The annual Academy Awards ceremony held over the weekend was a classic Hollywood spectacle of glitz and glamour, showcasing artistic and commercial achievement in film. Though filmgoers may disagree about whether the winners deserved their awards, one thing that was clear from the ceremony was that a majority of Americans had not seen most of the nominated pictures. None of the nominees for best picture has managed to break the $100 million mark in domestic box office revenues. Chris Rock, hosting the Oscars, even had a sketch where he visited an urban theater and interviewed African-Americans, none of whom had seen any of the Best Picture nominees.
Notably absent from the awards ceremony were two of the highest grossing and most talked about pictures of 2005-“The Passion of the Christ” and “Fahrenheit 9/11”. Now, commercial success and artistic merit do not always go hand in hand. But should not artists trying to convey a message through their art be concerned that no one is watching their work? And should not the film industry be concerned that the two works that caused the greatest stir in the culture remained unacknowledged by the Academy?
The same problem exists in other fields, where highly regarded and critically acclaimed works are often met with low sales figures. In literature, it seems that the greater critical acclaim a book receives, the more obtuse and inaccessible the work is. In academia, the same situation exists-clear, concise writing is regarded as simplistic, while convoluted, jargon-filled tracts are often used to secure a faculty position.
It is for this reason that the Record applauds the recent decision by the Harvard Law Review to “give preference” to shorter articles and to outright exclude articles of over 75 pages in length. As the most prestigious legal journal in the United States, this decision will likely have an impact on law journals across the country. Indeed, the Columbia Law Review followed suit soon after the Harvard Law Review’s decision, making a similar announcement of preference for shorter articles and of the exclusion of lengthy works. By encouraging scholars to keep law review articles shorter, this change will encourage authors to cut the fat from their works. Articles will likely be more concise and focused, and the general reader will be me more likely to get through the entire piece.
There is often a divide between academia and the “real world”. Cutting out the pretension that pervades many academic texts can only help in bridging the chasm that exists between the ivory tower and the lived reality of the non-academic.