The Campfire Effect: Why We Celebrate OSCAR™ And The Most Spectacular Show On Earth

by • January 24, 2012 • Hollywoodland, MoviesComments (0)1652

Bright and early this morning, just a few short moments ago, we at long last gained access to the highly anticipated list of 2012 Academy Award nominees when the names were announced at 8:30am EST (5:30am PST) by actress Jennifer Lawrence.  I must say I’ve never been more impressed by a year’s crop of films as I have been by the caliber of movies we’ve seen in 2011.  To say we’ve been spoiled would be an understatement.

Literature and music are, of course, an essential part of the human experience, but the art of cinematic storytelling is simply unrivalled in the powerful way in which it narrates the collective human experience via the silver screen.  Why do people get so excited about this annual spectacle of glitz and glamour?  When you look beyond the surface level and dig much deeper into the raison d’être of the Oscars, what you will find is our desire to exalt the most gifted narrators of the human story, those masters who provide a voice for the voiceless.  The ability to beautifully narrate one’s own life story is a very rare gift, an ability which researchers are just beginning to realize is not only a transformative gift, but a healing one as well (for more on this concept be sure to read “Scientific American Unlocks The Vast Healing Power Of Narrating Your Own Life Story“).  I also feel that movies provide us with an essential antidote to the intensity and brutal forces of modern life — the “campfire effect” as I would like to call it.  And oh, what a beautiful fire she is.

In his book The Power of Movies, philosopher Colin McGinn explains the power and importance of storytelling: “We want to be more than ourselves.  Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself.  We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.  We demand windows.  Literature as Logos is a series of windows, even of doors.”  In similar fashion, McGinn looks at the screen and sees not shadows on a bit of white cloth but something far more meaningful: a window into another world.

By examining the cinema in comparison to such things as windows, the ocean, or the human eye, he notes that in each instance we look not at the thing itself (i.e., the windowpane, the water, or the tissue of the retina) but rather beyond it.  He suggests that gazing into an open fire often captivates the attention of the spectator, and yet we may well not simply look at the fire but into it or through it.  And he believes that a movie audience similarly looks “through” the screen, as if through a window, into the world beyond.  McGinn also equates film with the realm of dreams, and he believes that the mind processes a cinematic story in a similar fashion to a dream (although he also characterizes film as perhaps better in one sense than a dream, as it is “a dream as it has been rendered into art”). He seems to assert that the universality of film’s connection with “waking dreams” is why cinema is so popular and why it often manages to circumvent language or cultural barriers.

Welcome to the most spectacular show on earth.  A show which is cherished because we realize that it’s more than a celebration of film, it’s a celebration of dreams — both conscious and unconscious ones.  The louder we celebrate Oscar each and every year, the bigger, brighter, and better those fires will become.  To read the full list of this year’s nominees simply head over to OSCAR.go.com.  

Sources: BC Books and The 84th Annual Academy Awards

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