In a couple of weeks, I’ll be writing about the Billboard Music Awards. A week or so ago, I wrote about the ACM Awards, and a couple of months ago I basically refused to write about the Academy Awards. While certainly no one has demanded my reasons for skipping the things I skip, given that I write about the ACM Awards, the Billboard Awards and, in June, the Nebula Awards, it’s probably worth taking the time to say a few words about the awards shows I haven’t ever covered. Generally speaking, if they’re on this list, they’ll probably never appear here, but that might not be true! I could get the bug one year to write about one of them. But probably not.
The SAG Awards/The DGA Awards
These are a part of “official” awards season, and as such are considered important by people who care about such things. I do not actually care about the receipt of awards! I care only about the process of judgment and nomination. These aren’t really a spectacle, and they’re also professional awards given by members of a profession to members of the same profession. As such, they have about as much entertainment appeal as a company holiday party. I also find that the more serious and balanced an award is, the less fun it is for me to write about, because the ones that have a transparent, exclusionary agenda are the ones that are funniest to me. You’ll notice that the Academy Awards are the hardest for me to write about every year, and that this is not entirely because I rarely have anything to say, particularly, about movies1.
Part of it is also because it matters too much. Even the other of the big three – The Emmys and the Grammys – are still much harder to take seriously, because the field they represent is so wide that a singular voice about it is nearly-impossible to establish. Television is such a crowded field that it’s apparent to anyone that looks at it even un-seriously (and the average American looks at it 4 hours a day, so even the most unthoughtful benighted person is liable to have experienced enough of it to have what could be called a serious opinion), and music is such a personally-experienced thing (the estimate is that the average person listens to music 4 hours a day also, which actually makes me question the accuracy of these estimates – to wit: are they actually surveying people, or did the statisticians just ball up their questionaires, announced “4 hours for both!” and then run off to get drunk at lunch?), that there is a much higher likelihood tha they’ll bristle at the selection being blinkered and slow to respond to change. Since the average person sees much less than four hours worth of movies a day (that’s about 2 movies, or 700 a year, and the average person sees somewhere between 20 and 30, which is about one every 2 weeks.)
The SAG/DGA awards, however, take their voters from among their constituency. They send out screeners and ask for consideration, and the people that are voting know about them because this is the work of their colleagues, in their environment. So these are generally more considered and more closed-off seeming. They combine the weight of a peer award with the excitement of, well, a peer award.
All of this is the long way of saying: The Academy Awards are the forwardmost part of an awards cycle that includes these trade awards, about which most people (who have only seen 20 movies this year, of which maybe a quarter or so are among the nominees) don’t see enough of the field, or have the length of consideration, to argue with. That makes it easier to be funny about, but also more frustrating, because people accept their existence as authorial. The SAG/DGA awards, as stepping stones on the road to Oscar, are thereby both too earnestly given and too poorly-considered to be worth fodder. Also, it’s really hard for me to write about movies.
I’ve already written about the Locus awards, and intend to write about the Nebulas here in a few weeks, but the Hugos are nearly impossible to write about. Usually fan-voted awards are low-hanging fruit around here2, but even in their best years, the Hugos are just too silly to take seriously. They’re fan-chosen, but only a specific set of fans are choosing them, and the bloc that chooses them is so very small (it’s actually the members of the World Science Fiction Society, the membership for which is a $40 donation, which ostensibly also provides the dues-payer to a ticket to WorldCon, the convention built around the WSFS) that it’s hardly representational of the fan consensus around sff to begin with. The last couple of years a couple of groups (one of which is rather distasteful and reactionary, the other virulent and actively hateful) have actually hijacked the voting process. This could mean that in the future there will be a different process and it might be something somewhat different. But for right now, it remains a weirdly-selected option voted on by a small number of people3, which would be fine, except for that by choosing to write about the Nebulas or the Locus awards, I’m also choosing a wider selection of more-representative (albeit more serious) works. It’s basically on the same level as any given publication’s list of the best books of the year, and I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m arguing with those yet4.
