April 6, 2015

Award stuff to think about

Here are some things to think about in regards to awards.

  1. No award is completely “legitimate.” All awards work within boundaries, determining the tastes and favors of a specific group – be it an industry, the public, or a select few elites – and some awards are more “legitimate” than others in how they set out to accomplish this. An award’s legitimacy is derived from who it asks to vote and how it allows them to vote, these mechanisms functioning to capture the sentiments of their audience – the more accurately it captures the sentiment, the more legitimate it is. But no award is absolutely, completely legitimate – every process can be swayed by agendas or sentiments outside the boundaries of the award. (For example, check out the opinions of this Oscar voter, and how they influenced their selections.) It’s just that some awards can be swayed more than others.  These would be considered less legitimate.
  2. All awards are political, because all awards are a statement. Some people believe that awards should be wholly apolitical, as if their selection of What Is Best could be as antiseptic and sterile as measuring the temperature of a cup of water. This is nonsense. Merely by being about “the best”, all awards split people into two factions at least – those who do and do not agree with the selections. Two factions trying to get a human organization to choose the thing they want it to choose – that’s the definition of politics. Whether it’s an industry award, a public vote, or five elites in a room reading everything and having to choose one, the selection process generates a statement, and the creation of that statement will necessarily be political in some fashion.
  3. The more prominent the award grows, the more political and the less legitimate it becomes. When an award becomes very famous and popular, considered to be the pinnacle of its industry, people will fight over it more and more because there will be more to gain by being nominated or winning. This means more campaigning, more favors exchanged, and more tinkering with (or outright hacking of) the selection process, reducing its legitimacy accordingly. The award itself also becomes an entity, seeking to draw an audience and maintain its stature – just look at how the Oscars expanded its Best Picture category to allow in more crowdpleasers, thus hopefully drawing a larger audience on Oscar night. Some award processes are more immune to this than others – for example, small panel awards can’t be campaigned or tinkered with in the same way that a popular vote could be. But one could tinker with whichever selection committee chooses who sits on the esteemed panel – and that’s the weak point. No award is immune.

In conclusion: maybe take awards a little less seriously. And think long and hard about which awards are legitimate. If one award proves suddenly very easy to hack, maybe look back at all the other selections it’s made in its history. Did the award seem to “change” at some point? If so, when? And how?