Here is my annual small contribution to the idea of awards! Every awards-granting body is, at least in part, choosing its grantees with the intention of situating itself in the awards-granting period. In the case of most televised awards shows, it’s to increase revenue for the award-granting body, or to the industry attached thereto. In my case (as I derive no revenue from this), it is merely to draw out some thoughts/make an opinion known about some things that I didn’t get the chance to through the normal course of the writing year1. So enjoy as I present to you: the awards for the sorts of things I think about when I’m not thinking about awards (which I have cleverly converted into things that I think about awards about, because that’s apparently just how I live my life).
1 in fact, many of these are boiled-down versions of pieces that I was going to write that I either a) didn’t have enough to say about them or b) don’t have a real point of view that’s interesting enough to justify expressing here.
Achievement in Positivity in Awards Granting – The 2015 and 2016 Hugo Awards
I have written at several different installments about not specifically writing about the Hugo Awards, but since both last year’s and this year’s have happened in between installments of the Trainie Awards2, I will say: it speaks to the robustness of the audience and the voting mechanic of the Hugo Awards that a pernicious attempt to vote-brigade into existence a wrong-headed vision of sf as a genre (or set of closely-related genres)2 failed pretty much entirely3, due to a general distaste for/rejection of the ideas that were being presented. While certainly everyone should be allowed to vote for the vision of the world they see fit, the thing that makes it heartening (at least as someone who thinks that the genre should be as forward-moving and inclusive as possible, and not hidebound to what a bunch of people who are willing to get behind someone who refers to a WOC sf writer as a “savage”) is that people are so roundly against the idea in the first place. In 2015, when the awards were the most compromised, many Hugos were not even given (voting for “no award” being an option if you feel none of the works are deserving). In 2016, the four biggest fiction awards all went to the non-puppiest of options, including N.K. Jemisen (the aforementioned WOC sf writer who was referred to – repeatedly – as a “savage” by the putative mouthpiece of one of the puppies groups). Thus was a message sent: that there is clearly a group of people that agree with the idea that only the most retrograde ideas about what constitutes sf that is willing to be vocal, but they are not as numerous or as vocal as people who believe the opposite.
2 as mentioned, here and literally everywhere else, the two groups that are, for the sake of this argument, lumped together under the term puppies*, presented a slate (or, in the most recent interval, a suggested reading list) that encouraged people to vote for what they felt represented the truth of sf. Many of the selections (especially in the editorial and related works sections) were pretty execrable, and often downright hateful. The people presenting them were also (and the less said about them the better for our purposes here), but the whole thing was borne out of a notion that sf “used to” not be about inclusive thought, or futurist thinking, but rather about adventures, masculinity, and white people. Again, you can find this stuff just about everywhere, but if you don’t want to go looking for it (I don’t blame you), the thing to know is that a bunch of backwards-thinking reductionists decided they didn’t like the current state of the genre, and tried to force decisions based on slate-voting.
* it is true that they are two different groups, with two different mechanisms, but it is also true that their goal is the same, and they are unified in the idea that what they are pursuing is soemthing that was lost over time, rather than something that never actually existed.
3 this is, of course, contrary to the puppy line, which is that they totally meant for everything that happened to happen, and we’ve all just been playing into their hands this whole time.
Achievement in Just Generally Being Awesome, Unreservedly – Jessica Jones
Netflix’s Marvel series started with Daredevil, which was awesome. Daredevil was my favorite superhero (well, sort of – see below) when I was a lad, and it was awesome4. The follow-up, then, was an adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias, setting up the second5 of the superheroes that will (next year) go on to be The Defenders. This was something about which I was slightly more cautiously excited – I don’t love Alias6, but I saw the potential, and it would be neat to see a lady-fronted superhero show. But it was awesome. Like, even more awesome than Daredevil awesome. My relationship with superhero-based entertainment is a long one7, but mostly it’s a sort of candyfloss kind of entertainment. Oh, there are certainly stories that are serious, and able to be taken seriously, but my favorites are generally the ones in which the superheroics are rather superfluous, or in the best-case scenario, largely useless to the problems encountered by the people who have the superpowers8. Jessica Jones speaks directly to that preference, while also constructing a powerful and organic story around the nature of superheroism, and regular heroism, and recovery and the long-lasting effects of people that abuse the power (super or otherwise) they have over others. It also is the first step in the long road of doing right by the character of Hellcat (never named by codename in the show) – a character who had no superpowers at all, but who felt something had to be done about supervillainy, so trained herself into superheroics anyway. It’s a little-loved Marvel character with a great backstory and set of character attributes, and also probably the most under-rated part of the widely-praised show. Anyway, it’s just awesome. Go watch it again.
