Applying Game Theory to Watching the Oscars

k9998Why do Internet, financial service, and beer commercials dominate Super Bowl advertising? How do political ceremonies establish authority? Why does repetition characterize anthems and ritual speech? Why were circular forms favored for public festivals during the French Revolution? Michael Suk-Young Chwe’s Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge tackles these questions using a single concept: common knowledge. A recent New Yorker article, Is It Rational to Watch the Oscars? uses Chwe’s ideas about rational ritual to explore the question posed in the article’s title:

Events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl generate what game theorists call “common knowledge,” which itself has value. In the case of the annual Hollywood shindig, this knowledge isn’t confined to an awareness of which films win or lose. If that was what people really cared about, they could simply look at the list of winners online, or in the morning newspaper. (In the old days, that’s what most did, and it’s hard to argue that their welfare suffered.) The common knowledge includes all the other goofy stuff that happens at the Dolby Theatre: the wardrobe disasters; the unfunny jokes; the weird dance routines; the embarrassing acceptance speeches; the unexpected appearance of Michelle Obama on a large screen above Jack Nicholson’s head. (Yes, I ended up watching the last forty-five minutes.) …

Read the full article, here.