What do the Academy Awards, the oldest and most prestigious movie award ceremony in the world, say about us? Like it or not, there’s a deeper truth beyond the glamorous dresses, the potential winners and the sometimes tearful — and way too often political — speeches.

But here’s the truth about the Oscars:

We love excellence. We love competition. We even love annoying speeches. More on that later.

Motion pictures had been around for a couple of decades when MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer and colleagues proposed the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1927. One of the first projects of the organization was to recognize excellence in the form of Awards of Merit in 12 categories. In 1928, the awardees were published in a book.

A year later, the Academy held its first award ceremony at the Roosevelt Hotel with 270 attendees. The silent movie Wings won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The following year, the ceremony was broadcast live. A star was born. This Sunday May 26, 2017, more than 3,000 glamorously attired participants at the Dolby Theatre and millions around the world via television will watch Hollywood’s best accept a much coveted Oscar award.

Excellence, competition, and recognizing merit, are not unique to our culture, but they are central to who we are.

The Oscars have inspired awards for television (Emmy Awards), theatre (Tony Awards), music (Grammy awards), and hundreds of other movie awards in the US and abroad. Even the Razzies, which awards worst movies and performances, owes its inspiration to the original.

As for politics at the Academy Awards, this, too, is a core trait in our culture. Some of us hope that their favorite stars will speak out on issues of the day while just as many hope the awardees will stick to thanking their spouses and colleagues. Annoying or not, the freedom to speak one’s mind is worth celebrating. No award winner will be censured by the government. No speech will start a riot. There are many film award ceremonies around the world where people must stick to the script for fear of reprisal.

Regardless of who wins the Oscars or what they say at the podium, the Academy Awards reveal our own character and our love of excellence, competition, and freedom.

What are your thoughts?

What do institutions like the Oscars say about our exceptional place on this planet?

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