The independence of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and of the United States of America is admirable. The sheen on its prestigious Oscar awards night, as the second most watched event in the US, has only got brighter in recent times. However, it looks like the social web can now influence how the Oscar award ceremony is conducted and will continue to do so in the future.
Every year the controversies around the award night, which surface both before and after the gala event, generate more interest and discussion than the event itself.
This year it was the turn of Sacha Baron Cohen to kick up the storm and grab his share of attention by intending to appear in the outfit of his role in his upcoming movie "The Dictator" with an urn of the 'ashes' of his friend, the real world dictator Kim Jong-il, even as many people felt that it was too much self serving and the Academy threatened to refuse him admission
Proving how the academy worried about the disruption to the biggest event in the industry and the fall out in its reputation, the Academy President Tom Sherak has issued a statement dismissing the speculation that the Academy was somehow in on the whole stunt of Baron Cohen.
"I'm telling you the truth, this is not a stunt that we were involved in at all. We can have another conversation about how things happened and whether we overreacted - but trust me, it was not like we helped make this up."
That raises the question why did the Academy object to the request of Sacha Baron Cohen to appear in his now famous uniform in the first place? Judging from his contribution to the motion picture industry and the record of box office success of his films, the Academy had only reason to welcome him as an honoured guest, especially as a cast member of Hugo, which received several recommendations and was considered a front runner for the top award.
It seems his reputation as a 'Controversy's child' and his Jewish origin have more to do with the reticence of the Academy than a mere intention to let his pranks annoy the guests and ruin their show. As mentioned in a piece on the Wiki about Baron Cohen:
"Aside from the comic elements of his characters, Baron Cohen's performances are interpreted by some as reflecting uncomfortable truths about his audience. He juxtaposes his own Jewish lineage with the anti-Semitism of his character Borat."
No doubt, the character of Admiral General Aladeen could have had unpredictable reactions in a world unsure about the gentle breeze of the Arab spring, which the Academy was in no position to judge and perhaps causing nightmares to its members who were trying to foresee the repercussions.
The Academy also has failed to reckon the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen, who perhaps unintentionally, has blunted any adverse reaction by releasing his famous clip but certainly meant to underscore his main theme of ridiculing dictatorship by the act of spreading the ashes of Kim Jong-il on the famous red carpet and thus send his real message to the whole world.
However the 'viral' and positive reaction to his clip of objection released on the web two days before the Oscar night must have given as much relief to the Academy members as the pressure of negative world opinion, if he were to be banned from the event for his prank which more and more people were ready to accept as such.
It appears that, after all the showing up of a "Dictator" for the Oscars could be a funny prank and nothing objectionable, thanks to the collective wisdom of the social web, which has the sea change in attitude towards dictatorship the Arab world has recently witnessed to its credit.
Baron Cohen was not alone to get an admission to the Oscar 2012 night thanks to the power of the social web. Uggie, the ten year old dog who was refused an entrance to the event on grounds many people will consider frivolous on the part of the Academy, finally got to share the Oscar and the stage with his co actor Jean Dujardin. The appearance of Uggie on various shows like the TMZ live before the night prompting public appeal on TV and the public outcry on and off the web has earned Uggie the fame and place in history he so well deserved.
With sentiment analysis tools like Wisewindow, which can listen in on the 'chatter' on the social web and analyse with natural language algorithms, is now possible to gauge what the world thinks and how it intends to act on various issues.
Applying such sophisticated tools on the social web allows you to anticipate the winners, taking some of the surprise and excitement from the award night gala. But, more importantly, the social web is also silently changing the politics and morals of the Oscars.
There are in fact plenty of reasons why the Academy should listen to the voice of the world.
Follow Sreedhar Pillai on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lastingrose