The AVN Awards
It’s been done. While the AVN Awards are, themselves, one of the most impossibly misguided5 things ever televised (they’re nonstop hilarious every single year, for any of several dozen reason, often simultaneously), pornography itself makes me deeply uncomfortable, so the idea of an authoritative take on an awards show built around a thing that seems extraordinarily distasteful is, itself, a pretty difficult thing to figure out how to write around. Besides, having spent most of my adulthood avoiding pornography vis-a-vis the aforementioned deep discomfort, I’d have to look up a bunch of those words, and that doesn’t seem like it would be fun.
The Spike Guys Choice Awards
The elusive endpoint of the EGOTSGCA, The Spike Guys Choice Awards are, alongside the Razzies (see below) and the SAG Awards, one of the awards shows that I’m casting onto the reject pile permanently here, despite eyeballing them every single year. Part of the problem with the SGCA are that there’s simply no editorial rhyme or reason to them. Every year the antlers6 go to people for categories that are clearly made-up nonsense just to get them onstage. On the one hand, it’s hard not to admire that kind of moxy: this is an awards show where the awards are clearly assembled to get as many television-friendly people into the room at once and then reward them for existing. Lots of awards shows try to do exactly that thing under the auspices of being, say, a movie-awards show or a music-awards show7, so it’s at least respectable to see the pretense mostly abandoned. On the other hand, since the nominations are basically nonsense and, even though they’re publicly-voted, the winners don’t actually speak to any kind of skill or popularity beyond I RECOGNIZE THAT NAME LOL, the awards show itself is truly, deeply boring.
Every year, there’s an awards show dedicated to pointing out the worst in cinema, and every year I think it would be funny to treat it like an actual awards show. Here’s the problem: it isn’t one. I mean, beyond its stated aim, which is as a parody and a callout for people doing bad work, it’s actually the worst kind of publicity-generation/popularity contest awards presentation possible. On top of which, the sense of humor that is displayed in both the “hilarious” “jokes” they make out of the titles of nominated movies, on top of the absolute lack of critical assessment used in assemblage makes it about as funny as any other hacky, titilating-the-choir pseudo-comedy. All of which is a shame, because the Golden Raspberry awards, for their first few years, were actually an interesting and thoughtful bit of comedy in and of themselves. Now they’re actually more like a parody of the parody – rather than saying anything about the state of movie awards in general (and, honestly, someone should be able to do something better with this stuff, it’s not like the material isn’t there), they exist to make the same jokes you just made with your friends about, say, the latest Transformers movie, except they get to do it in public. It’s indescribably dumb.
A Bunch of Really Serious Awards
It would be funny, to me, to do the Pulitzers8, or the PEN awards, or the Peabody Awards, because it would make me laugh to give such highfalutin awards the ol’ People’s Choice Awards treatment. The only real thing stopping me is that, as considered, actually-worthwhile awards, there is basically no reason to call into question their editorship. While the Pulitzer Prize, say, or the Man Booker Prize, or whatever, are all certainly not without scandal and criticism, they are also not really the sort of thing that holds up well to being awarded to Mrs. Coach’s Hair. The Academy Awards are serious, but also very stupid. The Nebula Awards are serious, but also in a field about which I know more than enough to feel grounded in my criticism. The Tony Awards (which I have yet to write about) are the most tonally-bizarre9 awards given out in any given year, and are fascinating as a result, and so all three are fair game. But anything more serious, or more able to be taken seriously is, then, a thing that leaves out the pageantry in favor of the honor.
And that’s what all this is about really: how much of the entertainment landscape exists to prop up the pageantry of people rewarding other people as a marketing gimmick. If the show is beyond the marketing gimmick, then it isn’t really doing the same thing. The Tonys are positioned at the beginning of the touring season for the musicals and theatre pieces they’re honoring. The Academy Awards are positioned (now, in modernity) at the beginning of the fallow period for theatres, and also when most of these things are coming out in either wide release or home video. The Grammys (the most transparently marketing-based) even elide from consideration all fourth-quarter records, cutting off their “year” at the end of September, because the big holiday releases don’t need a sales bump in January10. The Emmys are there to get people to start the reruns of the stuff they’ve missed11. All of them serve less as recognition and more as dollar-directing events.
