Arts, Movies, Television, Column

The Corruption of Art Through Awards

Awards never resonated with me. Awards particularly having to do with art seemed to mean even less. In many ways they seem just a way for self-prescribed authorities to tell the masses what is and is not of artistic merit. During the Grammys, Golden Globes, or Academy Awards seasons, many flock to see their favorite celebrities and artists intermingle and take the stage to accept acknowledgement of their artistic endeavors. But in what ways does this truly validate an art? And, moreover, should it? Should the arts operate under the confines of a select few who can dictate what they feel is of more merit, to brand works as ‘Best Picture’, ‘Best Album’, ‘Best Score’, “Best…’?

This is not to say that the committees behind these awards do not recognize that the ceremony is a reflection of their own opinions. But the pageantry, the grandeur, and the power of celebrity may influence the average person to shape their opinions around the opinions of these committees. In this way, people may neglect to see films, or listen to music, that do not fit the standards of those running the industries. In the end, it is just a couple of people’s view on a matter pertaining to something as varied and prolific as art.

In 1996, after winning the Grammy for ‘Best Hard Rock Performance’, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam took the stage with some controversial views. Looking at the trophy, he said, “I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything.” A nervous laugh shook the room. Vedder took issue with the award because the acknowledgement of one group innately neglects the achievement and work of others. And if not everyone who deserves to be recognized is Eddie’s point stands markedly. These kinds of things do not seem to be for the artists, but really as a way to collect celebrity in one place and capitalize on their influence. Moreover the use of superlatives is a little off putting. It is the best? Sure it is.


Look at actors like Di Caprio, who to this day (we will see with The Revenant) has not won an Oscar. Do his performances in The Departed (2006), Django (2012), or Wolf of Wall Street (2013) not warrant an award? The truth is it does not matter. His work stands has his award and testament to his career. He does not need a trophy to validate the magnificent work he has done and no doubt will continue to do. His reputation as an actor gets us in in seats to see his movies, not awe we feel as we tally his trophies.

Look at films and entire productions. In 1994, Forrest Gump won Best Picture pushing out Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. Is this to say that it was in any way superior to the other two film, considered masterpieces by many? No. But they only give out one award, thereby putting all other contenders to the side. Again, the legacies of these films, watched and rewatched over the ages is a more of a testament to their influence and success than any single award ceremony in any given year.

The fact that terms like ‘Oscar Bait’ exists is representative of the endemic nature of awards. Sooner or later people or organizations bent on achievement will neglect the true passions of the artistic process in favor of a synthetic, systematic processes used to draw in votes.

But if these awards do not really mean anything, why do viewers flock to them as authorities, by which they hierarchically rank art? ‘Fear of missing out’ defiles the minds of almost everyone. To cut through brush in search of the ‘Best,’ we turn to Rotten Tomatoes, Top 100s, The Academy, and other people to tell us what is and is not good. With so few hours in the day, these ‘authorities’ do the work for us. This kind of investigation transcends the conversational intrigue of “What did you think of the movie?” and turns it into “What should I think of the movie?” With so much media to consume, these sources help people decide what they might like and what they might not. Certainly these things serve a purpose as a preliminary judgement of media, but ultimately it falls on an individual to say what they enjoy.

Apart from musing in conversation, placing one film, song, or album over another should not be taken as seriously as people tend to take it. Sometimes we have to watch and listen to things we do not like to solidify the reasons for why we don’t like them and why we like other things. That kind of relativity is essential in developing a diverse and mature taste. The opinions of others will never lend the kind of certainty that is given when experiencing something first-hand.

The kind of spontaneity that it takes to try something new, something you might not like, is thrilling to experience, as you challenge yourself to grow in taste. It is in minute moments that we find things that resonate with us, which are completely separate from the droning opinions of a committee.

People’s tastes are more complex than popular opinion. We may never experience everything there is. For every film we see, there are thousands more we have not. For every song listened to on repeat, we are missing out on another that we would enjoy more. But that is okay. Everyone should find pleasure in these things because they simply enjoy them. They do, but someone else won’t. If we actively look for the ‘Best’ as prescribed by others, we may never venture far enough to find the things we really enjoy.

Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor

January 20, 2016