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Do award show acceptance speeches provoke social change?

Climate change, politics, women’s rights and AIDS victims are all prominent issues in the world that are commonly discussed, but there is an uncommon platform where all of these issues have been discussed before: award show acceptance speeches. 

Ever since award shows have started, actors, musicians and a plethora of other groups have dedicated their acceptance speech time to focusing on important issues happening in society.

Angela Hosek, Ohio University’s public speaking course director and an associate professor, believes acceptance speeches that deviate from simply thanking others make the audiences pay more attention. 

“When actors or artists use their platform to do something else other than just thanking their sponsors and loved ones, people take notice,” Hosek said. “It’s become something that people talk about a lot because it deviates from the norm.” 

Hosek believes at the end of the day, actors, musicians and artists are just human beings who also live in current society and are seeing issues and negative events unfold daily. Along with the speakers’ humanity and their desire to speak up for what they believe in, celebrity acceptance speeches are about reflecting on experiences that brought the speaker to where they are today.

An example of reflection would be Oprah Winfrey’s Cecil B. DeMille award acceptance speech at the 2018 Golden Globes. She reflected on her experience of being a child and watching her mother and other women be sexually assaulted, yet still being the strong ones who paid the bills and put food on the table. Winfrey used her platform to discuss the #MeToo movement, which was well-timed to the climate of the movement. 

Though acceptance speeches are the instigators of thought in the audience, the most important part is the aftermath of the speech. Some speeches are highly talked-about on social media and trend for a while, but celebrities don’t give speeches for the social media exposure. The speeches are meant to inspire change in audience behavior and raise awareness of issues, but the speakers are left wondering if audiences should simply stick to talking about the speech, or if they are actually inspired to make a change.

“I think it depends on if the audience is paying attention to the message,” Hosek said. “Whether you like the actor or not, depending on what they say can impact the audience in a different way that is ultimately decided on how the audience feels.” 

Hosek thinks if someone likes the actor or the character they portray, the audience member will pay attention and listen to what the actor has to say. If the speech aligns with the political views the audience member has, the person is more inclined to step up and make a difference with the issue. However, if the audience member doesn’t agree with the speech, they’ll not only ignore the speech, but they could stop liking the actor altogether. 

Maya Loken, a freshman studying strategic communications, thinks actors should use their platforms to raise awareness on social issues, but it is also important for them to understand the risk they are taking when doing so.

“I really appreciate seeing actors raising awareness of social issues through the platform they have,” Loken said. “What really makes me appreciate it is the risk they take by making some stands. Certain issues that are talked about are controversial among society, and it’s so cool that artists are able to put their own feelings aside to fight for something important.”

Olivia Mayernik, a freshman studying communications, thinks acceptance speeches are a great way for audiences to get some information from someone they look up to.

“I think it’s cool that actors use their platform to educate audiences on social issues,” Mayernik said. “It’s information that the audience didn’t know they were going to get in that setting, and I hope that the audiences listen to the importance of what these actors have to say.”

According to Psychology Today, celebrities tap into powerful motivational systems in their audiences that inspire them to love, admire and copy them. Celebrities have been interwoven so deeply in society that it becomes a big part of the way audiences live their lives. Celebrities then use their platforms to preach about something they’re passionate about, and believe they might inspire society to implement their passions through change. 

All in all, Hosek hopes if prominent figures use their acceptance speech time as a platform for social change, they use it for something positive.

“I think in some ways, actors and artists are granted a platform that the rest of us don’t have,” Hosek said. “It’s so important that they’re mindful of what they choose to stand for. Of course, they have the right to say what they want to say during their speech, but I hope they have a powerful message that uses language in ways that won’t attack or harm others, and I hope they propose positive changes that puts out good into our society.” 


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