In summation: more to come, lots of awards presentations, lots of getting annoyed at categorical vagueness (The Emmys changed their rules this year, so they’ll be even more annoying than usual). Stay tuned!
1 I tried, early on in this blog’s run, to lay out why writing about movies is such a challenge for me, but the short version of it is basically that I find conventional film-making to be not that interesting for experiential reasons – I’m watching the same thing is a bunch of other people, except I had to leave my house and give someone money to do it*, so it just doesn’t hold my attention. I watch plenty of movies, but I watch them at home, where I can stop the ones that annoy or insult me, or rewind, or pet the cat or play 0hh1 during them or whatever. The point is, the ones that engage me intellectually are generally the ones that are flawed or are failures, and the ones that I think are fun aren’t anything I want to write about, except insofar as I like sharing my enthusiasm. So something like your average prestige picture is not only going to probably be dull to watch, I’m also going to have a hard time ginning up anything to say about it that isn’t “those people delivered their lines convincingly” or “movie cameras sure make stuff look good” or “why weren’t there any black people?”
* I freely admit that this opinion seems really weird to people, but it’s why in an average year I go to see probably 50 or so live music shows and, like, two movies: the movie is the same thing for everybody that watches it, the band is going to be doing something they don’t do every night. Even a band that safeguards against that kind of thing, the feeling in the crowd is going to be different, the response is going to be different, many aspects of the show are completely out of anyone’s control, and everyone in the room plays a part of it. Staring at lights on a screen are not as dynamic or rewarding, even though sometimes it’s a good way to tell a story. So my ten bucks is going to the unique thing, not the thing I can get for cheaper without sitting in a movie theater just by waiting several months. The magic of the cinema itself – of sitting in the dark room with the light and the celluloid – is something that people whose work I respect and admire have written about extensively, and I confess to being completely beyond it, although I like film criticism as a writing mien, so I’m glad that they love it as much as they do.
2 I actively look forward to writing about the Peoples Choice Awards, for example, and have made special dispensation for writing about bestsellers lists and the Maxim Hot 100 because of their “human-chosen award” basis, even though neither of them is technically a presentation of any real sort (one being a mathematical list and the other a photo gallery).
3 I’m unsure how many of the people that vote on the Hugos are also Nebula voters, but I suspect the percentage is pretty high, and the Hugos generally come off like the Nebulas would if they were drunk and looking for a party.
4 Except the aforementioned Maxim Hot 100, which is under the purview of one magazine, but is publicly voted upon. This is why Maxim’s list is fascinating, and the similarly-themed and -timed FHM list – announced the day before this post runs** – simply isn’t.
** congratulations Michelle Keegan, whoever you are!
5 and I mean that “impossibly” in all but the very most literal sense – if they didn’t actually exist, I would never believe that they could.
6 the actual Guys Choice award is a pair of antlers. Wikipedia says it’s because of the stag, which makes more sense than my assumption, which is that everyone who wins one and is present for the awards ceremony secretly wants to be Gaston, who, you’ll remember, uses antlers in all of his decorating. Hi, Amanda.
7 Viacom’s other major television properties, BET and MTV, manage to put together entertaining and much more worthwhile awards-show programming despite restrictions on their subject matter. Sometimes too much is just too much.
8 if this piece seems weirdly uncalled-for, it may be illuminating to know that it started out as precisely that: a roundup of the Pulitzer Prize winners, and a comedic declaration of their worthiness. I had to scrap it because it was really, really hard to make funny.
9 after almost 70 years, the Tonys are still weirdly split in the exact same way that theatre itself is in the post-talkie, post-television, post-modern landscape: divided between serious, deeply-felt things and also costume musicals. It’s really, deeply fucking weird. Also the Tonys are given for live events, and I don’t go to see Broadway shows, because I live in the middle of the country.
10 this is why Taylor Swift wasn’t much of a presence at this year’s Grammys – her record, one of the only ones that sold in 2014 period, was a late-year release, and thus still selling briskly and not in need of the sweet, sweet label-infusing cash bump that the Grammys give it. Excpect her, completely by coincidence, to win a record number of Grammys next year. You heard it here first, folks.
11 I mean, the fact that this is probably not effective anymore doesn’t mean it wasn’t the case.