following here and here.)

It’s probably more likely that they’re so clueless that they think what America wants right now is MORE AMY SCHUMER. But it’s worth following the proliferation of the Colbert model, because it’s the only way troubled institutions can limp along. The New York Times pulled a perfectly reasonable op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., in 2020 because the paper no longer caters to a large audience, but to a much smaller audience.

These silos bring with them blind spots that are difficult to correct and exacerbate cultural resentments. If the reports were correct that Dr. Dre felt censorship at the Super Bowl, he should consider that his salary and reach would be far lower if the show’s producers did not zealously guard the broad appeal of the event.


Emily Jashinsky is a culture editor at The Federalist. She previously covered politics as a commentator for the Washington Examiner. Prior to joining the Examiner, Emily was the spokesperson for the Young America’s Foundation. She has interviewed leading politicians and entertainers and regularly appeared as a guest on major television news programs including “Fox News Sunday”, “Media Buzz” and “The McLaughlin Group”. His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Real Clear Politics, and more. Emily is also Director of the National Journalism Center and Visiting Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. Originally from Wisconsin, she is a graduate of George Washington University.

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