The Oscar Screwup: Bad Design and Narcissism

Last night was the Oscars, and if you saw it (as I did), you saw the screwup where the movie La La Land was announced as the Best Picture winner, and then there was an “ummm, we made a mistake”, and Moonlight was announced as the real Best Picture winner.  You may have even heard how it happened: Price-Waterhouse (now PWC), thanks to the LA Times releasing the names of the winner back in 1940, now handles things with the utmost secrecy: two people tabulate the results, they prepare two identical sequences sets of envelopes, and one is on either side of the stage to cover wherever the speaker enters from. They handed one envelope for Best Actress just before Best Picture, and somehow when the speakers entered from the other side, they were also handed Best Actress instead of Best Picture. The rest, as they say, is history.

What is unanswered is why this happened?

The real reason appears to be: Bad Design. According to the LA Times, a new envelope design — red with the category embossed on the front in gold lettering — could have been a factor. This year, a new company was used to print the envelope. Previous envelopes were gold, affixed with large ecru labels stating the categories in a proprietary typeface that provided contrast and legibility. This year’s new cards, with the  lower contrast gold printing on red envelopes, could have been hard to read in the lighting backstage. I’ve seen similar problems with logos in the past: Wells Fargo Bank is particularly bad, with yellow text on a red background (which makes it difficult to see on a sign). Bank of America had a similar design problem: after their merger with a NC bank,  they had a good logo with red and blue lettering, but they put it on a red background.

Of course, this being the US in 2017, there is also a fake reason: Narcissism. According to Donald Trump, the it was Hollywood’s obsession with attacking him that contributed to the botched best picture announcement. Yeah. Right.

Then again, Gene Spafford opined a different reason: “Warren’s mistake is understandable. La La Land won the majority vote. Moonlight won the Oscar Electoral College vote.”

In other news, Elon Musk says he is sending two well-paying private customers to the moon and back next year. To paraphrase another friend on FB: Can we get him to send four administration officials on a one-way trip instead. Pretty please?

[ETA: PS: The solution is easy: QR codes and apps. On each award card, print a QR code with the category. Put that code on the envelope as well. When stuffing the envelope, use an app that requires scanning both and gives an error if they aren’t the same (e.g., ensuring right card in the right envelope). Award night, the director of the show uses an app to indicate the current award being given out (he knows this because he or she has to cue the graphics). When handing the card to the presenter, they scan the code on the envelope. If it doesn’t match the award being given, an error is given. Plus, this gives an audit trail, something PWC would love.]