You know the old saying, “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. Rich is better”?
Well, I’ve won prizes and I’ve lost prizes.
Winning is better.
The prizes themselves, on the other hand – pitting creative undertakings against each other –
I once wrote an episode of Rhoda – it was actually one of my better efforts because it concerned a subject that interested me – in which Brenda, a non-descript “Extra” in life’s passing parade, worked at a bank where they were holding a contest for the definitive “Bank Girl.”
Brenda goes through the counterpart of the full Kubler-Rossian cycle, not about death, but this time about competition:
I refuse to compete.
I’m competing, but it’s ridiculous.
If I’m competing, I may as well try.
I want to win! I want to win! I want to win!!!
Competition makes sense in sports, where winners and losers can be easily quantified via the final score (in games), the fastest time (in races), the furthest distance (in the “Javelin Throw.”)
But applying the same template to artistic undertakings?
“Ladies and gentlemen, we now come to the award for “The Best Picture Ever Painted.” And the winner is… Leonardo Da Vinci, for ‘The Mona Lisa.’”
LEONARDO GOES UP TO ACCEPT HIS AWARD.
“Thank you, I feel very humble. There are a lot of wonderful painters. Knowledgeable people can make persuasive arguments claiming that some, or who knows, maybe all of them, are better painters than I am. This coveted “Painty” I have clutched in my hand says only one thing:
LEONARDO DANCES OFFSTAGE CACKLING, “I WON! I WON! TAKE THAT, MICHELANGELO! I WON!”
Artistic judgment is entirely subjective. One person’s “I don’t get it” is another person’s “I bid sixty million dollars!” And yet, prizes are continually awarded for “Artistic Achievement”, as if “achievement” could be mathematically measured with a yardstick.
A lot of the rationale for the ubiquitous “Awards Ceremonies” is self-perpetuating. Though a portion of the accumulated revenues are generated to fund worthwhile endeavors (“Paint Brushes For Poor People”, or whatever), a substantial portion goes to the “Academies” themselves, so they can afford, in part, to mount these lavish “celebrations”, to raise money so they can afford, in part, to mount these lavish “celebrations”, to raise money so they can afford, in part, to mount…
I believe this is my stop.
The inanity of literary achievements competing against each other came to mind when I was watching a delayed broadcast of the “National Book Awards” recently on C-SPAN II.
The event appeared to be an effort to duplicate the glitz and glamor of the TV and movie awards ceremonies, the invited guests obligatorily decked out in tuxedos and ball gowns. I caught the C-SPAN II broadcast after it had started, so I do not know if they included the traditional “Red Carpet” activities beforehand.
“Who are you wearing?”
“I don’t know. Barnes and Noble bought it for me.”
But the “Publishing People” were definitely trying to “show biz” the proceedings up, their efforts including a brassy, 60’s-style ensemble whose “play on” and “play off” music sounded like “outtakes” from the incidental music for The Dating Game.
Before the “Awards Ceremonies” began, the C-SPAN II team sequentially assembled the five authors of the books nominated in the “Non-Fiction” category to participate in on-camera interviews.
The “Non-Fiction” nominees for 2013 included a biography of Benjamin Franklin’s sister, an expose of Scientology, an investigation into German women who participated in Nazi atrocities, a chronicle of the winners and losers in the American economy (Full Disclosure: I actually read that one), and a book about Slavery in Virginia between 1772 and 1832.
You be the judge. Which one of those books is better?
(An interesting sidelight. When interviewed, the writer of the “Virginia slavery” book reported that in 1772, an English court ruled that the institution of slavery was unsupported by law, leading Virginia, then part of the British Empire, to fear that the Mother Country had put the legitimacy of slavery in jeopardy. Do you see what that means? Virginia may, at least in part, have joined the American Revolution in 1776, not to unburden themselves of the yolk of English oppression, but to insure the retention of slavery in their own state. Were you aware of that? I wasn’t.)
You would think that non-fiction book writers would be a serious, sensible, levelheaded group of people. However, roped into this unholy competition, each of them, when they were interviewed on TV, reflected the compressed intensity of a player prior to their racing onto the field to participate in the Super Bowl. If I did not know better, I’d have thought they were “juicing.”
Despite their assumed groundedness, the keyed-up “Non Fiction” nominees before the announcement projected the behavioral counterpart of the ballooning neck of an excited bullfrog.
I am aware of that condition. I was involved in six Emmy Award competitions, my ultimate record, two wins and four losses. How does it feel? When they read out the names, your breathing, you heartbeat and your sudden need to urinate shift into demonstrable “overdrive.”
It’s a hideous experience, one you, if you’re me, feel ashamed to have been sucked into.
Having endured what they put you through?
You might as well win.
Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t.
You know who the award for the Best Actor of the Year should unquestionably be accorded to? To the actor who can convincingly report:
“It was an honor just to be nominated.”
Take it for me, folks. Though I have earlier insisted that artistic performances cannot be compared with each other?
That, my friends,