I started writing a blog post about the Oscars and just kinda quit on it. Then today, I became aware of a controversy over a literary award I didn’t even know existed. It’s the Hugo Award for science fiction and fantasy books, and evidently a few years ago, it was undermined by a few bloggers who encouraged their readers to vote for a specific slate of books. Seems they had some sort of political motivation. In the end, the ballot and therefore the awards were compromised by people picking books for reasons other than because they thought they were the best. So I decided to return to my thoughts on the Oscars.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t watch the Academy Awards. In fact, I rarely watch any award shows. After having worked around the music business for years, I have come to understand award shows (and other awards) for what they are. Or at least, for what they’re not.
They certainly aren’t any sort of valid ranking of what’s “best”. Because, first and foremost, we’re talking about art. Which is entirely subjective. Awards give us an opportunity to applaud greatness, but the
Furthermore, they aren’t ultimately who the movies are made for. What pleases a movie-going audience isn’t necessarily what pleases the Academy. The Nashville Songwriters Association International has a list every year of the top ten songs their songwriting members wished they had written. I love that! What songwriter wouldn’t love to see their song on that list?
However, very little art is created for our peers. We wouldn’t sell much if those who do what we do were our only audience. Charts and rankings and sales and box office stats are a much better indicator of how well the makers of entertainment did their true job. Of course, those don’t measure quality.
I produced a country music radio program for years. It was a countdown, tracking the radio charts. I can tell you that the songs that reached #1 were not the “best” songs. Their airplay was related to the artist, to the label, and to the relation those two had with radio stations. It was affected by the producer, by current trends, by radio stations desire for tempo, by what other songs were out at the time, by the season. By the favors bestowed on radio program directors. I can’t list, nor do I even know, the many factors that go into how a song gets to #1. But trust me, it’s not because that song is the “best”. It is simply the most played song on a certain number of radio stations that week.
Now, right here, I’m going to tell you that I don’t have a problem with charts. (I had a good job for a number of years because of them!) Nor do I have a problem with awards. I won a local award as radio producer a few years back. It was nice. It’s doubtful, but maybe someday I’ll be up for an award for another creative effort. It would be nice.
My point is just that trophies and accolades and #1 rankings are a measure of a lot of things, including effective marketing, popularity, and good timing. And yes, even quality. But none of them are a measure of what’s best.
Because you can’t rank art.
There’s a small part of me that thinks we shouldn’t. Of course, if that were the case, we wouldn’t have chart-topping songs and award-winning movies and wonderful, shiny trophies. What fun would that be? Those designations help sales. They help us document art through the years. They remind us to celebrate greatness. They inspire others. They decorate mantels. I like my local Best Producer award. So, no, I don’t think we should do away with them.
So what am I saying? Yeah, you’re right. I need to get to a point.
First, I’m saying that we should recognize awards for what they are. Fun and glamorous and cool and totally biased and manipulated by countless factors other than “greatness”.
Second, we should remember that our opinion of a movie or a song or a book is just as important as anyone else’s. Experiencing art is very personal, just as creating it is. Even though we don’t get to hand out awards, we get to make our own determination of what great is. The lack of a number one ranking doesn’t affect our memory of a song that was playing at an important time in our life. The lack of an Oscar shouldn’t negate the way a movie makes us feel.
I have written my first novel, so I have become a part of the entertainment industry, where a creative endeavor is put out into the world and is judged. I have a ranking on Amazon. I have reviews that have “stars” attached to them telling me how well I did.
Why did I go through the agony of writing a book and publishing it? I thought a lot about this today, and I think bottom line, I wanted to write a book, that I was proud of, that people would read and be entertained by. Sure, I’d like to make money at it, but there are lots of easier ways to make money! I’d like to earn a Best Seller badge one of these days. I wouldn’t turn down an award. Still, I understand how flawed those things are in determining how well I did.
So, here’s my final point. When you stop me in church or send me a text or call me on the phone while you’re reading or leave a comment or write a glowing review or share a post or offer me any sort of feedback – it reminds me why I did it. Sometimes Hollywood and Music Row and solitary authors forget that. We become blinded by the glitter. In the end, art is created for you. Not the collective you, but the individual you. You get to choose what you like, what you think is great.
In my case, when you are entertained by my book, I fulfilled my purpose. And when you let me know, that’s my applause. My award. My ranking on the chart. It’s my trophy on the mantel. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.