Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why We Care About Awards (And Maybe Why We Shouldn't)

One of my good friends who shall remain anonymous (Rick O.), lives in hope that I will be convinced of 2 things:

1.  That the Star Wars Prequels are total crap (not going to happen)
2.  That the Academy Awards (and any other awards show) is a waste of time.

On the second one he has seen some progress.  The utility and enjoyment of awards is becoming an issue.

I like awards.  I think they are fun.

Here at this blog, I give out yearly awards for movies, television, and comic books.  But the awards here are different, because they are only one man's opinion.  I can be rebutted or dismissed easily.  I remember I shared with a group of my friends my lists of best films of all time divided by genre.  Rick O. kept shaking his head and mocked it mercilessly.

But that's okay.  That was part of the point of the list: to spark discussion.

But other awards mean something else.  Things like the Oscars are supposed to be times to celebrate what has collectively enchanted all of us fans.  We get together and communally share our love and admiration.  This is a powerful thing.  It can be a great bonding experience.  I actually felt vicarious joy for Peter Jackson as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King swept the Oscars.  I felt happy that he and the rest of the Middle-Earth crew could be acknowledged for their contribution to film.

Of course this is the ideal.

For the most part, awards like these are decided not by artistic excellence but by politics.  "Politics" here could mean the inner social navigation of the sub-culture or civil politics in general.  American Sniper was the largest grossing film of 2014 and was loved by audiences, myself included.  But I had little doubt that it would lose most Oscar categories because it had a political bent heterodox to most of the Academy voters.

Politics is also why Wes Anderson movies keep winning awards.  Perhaps I'm wrong, but I cannot fathom the amount of creative awards his movies win when they lack any kind of popular acclaim or real depth.  But Wes Anderson is loved by those who are in power in these circles, so he wins awards.

But what is the alternative?  Create a counter voting block?

That is what has happened with the Hugo Awards.

The Hugo Awards are science fiction awards given out each year.  Nominees and winners are voted upon by members of WorldCon.

There was a group of frustrated voters who believed that politics at large was responsible for the outcome of the Hugo awards and that science fiction.  They thought that politically incorrect authors were shut out because of their views.  In response a group organized by an internet campaign Sad Puppies and Angry Puppies got a number of like-minded people to register at WorldCon and as a result a majority of nominees share their political point of view.

Of course the opposing side is crying unfairness and prejudice.  But I think both sides have a bit of the same problem: neither voting bloc speaks to artistic quality.

One of the greatest comics ever made is Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen.  It is a marvel of the art form.  I don't agree with much of the underlying philosophy, but I cannot deny the skill that went into it.  I acknowledge its thematic and moral shortcomings, but I cannot deny its artistic merit.

The Hugo Awards and the Academy Awards (and so many other awards) appear to overlook the artistic in favor of whatever is deemed orthodox thinking.  That isn't to say that some great pieces of art aren't honored by these awards, but having the correct philosophy does not mean that your art is great.

And that is the problem with most awards.

I sympathize with breaking the stranglehold of an elite few tastemakers.  If this move at the Hugo Awards is simply a way to open the door to more politically incorrect themes, then I am in favor of it.  But if the awards are simply replacing one philosophical stranglehold with another, then it is bad.

But maybe I'm naively optimistic.  I think we can find a community somewhere that still cares about art and not mere popularity or politics.

And if we can't find one, let's make one together.

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