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The origin of the red carpet

(CBS News) Contributor Nancy Giles can hardly wait for tonight's Oscars:

We all know the Oscars are a big deal, but isn't that walk down the red carpet the best part of that way-too-long evening?

It's all there: drama, comedy, sci-fi, sometimes unintentional special effects! They call it a walk, but it's more like a traffic jam of paparazzi and interviewers jammed on the sidelines, all struggling to find out who's wearing what designer, and to see if anyone's really telling the truth when they say "It's an honor just to be nominated."

There's a kind of choreography to this red carpet dance. Note the step and pose, and this transition: hand on hip, chin down, and ooooh! That strategic three-quarter profile.

On this night, whether you're a contender or not, your job is to stand there. For some, it seems effortless, but it can mess with your head. The lights flash: "Look this way! Down here! To the left, please! Over here!" Give it up for the women of the red carpet -- they carry the burden of attention like warriors.

And the Academy Awards red carpet is, well, the Academy Awards of red carpets! A cottage industry of coverage on TV, countless magazine and newspaper stories, blog posts, Tweets, you name it.

The right outfit on the right actress means global recognition for the designer. If I ever get the chance I'd love to say, "It's my mom's design," or "It's from the sale rack at Kohl's." Design for the masses!

How did this red carpet thing start, exactly? It's kind of hazy. In Greek mythology, the king Agamemnon was "welcomed" home from the Trojan War on a reddish carpet, a "crimson path" so that, like the gods, his feet wouldn't touch the bare ground. Special people, it seemed, needed special carpets.

Maybe movie stars and celebrities are our 21st century "gods," and the pageantry of the red carpet lets us mortals watch, and worship, and even nitpick.

And on Oscar night, watching the luminaries walk that walk, we can sit on our couches, think snarky thoughts, and bring those gods crashing down to Earth.

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