4 well, season one was awesome. Season two was fine – it definitely had its things that were awesome! – but it was imperfect. I may find that I have something to say in the future about the fundamental problem of adapting Elektra, but that would probably lead to the fundamental problem with Frank Miller’s work in 2016 and, really, that’s a pretty big fruit to pick.
5 and third, in the form of Mike Colter’s amazing Luke Cage, whose own series is coming later this year.
6 get me alone sometime and ask me about Brian Michael Bendis. It’ll be fun. I have a lot of weird opinions there.
7 longer than almost everything except daily newspaper comics, which I love so much I’ve forced them onto this blog a handful of times.
8 my all-time favorite, well, anything, really, is a comic book called The Maxx, which is remembered, when it is remembered at all, for the MTV-produced cartoon based on its first couple dozen issues. The cartoon has a more regular (but ultimately not as good) ending, but is a pretty faithful adaptation for all that.
Achievement in Data Analysis Applied to a Widely-Mistreated Genre of Music – Peter Lewis, “What Happened to Country Music”
In a disappointingly-brief Medium blurb attached to a chart (which, really, begs a deeper analysis, but works just fine as it is), Peter Lewis begins from a pretty standard premise, and continues onto an actual solution. Namely, that classic music is better than present-day country music, at least in terms of the stuff that charts, and that there must be a reason. While his piece is probably at least half a joke, it does two things that I think are tremendously interesting9. The first is that it points out that there really is a general shift in subject in the mid 70’s10, a lyrical focus that Lewis terms “the right way to live” – which is as good a name as any of for the sort of didactic, mindlessly-nostalgic pandering song that became a feature not only of the genre, but of many of its most recognizable hits for, oh, about a thirty-year stretch – arose, and continued to grow, falling back between 2005 and 2015 which, the astute among you will notice, is when bro country arrived, and much of the country music that sold enough to chart became about partying and generally bro-ing down. Accordingly, it’s easy enough to look at this preliminary data and come to the conclusion that, really, should have been there all along: that, like with rock music (or jazz music) which also had a period where the high-charting stuff was also good, followed by a long time where it mostly wasn’t11, it becomes easier to move casual fans to buy songs that are casually meant, and that signification is more lucrative than meaning – it’s easy enough to sell the hat, in other words, rather than the head under it.
But the other thing that made it worth awarding was the merest fact of the consideration at all – much country music made after, say, 1972 is pretty much immune to the “Everything is Awesome” school of poptimism that has all but taken over popular music criticism, with the party line being that there are a handful of rareified country singers and songwriters (most of whom are dead, of course12) who are “acceptable”13 to like. This opinion itself contains more than a little ruralism (country music being largely the purview of the non-urban, at least for the first few decades of its existence) and, at its worst, classism (country music being associated with the working-class, and its performers often making something of poverty – or at least poorness – as an origin story), and so even a brief, kind-of-silly Medium writeup represents at least a moment when people paid attention to the totality of the genre, rather than the same six people that they’ve decided to go along with. In this way, it makes the world a little less frustrating, and hey, maybe I’ll pick it up and do something with it.
9 it is entirely possible that I actually think they are more interesting than Mr. Lewis himself, at least if his brief, flippant piece represents the totality of what he has to say about the matter.
10 actually, this date is probably a feature of the fact that he only looked at the charts from once per decade – this kind of song begins, at least as far as the popular sense of it, with Merle Haggard, and specifically with “Mama Tried” and especially “Okee From Muskogee,” which is almost a how-to manual for a certain breed of hat-and-boots Nashville creation, despite being a much better song than just about any that it inspired. Which is, of course, far from uncommon.
