No prizes for guessing who is the real Oscar loser

`Nothing is definitely good and nothing is definitely bad - Jeffrey Archer's novels excepted'
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The Independent Online

There were some fantastic actors up for an Oscar this year. You only had to look at the generosity of their smiles as they applauded the person who'd just beaten them, to appreciate what brilliant performers they really are. The Oscars is without a doubt the biggest award ceremony in the world; somehow the knife-edge decision over who will get the Nobel Prize for Chemistry has failed to capture the public imagination in quite the same way.

There were some fantastic actors up for an Oscar this year. You only had to look at the generosity of their smiles as they applauded the person who'd just beaten them, to appreciate what brilliant performers they really are. The Oscars is without a doubt the biggest award ceremony in the world; somehow the knife-edge decision over who will get the Nobel Prize for Chemistry has failed to capture the public imagination in quite the same way.

Oscars night is now the occasion at which Western society honours its greatest heroes. In the old days celebrities didn't get awards; instead the Pope would just make them into saints. At the annual sanctification dinner at the Vatican, Philip the Good would have to smile and applaud while inside he was spitting with jealously that Joan of Arc had been made a saint while his Treaty of Arras had been completely overlooked by the judges.

Today there are awards ceremonies for virtually everything. For example, the comedian and writer Tony Hawks recently found himself hosting the British Flooring Awards, where he told me there was great excitement as guests wondered who would win `Best Adhesive-Backed Linoleum'. Among the other genuine awards ceremonies that are held every night in the hotels along Park Lane are the Heating and Ventilation Awards, the Catering and Hotel Keeping awards and the Handling and Storage Awards.

More and more professions are realising that this is a way of raising their profile and keeping their workforce motivated. Soon hundreds of people will arrive at the Grosvenor House Hotel, suitably done out in stripey jumpers and eye-masks for the Burglar of the Year awards. "My fellow burglars, this award doesn't belong to me...''

"Well no, Nobby, you just nicked it off Brian.''

Or live from Teheran, the International Terrorist awards... "And the nominees are Shining Path of Peru, ETA and the Animal Liberation Front!" And across middle England, fingers will be crossed for that elusive British win, although, as Jonathan Ross points out, being nominated is itself an honour for the plucky animal lovers from Devon.

One of the last gaps in the market for an awards ceremony was filled last year with the inauguration of the Political Awards. It was felt that politicians do not get enough free publicity or go to enough drinks parties, so another beano was organised in their honour. As one of the few people who had written a political book I found myself automatically among the nominations for Political Book of the Year and so I went along wondering how my book about losing all those elections to the Tories would get on. It lost to a Tory. I wouldn't have minded but I lost to Ted Heath of all people, and that was the first thing he's won since the 1970 general election. I suppose it's just as well he beat me in the ballot; he would only have gone off and sulked for 25 years.

Because our vision of awards ceremonies has been so influenced by Hollywood, all the other awards ceremonies are produced along the lines of the Oscars. Ted Heath rather failed to play along with this; he singularly refused to burst into tears, thank his mum or hug me meaningfully back at the nominees' table.

The problem with awards is when people start to take them seriously. Increasingly in the arts, prizes are taken as proof of merit. This year American Beauty won five Oscars so it is therefore a great film. But The Straight Story got nothing so it is not. In my opinion they are both excellent, but there's no objective way of measuring the best of anything in the arts. Nothing is definitely good and nothing is definitely bad - Jeffrey Archer's novels excepted.

Prizes for art and culture are of course part of a marketing scam just as much as they are in the heating and ventilation industry. In America they accept and understand this, and no film that had bombed at the box office would be likely to win an Oscar. But in class-ridden Britain, with all our snobbery and intellectual posturing, the opposite is true; over here, if a piece of culture is hugely popular, it is automatically presumed that it must be be rubbish. Art has to be inaccessible to be considered worthy of award status. If the Oscars were organised in the UK, the winner would be an obscure art film that nobody had liked or gone to see, but that got a few London film buffs very excited by its inversion of narrative form and the fact that everyone was talking in Esperanto.

So the next time the critics use the occasion of the Oscars to bemoan the lack of a British Film Industry, they should look to their own snobby prejudices that have helped separate the words "popular" and "culture". It is no surprise who gets the real prize - of all that British talent that is put into great films. A nervous hush falls across the room as the envelope is opened... "And the winner is... Hollywood!"

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