The Awards Season of Your Life

7 Jan

OscarWhen I was younger I had the best Oscar speech. Then I got over the delusion that I would ever win an Oscar. I still have the Oscar speech, which is pretty darned good for one that doesn’t show devout (or any) appreciation to god. I still watch the Oscars, not that I really care that much about them, but out of a sense of pointless tradition. It’s like watching a Super Bowl between the Packers and the Patriots: I will fill up on three bean dip and angrily pass gas whenever Brady or Rodgers scored. Most of us – the rabble, the plebs, the norms, the consumers, the Audience – realize that the Oscars don’t matter. It’s a combination of fashion show and circle jerk. Don’t ask me, ask Singin’ in the Rain, considered one of the greatest films ever made, but one which not only did not win the 1952 Oscar for Best Picture, but wasn’t even nominated. Winner: the Cecil B. DeMille directed circus jerk, The Greatest Show on Earth.

One could say that I am being cynical. (Moi?!?) After all, if the Oscars don’t really matter, why even discuss them? The Academy Awards, however, are indicative of something else – the acceptance by many of the quality of something simply because it won a statue. Think of all those trailers that claim that such-and-such a film was produced by the Oscar winners who brought you that movie you thought was sorta okay. Hell, they can’t even stop at just Oscar winners. Now we have trailers featuring that “Oscar nominated” dude. The logic behind this states that Sandra Bullock (not a bad actress necessarily), who has won an Oscar is somehow superior than Rosalind Russell, who never did (though she was nominated four times, yippee).

What is even more aggravating then using Oscar winners and nominees to sell films are the actual Oscar winners and their reactions to winning. It can all be summed up with Sally Field’s speech after winning her second Oscar. “You like me right now, you like me!” As if winning an Oscar was not just the validation of one’s acting prowess, but also their general likeability as a person. You are a Hollywood superstar, I’m glad you finally feel appreciated.

So if most of us actually understand that the Oscars do not matter, why do the Hollywood elite still seem to care? Why do they cry and scream and thank Jesus? Does Martin Scorsese really care that the Academy late-in-the-game acknowledged him with an Oscar for one of his more middling pieces of filmmaking?

And I ask these questions not because the Oscars are silly. They are. But, c’mon people – you make movies for a living! You live the fucking dream. You made it, baby. Who the fuck cares if you walk away with a statue? The prize is acting in a movie, directing a movie, writing a movie. Aren’t those the goals?

This way of thinking is not new to me. How I subjectively judge something has evolved over the years. I don’t care about consensus. I can’t stand Raging Bull, even though everyone loves that film. I don’t. I prefer the much-derided Ordinary People, the film that beat it for Best Picture in 1980. Similarly, most of the hatred towards Dances With Wolves stems from the fact that it beat Goodfellas, not because it’s a bad film. (It’s not, though it’s not the greatness that Goodfellas is.)

This week we had four former baseball players get elected to the Hall of Fame, and I had to ask the question once again: who the fuck cares? Well, probably Mike Piazza, arguably one of the top three catchers ever to play the game, but who has now not been elected three years in a row. But should even Piazza care? Should Pete Rose? Or Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds? Does getting into the Hall of Fame somehow validate all the work they put in, the games won, the homers hit, the on-field and off-field demeanor? They played baseball!! Who cares if your plaque is in Cooperstown, you played the game so many boys dreamed of playing. And you got paid for it.

This is not to say that all awards or honors are crap. An award with a significant dollar value attached like the Nobel Prize, which basically is a grant for the winner to keep doing their thing, would be nice. In the same vein, I am not lambasting the idea of winning. Many, if not all, baseball players claim that they’d rather win the World Series – something not awarded, but decided upon by actually playing the game – than go into the Hall of Fame.

Consider a world in which we didn’t have these silly awards. We would not have the strange comic drama that is Pete Rose. We could forget about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, not have to debate whether they belong in the Hall (because they were two of the best the game’s ever seen) or whether they don’t (because they cheated). As a Chicago Cubs fan I wouldn’t have had to watch Ron Santo not get elected year after year. Until a few months after he died, when the Veteran’s Committee said, sure, join us Ron.

And we wouldn’t have to have all the supposedly great films backloaded to the end of the year. We wouldn’t have to claim that The King’s Speech is a great film (it’s not, but it is good), or that Chariots of Fire is for some inexplicable reason better than Reds (or Raiders of the Lost Ark, Atlantic City, or On Golden Pond, the other – better – nominees that year).

We wouldn’t have the ends validate the means, the award more prestigious than the work, the pomp outweigh the circumstances.

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One of the great political conundrums over the past few years is why people vote against their own best interests. Why, for instance, would someone who relies upon public assistance (e.g., Welfare, food stamps) vote for a party (i.e., the Republican one) that has railed against those very programs? It’s a complex question and the answers vary. One can say that these are not one-issue voters, that not only economic but social issues (e.g., abortion) weigh on their minds.

One interesting explanation is that people don’t vote for their current conditions but for their imagined future ones. While only a small fraction of people in the country are considered rich (I believe the generally accepted number is 1%), a great number of people believe that they will someday be rich. While a more expansive government is beneficial for them now, they believe a more limited one would be favorable for their fantasy future selves.

I’m never going to win an Oscar, or a Pulitzer, or a Nobel. Nor will I ever be rich. But part of me – the part that makes shit up and lives in a fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes – still thinks I will, still hopes for it. Part of me still wants the shiny statue, the plaudits, the accolades from my peers. It’s a bothersome wish. It’s a wish I wish I didn’t actually have. Like those poor people who honestly believe that they’ll win the lottery or find oil on their three acres, awards for me – and many others – are the Emerald City, an idealized future where all our dreams come true.

We are sold on the bullshit of the American Dream by politicians and jingomeisters, and we are sold on the bullshit of the Happy Ending by the Hollywood dream factory. These are places where the guy gets the gal in the end and hard work will always pay off. This does not mean that dreams cannot come to fruition or that happiness is unachievable.  But we can’t live our lives for an illusory achievement that may not even give us any joy. After all, just because you won an award or got rich does not mean you’re happy.

This is the body you should have. This is the car you must drive. The house you are destined to live in. You play by the rules and you will be rewarded. #Winning. The good guys always succeed in the end. Heaven is the outcome of a pious life. Everything happens for a reason.

That’s what we’re told.

Churchill said: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” So much of the crock we are sold nowadays mixes up the two clauses in that statement, somehow equating a fulfilling life with such trivialities as money and awards and purchasables.  In the end it’s not about the fancy award, but who we thank in our speeches.

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