11 this is also the part where I point out that, because nothing is really selling anything, the country charts have about as much to recommend them as they have in my entire adulthood, so that’s a turn up for the books at least.
12 the living exceptions are limited largely to Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn and Kris Kristofferson. Maybe Dolly Parton. Maybe.
13 the rockist opinion also generally tries to remove them from country music, reframing them as proto-rock musicians, or (in the case of the undeniably country-ass Willie) highlighting their distance from the Nashville establishment.
Achievement in Sheer Tone-Deaf Insulting Nonsense – Yacht, and their ersatz sex tape
A scant few months ago (ah, how time flies), dumb indie band Yacht14 announced that they were being held ransom by the existence of their sex tape, and that in order to make sure that they were the ones to profit from it, they were releasing it themselves, and you, too, could download it for five dollars.
And then, of course, it turned out that there was no “sex tape,” it was all a publicity stunt or performance art piece or “social experiment” or whatever dumbfuck thing it needs to be called. They apologized (eventually they even apologized for what seems like real). Since this is a celebration of things (it’s an award, after all), I’m not necessarily interested in re-litigating any of it. They ended up looking dumb (although, in the end, they got the publicity they were after), the world continues apace.
The reason this is a special achievement is because in the best case scenario, this is a situation designed to make everyone in it wrong. By lying to people who have no reason not to believe them, and then not actually selling them anything (to be fair, they also didn’t take anyone’s money), they added a layer to the already-super-weird set of feelings around people wanting to take advantage of the perpetrators trying to take advantage of themselves being taken advantage of. It’s a weird kind of entrapment, if the arrest for entrapment included the cop in question actually giving you a handjob while he does it, except with the added wrinkle that the cop, the arrest, and the handjob were all not actually happening. If Borat was a high-water-mark for laughing at people because they don’t assume that strangers mean to harm them, then the Yacht sex tape fabrication was several notches less than that, because it didn’t even include the joke. Hell, it didn’t even include an idea, just “oh shit guys we didn’t think that making people believe something terrible had happened to us when it in fact had not would make people mad.” It’s an exercise as pointless as it is cruel and, as such, deserves some kind of award. Which, really, is what brings us here.
14 I mean “dumb indie” as a genre marker here. While I think that the members of Yacht are pretty definitively shortsighted assholes, I have no evidence that they’re of subnormal intelligence.
Achievement in Creating an Argument Where No Sensible Person Can See An Argument – the War on “Millenials’” Attitudes about Cereal
For the last several years, every annoying asshole who needed something clickbait-y and guaranteed to start A Conversation15 has decided to say something insulting and/or inflammatory about “Millennials”. This is, of course, impossibly dumb, for any number of reasons. Marking a generation with a name for the entire cohort kind of made sense for the Baby Boomers. Kind of. I mean, at least for the white ones who were at or above middle class incomes. Their experience could generally be described by the monocultural output that meant that they had, more or less, a homogenous experience – they went to similar schools, saw the same media, followed the same trajectory into the working world. It wasn’t even perfect then, but it sort of spoke to some elements of a shared experience. In this sense, pointing out that their children would have, at least, one thing in common (they were born to a generation with a hugely epochal formative experience, and thus came from similar places as people) had even further limits – since the period of Generation X’s young adulthood matched up to the diversification of cultural moments, such that people became aware of nonwhite, non-middle-class upbringings at the time, Generation X was, in all probability, the last “named” generation to have any particular meaning. But since we’re stuck in this mode – since the boomers are still alive, steadfastly not retiring, and insistent that everyone is no more than the cohort into which they were born16 – here we sit, bitching about millennials.
