Are awards a good thing?

I’m writing this after watching the Oscars.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 21.53.11

Why do we have awards? I think there are two main answers: the first is that kind of self-congratulatory pat on the back for the winners and the whole organisation in general. Advertising awards seem to make advertising more respectable and prestigious; movie awards sometimes make us forget that some rich people further up the chain were trying to make a boatload of cash; and valve salesman awards help the valve sellers think that their lives have a purpose, making them 12% less likely to commit suicide.

The second reason is that the awards supposedly act as some kind of inspirational carrot. You see the great work and are instantly shamed into upping your own game. In addition, you see your friends get to walk up to the stage, and the next day collect a raise and you think you’d like some of that for yourself.

Mmmm… stages… cash… prestige…

Far be it from me to piss on the pure goodness of the above, but I have a couple of cons to place on the other side of the see-saw: awards are a ‘bad’ thing because they separate us by exalting the few. Forgive me for getting a little hippyish here, but there’s a lot of wise people that say we’re all equal. Yes, it doesn’t always end up that way, but that’s the ideal most of us aspire to. So what is the good of spending a lot of money making it very clear that some of us are better than others? I’ll guess some winners had an easier run than some losers, so their endeavour may not have been as impressive. But we’re going to say the winners are better because they won. Hooray.

And sure, some can run faster and throw further; those are unequivocal facts. But when it comes to providing a definitive measure of who is better or worse in subjective fields then it’s really fucking pointless. So Leo gave a ‘better’ performance than Bryan Cranston? Did he? Or did he just spend more time freezing his arse off? Was Cranston’s portrayal of Trumbo uncannily realistic and more nuanced than Leo climbing inside a prop horse and snotting all over his beard? Who really knows? Well, hundreds of millions of us; one was worth the Oscar, and therefore ‘better’ than the other.

I used to take awards very seriously, mainly because they were the clearest route to progress in creative advertising (a Cannes Gold will always trump a 12% uptick in sales when it comes to bonus/promotion time), but for years they’ve felt increasingly meaningless. I get that the respect of one’s peers is usually a pleasant sensation, and a chance to get your work out to all the people paying attention to the awards must help something in some way, but maybe we shouldn’t make them into such a big deal. After all, if the work is good we hardly need a few shiny trinkets to confirm that.

Or perhaps some people do…