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Golden Globes: Why do we take them so seriously?

Golden Globes Awards.
(Image credit: Hollywood Foreign Press Association)

The nominations for the 78th Golden Globes were announced and, as we do every year, we looked at them with a sort of tired bewilderment. The official awards of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Globes are viewed as a key indicator of future Oscar glory. This is in spite of the sheer cycle of nonsense that has plagued the organization for decades. Nobody wants to take the Globes seriously, but it feels like everyone does anyway. The powers behind the Golden Globes have been accused of bribery, bias, and much darker incidents, and through it all, they’ve become a symbol for everything that is supposedly wrong with the awards process. Yet we keep returning to them. We get invested in the nominations and speculate over whether the Globes’ choices will lead to success with the Academy. Why do we go through this annual spiral when we should be self-aware enough to know the difference?

The history of Hollywood awards, in general, is a curious one. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was not created out of altruism or a burning desire to celebrate cinematic talent. Louis B. Mayer, the infamous head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, wanted to create an industry-wide organization that could deal with labor issues while completely circumnavigating the need for unions. The idea of an annual award ceremony helped to make them seem more legitimate and handing out shiny statuettes to people turned out to be a great way to get them on your side. Since then, the Academy has evolved into a more honorary role, helping to preserve, advance, and celebrate the various aspects of the motion picture business. The Oscars are essentially its golden ticket, and as goes the Oscars, so went everyone else.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association was founded in 1943 as a way for Los Angeles-based foreign journalists to better organize and distribute their work to non-American markets. Only a year later, the Golden Globes were founded. During the first ceremony, which took place at the 20th Century Fox studios, only six prizes were given out among three movies: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Watch on the Rhine, and their very first Best Picture winner, The Song of Bernadette. The Oscar for Best Picture that year went to Casablanca, although they did share three of the four acting winners. In 1955, the Globes introduced TV awards. Since then, the show has become an expected part of awards season, but one that raises many eyebrows.

The HFPA itself is curious. It mostly seems to be famous because of the Golden Globes, and never has more than 100 members at any given time. For contrast, the Academy has just under 10,000 members, made up of industry figures from all across the film world. In order to be considered for membership to the HFPA, you must be a California-based journalist who works for a foreign publication, publish at least four articles within the year preceding your application, and pay a $500 initiation fee. Forming a group of unified foreign correspondents made sense in the 1940s during wartime when such journalists needed a way to strengthen their relationships with the studio system. In 2021, its reason for being is much shakier. Indeed, the HFPA's membership is oddly secretive. There's no list of members on their website. Many members that we do know of work for major worldwide publications like the China Times, Le Figaro, and La Repubblica. Others aren't quite so illustrious. As a 2008 article from The Hollywood Reporter revealed, one member Alexander Nevsky, was a Russian bodybuilder and occasional actor with no discernible history of journalism.

The big joke about the HFPA is that they’re fame-hungry and proudly open to, shall we say, encouragements from the business. They've been accused by various journalists of being more interested in schmoozing with the rich and famous, who, in turn, offer their attention in the hopes of a Golden Globe nomination. Philip Berk, a former HFPA President, even admitted to this in his controversial memoir, bragging that actors who did interviews with HFPA members were more likely to be nominated than those who did not.

The organization has also been accused of welcoming bribes. In 1999, Sharon Stone sent $295 Coach watches to 84 HFPA members, although they were ordered to return them once they went public. When the musical Burlesque was nominated by the Globes, it was revealed that Sony had treated HFPA members to a special "junket" wherein they were flown to Las Vegas, put up in luxury hotels, and given a private concert by Cher herself. The most infamous example of this came in 1981 when the Golden Globe for New Star of the Year (a category that no longer exists) went to Pia Zadora for the viciously savaged flop Butterfly. Her husband, the film's producer Meshulan Riklis, had flown HFPA members to his palatial estate for a private screening of the film.

Many industry figures have called out the HFPA over the decades. Gary Oldman called the Golden Globes a "meaningless event" in a 2014 interview with Playboy. He went further by saying that the HFPA itself is "f**king ridiculous. There’s nothing going on at all. It’s 90 nobodies having a w**k. Everybody’s getting drunk, and everybody’s sucking up to everybody. Boycott the f**king thing." Oldman won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama for Darkest Hour, and he is nominated this year for Mank. Upon receiving his nomination for the latter, Oldman said "it remains a tremendous honor to be recognized by the Hollywood Foreign Press."

There’s also a darker side to the HFPA. In an interview with GQ in 2018, actor Brendan Fraser claimed that he was sexually assaulted by Philip Berk at an official luncheon in 2003. Berk denied the allegation, although Fraser claimed that his speaking out over the incident was one of the driving forces of his career decline.

So, why do we keep paying attention to the Globes? Are they really worth taking that seriously? Of course not! No awards show is, although at least real industry and critics ones give us solid indications of the state of affairs. The Globes’ importance remains somewhat overstated. They chose 1917 over Parasite for Best Picture last year, for example. When even the Academy gets riskier than you, that may be a sign.

The HFPA is the bratty cousin, the wildcard that is simultaneously exhaustively predictable and occasionally surprising. It’s because of that sliver of excitement that people tend to give them the infrequent benefit of the doubt. Their TV awards tend to be more varied than the Emmys, which often settle on a preferred show and rewarded year after year. They gave a woman the Best Director award decades before the Oscars (that woman being none other than Barbra Streisand.) This year, there are more women nominated for that prize than men, which is nothing short of miraculous. Frankly, for a hell of a lot of TV shows, it’s probably a more viable campaigning strategy to shake the hands of 90+ HFPA members than try to force the Emmy crowd out of their old ways.

Ultimately, everyone likes to win. It’s nice to be applauded and given a little golden statuette as people gaze adoringly at you and the champagne flows freely. The industry can scoff at the HFPA and rightly call out its weirdness, but they’ve done a lot to enshrine the group’s status as one of great importance, and now they’re all going along with it. Whether or not the Globes have any sort of pre-Oscar force, plenty of people act as though they do and that’s just as good. As always, the buzz matters more than the real thing.