Now, look, nobody is denying that the position in the timestream in which you exist is a thing that affects the way you experience the world and, since each of us is stuck going only in the one direction at basically the same speed as everyone else, there are, necessarily, going to be commonalities between members of a generation. I get it, I really do. But the problem is that the current generational marker includes people whose experiences can be so vastly different from each other – even along sociocultural lines which were much more similar in the past – and involves making enormous blanket statements about “them” as though “they” were less “a group of people who were the same-ish age during the same-ish events” and more “a fucking hive mind”. It is at this point that it’s further worth pointing out that none of the named generations are a hive mind, and that none of them have as much in common as old people think millenials do. It is also worth pointing out that this argument was also had about Generation X, and probably (although less publicly) by the members of the baby boomers when they were young, and that it is, in and of itself, the outermost face of an argument that has been subtitled “what’s wrong with young people” since, at earliest reference, fucking Plato. So there is, indeed, nothing new under the sun, it’s just taking a different name and, because of the need for several million words of copy to exist every hour, more asinine17 form.
It bubbles up and under from time to time – they18 don’t work, they don’t get married, they don’t buy houses, any number of more serious socioeconomic things. And now we’ve run out of those. But the alarmism machine needs fuel to run, so there we were, in winter of 2016, talking about cereal.
There were endless pieces (really, there were so many of them) about the cereal-eating habits of young people. Many of them frame the problem as being due to “laziness”, which is the most insidious kind of anti-youth nonsense – “these kids,” the articles say, “are so unbelievably lazy that they can’t pour two things in a bowl and eat them with a spoon.” The idea that there might be other reasons – starting with the fact that cold cereal with milk being, itself, a “standard” breakfast following a huge, kid-aimed marketing push after World War II. The eagle-eyed among you may note that this means that the first generation to, as a demographic, eat cold cereal for breakfast as a matter of course5 are the baby boomers. So of course if that’s changing, it must be terrible.
This, then, is a new low in an attempt to overwrite the actions of a generation of people – young people aren’t eating the same corn garbage their parents and grandparents did, and it is somehow 1) their fault and 2) definitely not the result of growing awareness of corn garbage as a source of sustenance19. Or, hell, any of a dozen or so practical reasons that could be affecting the decision. Thus, we have a title, and an award, and a thank you for the many, many word-producing outlets for creating the world’s dumbest tempest.
15 “A Conversation” meaning here, as it almost always does, a bunch of social media attention – in the “hey look at this” sense – and then utter silence forevermore. Because that’s what “a conversation” means to these morons.
16 there is also the matter of temporal distance – the baby boomers who limned this framework* are old people now.
* it was created before they took it up, but it was definitely the boomers themselves who took over the job of deciding what it, and every subsequent generational cohort, meant. Which is also, when you think about it, a huge part of the problem.
17 Well, I don’t know about more asinine. There’s definitely quantitatively more of it, though.
18 I am using third-person pronouns here despite the fact that, as a person born in 1983, I am, by the utmost technicality, one of them. I feel like I’m at the outer edge of the whole thing though, and that whatever commonalities of experience** are had by the people that fall under the umbrella, I experienced them as a slightly older person. You’re free to disagree.
** I would argue that there’s a real generational divide, in terms of experience, between people who grew up with Star Wars as the pre-eminent fantasy of their youth, and people that grew up with Harry Potter as the same.
19 James Caleb Jackson’s Granula made its debut in the 1860’s, and Great Historical Weirdo J.H. Kellogg began his crusade in a decade or so later, which ended in his brother William taking up the profitiability and convenience aspects and leaving aside all of the fun weirdness, and founding the company that eventually paid the marketers to convince kids that they needed the stuff, which, as mentioned above, didn’t happen until after WWII.
20 in the interest of full disclosure: it’s a delicious variety of corn garbage, but not one that I go out of my way to consume overmuch, because, y’know, it’s still corn garbage.
Achievements in Something Genuinely Unique, Tremendously Weird and Often Inscrutable – Homestuck
I’m going to start out by saying this: I do not get Homestuck. This could be another reason why I disqualify myself from consideration as a millennial, since I feel that if I were a tad younger, with the same subset of interests that I have, I would be deeply invested in Homestuck.
