Oscars season is upon us, let the free advertising campaigns commence

In exchange for glamour, TV gives Hollywood carte blanche to market itself mercilessly

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I woke this morning to find that American Hustle, a film which, from what I can gather, appears to be mainly about kipper ties and big glasses, has won some awards.

These awards weren't Oscars, which aren't handed out until March. Nor were they the Golden Globes, which are in the gift of the Hollywood Foreign Press Corps. Those were doled out last week. You probably heard about it. If you didn't I can't imagine how far off the grid you must be living.

No, these were the Screen Actors Guild Awards. You might assume that the fact that I know anything about the distribution of these arcane gongs means I was combing a deep-end film-buff site curated by some movie anorak in the Hollywood Hills. But you'd be wrong. This little item of information came from Radio 4. And not in the course of some programme covering the crazy goings on in Hollywood. This was in the middle of the 9am bulletin on Radio 4.

I've got nothing against awards. I understand awards and heartily approve of them, particularly when applied to such allegedly unjudgeable areas as the creative arts. I know how they work. If you win it's a long overdue recognition of your genius. If you don't it's a farce which nobody takes any notice of anyway, and anybody know a club that would let us in at this hour?

What I have difficulty with is the mainstream media - and here I'm looking at everyone from BBC News to Sky to Capital Radio to the World Service to all sections of the press - increasingly falling over itself to cooperate in the pretence that the question of whether one film gets slightly more votes from the retired Best Boys of Palm Springs than another one matters to anyone other than the bloke whose job it is to put bums on the seats of the world's multiplexes.

Furthermore, since most of what you pay for your eye wateringly expensive ticket goes to cover the costs of the film, the real fiscal endgame here is the selling of sugary drinks in large buckets. Keep that in mind when some actor is suggesting in his thank-you speech that the sum of the world's misery has been significantly altered by the fact that it’s him who’s fondling the statuette and not that no-talent over there. Pop.

Hats off then to the people who pull the strings of the motion picture business. They have perpetrated one of the greatest cons in modern commercial history, one which has proved far beyond the modest capabilities of the music, sport or food industries. They have managed to persuade everyone from the New York Times to Newsnight to Al Jazeera that their annual prizegiving is to do with something purer, finer and more profound than the volume of glutinous pop to be shifted from Milton Keynes to Moose Droppings, Ohio or the extra noughts it will add on the next cheque banked by the agent of the woman who wins Best Actress.

It's advertising. It's the best kind of advertising. You don't have to pay for it. Actually, it's one better than that, because it's the kind of advertising people will pay you for the privilege of running. Only 25 years ago, when I was involved in launching the film magazine Empire, the Golden Globes were recognised by people in the industry as a predictor of Oscars success and you wouldn't have known about the Screen Actors Guild unless you happened to read Screen International. Then Bafta got in on the act, realising that if it positioned itself at the right place in the calendar it could get some big Hollywood names to turn up. Now we have Oscars Season.

All these events have their own TV shows. Where there are TV shows there will be red carpets. Where there are red carpets there will be frocks. Where there are frocks there will be actresses paid to wear them and interviewers thrusting microphones at them and asking who they're wearing. More advertising. I find all this quite entertaining but what I cannot abide is the pretence of the media that it is anything other than sales promotion.

In exchange for its glamour, TV has given the film industry a free pass that it doesn't give to anyone else. If you're the marketing director of a widget company and the BBC want to interview you on camera, why not tell them you will only be interviewed in front of a display of your latest products? They'll refuse on the ground that this would be a naked commercial plug. But they'll happily extend that favour to anyone plugging a film.

Most film coverage isn't about films. It's about money and power and career and frocks. The media has flattered Hollywood that its inner workings are any more elevated than those of any other business. In return Hollywood has persuaded the media to accept tiny glimmers of access, glimmers for which it's pathetically grateful. The world's media will descend on Hollywood on 2 March, promising their editors “back-stage gossip” and “exclusive pictures”, both of which they'll be denied by the clipboard people who run the show. No matter. They'll keep coming back year after year and they won't be honest about the true reason why.

They've got stars in their eyes.

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