Not because I don’t think people deserve to win awards. Awards are lovely. I’ve won a few myself and they’re a wonderful acknowledgement of work well done, of community and/or peer approval; a fabulous reminder that people are actually paying attention to what exactly it is you do. But still…
I swore a while back that I was going to retire my tiara and not watch award shows anymore, and I meant it. But it was a slow night Sunday, I was feeling too lazy to work, and I was invested enough in a couple of shows and performers that I worked up a little curiosity. But not even minutes into the whole thing I was reminded of what remains the same for me: my resistance to the sheer cruelty of this entertainment tradition.
When I sit and watch that moment, the one before the announcement is made, when the five (or whatever) amazingly talented people are all, still, of equal importance, waiting breathlessly to hear if they got the prize, their faces set in what is, no doubt, a considered non-expression that belies the anxiety they’re feeling, I get a little queasy, I can’t help but think to myself: why on earth are these accomplished, talented people who have all done stellar work being put in a position where they’re essentially pitted against each other like beauty contestants? All so just one of them gets to feel that “special acknowledgement” while the rest walk away as non-winners. Why do we do that to our most talented performers? Why??
I dunno. It seems crazy to me. I mean, I was delighted to see the wonderful Olive Kitteridge win a slew of awards, including one for Frances McDormand, whom I adore, but when I think about how stunning Maggie Gyllennhaal was in An Honorable Woman, I wonder why she has to feel passed over in any way, shape, or form, when she, too, did amazing, kudo-worthy work. Is it lesser work? NO!! Not even close. It’s just the work that did not get picked by a subjective bevy of voters who chose a “best.”
It would be one thing if there were actually some tangible, quantifiable criteria to winning these things—whoever hits the most targets with a bow & arrow, or whoever jumps the highest on the trampoline game show on Trampolinea.com, or which one correctly answers the most trivia questions asked by Al Roker—then, maybe, the winner would be clear-cut and undeniable. As it is, once you’ve got five equally extraordinary actors and performances nominated, it’s about any number of arbitrary things: popularity, public relations success, who’s trending, which person has been nominated more and not won; which show is going off the air and deserves a nod; which person brings the highest level of good will or political approval, etc. That’s all it can be, because there’s no way you can look at the work Ben Mendelsohn did in Bloodline, or Alan Cummings in The Good Wife, and say either was not as worthy as Peter Dinklage’s wonderful work in Game of Thrones. Nor are Tatiana Maslany or Claire Danes any less worthy than Viola Davis.
As thrilled as I am for those who won, as deserving as they each are, I can’t help but feel a pang of empathy for those who did not, as they are all, surely, as deserving of the win as the ones who actually won. Or something like that.
But we love our awards shows and they will go on and on, with pomp and circumstance, winners and not winners (we don’t say “losers”), oddsmakers and party planners, a tradition built around arbitrary choices about who’s “the best.” And while many will watch with anticipation, surrounded by good friends, prodigious snacks, and the occasional cocktail, cheering whoever makes the cut with authentic enthusiasm, we all know that everyone up there is completely and equally deserving, equally appreciated, for giving us incredible performances while working at the top of their game. Cue the applause. For all.
Related article: Why I’ve Retired The Tiara And Won’t Watch Award Shows Anymore
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.