Homestuck is a webcomic. In its inception, it was a webcomic about a video game that brought about the end of the world and, for its first few years, plot developments were going to be decided by the fandom21, which was eventually abandoned. It went to a bunch of different places over the course of seven years (with multiple year-long pauses in there, just to keep things interesting). It incorporated a multi-million-dollar crowdfunded video game, existed in panels, animations, and a webcomic within-a-webcomic. It had fans everywhere. Like, tons of them. And yet, a bunch of people just never heard about it. Or, as I did, tried really hard and couldn’t get through it.
My own opinions aside, it was a really impressive thing. I talk all the time (here, in my personal life, and anywhere else I make my opinions known) about the benefit to doing something on your own terms, for its own good, and Homestuck is a triumph of a person who had a thing he wanted to do, and then did it. Even if he was taking pauses that were longer than the run of most webcomics. Even if the huge, slavering fanbase he created had expectations that were seemingly impossible to meet. I mean, it also bears mentioning that, for the most part, he also met them.
So here’s to seven years of Homestuck, still over there at MS Paint Comics, still up and there for people to follow, and to the hundreds of livejournals, tumblrs, fan pages, deviantart accounts2
21 the late aughts were full of stuff like this. Someday when children are grown, we’ll have to explain to them the vestiges of things like Homestuck. This is the environment into which Reddit was born, and in which Digg, briefly, seemed like a good idea.
22 truly if nothing else is capable of communicating both the longevity and the level of active fan enthusiasm of this webcomic, it’s the number of online communities that, at least in part, coalesced around it.
Achievement in Raising Some Really Interesting Questions About Finishedness and Authorial Intent by Generally Being a Weirdo Control Freak – The Life of Pablo
I mean, at this point “Kanye West does weird shit like a weirdo” is a dog bites man headline, but The Life of Pablo earns a special distinction as raising questions about what counts as “finished,” what counts as an “album,” and what counts as a “release.” Not content merely to release a platform-exclusive album (any ol’ pop star can do that), TLOP was changing up to and after its actual “release”. The title changed six hundred times (sparking a weird, brief not-feud with Max B in the process23), songs were changed after its release, it was then released on some more digital platforms, but still doesn’t (and may never) have a physical release. For a few years now, the line has become increasingly-blurry between mixtapes and albums, with rappers releasing hours of music before their “album,” which, in many cases, is indistinguishable from the mixtape material24 – an album that’s free to subscribers of a streaming service is different even from an album that you’d pay to download25, and the fact that Kanye has been more than vocal (because of course he has) about his intentions to treat it like an unfinished project, mean that there’s a chance that calling it back up to listen to could very well mean listening to something different from the last time you listened to it.
In practical terms, at least, he seems to be more-or-less done making changes to it26, but it’s still an interesting idea – that being the person that houses the masters means being able to change them at any time, and the nature of centralized access means that whole songs can just be replaced or disappear/reappear at any time. The fact that none of the changes is material to the character or basic effect of the record is sort of beside the point – it doesn’t necessarily have to be, and the knowledge that if something is no longer in line with what Kanye wants the album to sound like means it will be gone makes the album more intriguing, given that with such a low bar of editorship, everything there is completely intentional. It’s treating the content of your album like the content of, say, an instagram feed – everything is there as long as you want it to be, and anything can change at any time. And, I suppose, this was inevitable – if you’ve got the tools, why not do it? What is stopping people from releasing records that are “done” without ever really being “finished”? It will be interesting to see if this is, indeed, the future.
23 back when it was called Waves, and incited (as far as I can tell, insofar as it counts as incitement) by Wiz Khalifa
24 often for worse – Young Thug released some incredible, mind-blowing material, and has since clogged his own body of work with innumerable (still pretty good) releases that make it tremendously difficult to find, let alone decide on, what’s “essential”.
25 this, along with the whole “changing the songs after its official release” thing, is what separates it from other digital-only platform-exclusive endeavors like Beyonce’s Lemonade or Frank Ocean’s Blonde.
26 the last change was in June, with minor sound changes and the addition of an entire song – “Saint Pablo,” which I think was also the name of the record at one point prior to its release.
And there we have it! A bunch of these people even have a better-than-even shot at appearing next year! I could enter the very exciting stasis that all long-term awards-granters enter. I can hardly bear the excitement.