Let’s face it: all the entertainment awards shows, from the Oscars and the Emmies to the execrable Golden Globes are a terrible mess. Such a mess, in fact, the only decision might be simply to burn them all down and start over.
I’m not usually an extreme kind of guy. To each his own, live and let live. As my own high school English teacher Mr. Bell used to say, over and over, “de gustibus non disputandem est,” and all that … stuff.
But we all have our limits.
A few decades back, I was involved with a battle with a Southern California school district, trying to get services for special needs kids – back in the early days of that movement, in the 90’s – and I got so wrapped up in it, and so notorious on a very small scale, that a reporter from a local paper asked me, “If you could fix the School District tomorrow, all by yourself, what would you do?” and without thinking about it for two seconds, I said, “I would burn it to the ground and sow the earth with salt.”
As I saw it at the time, it was just … too broken to fix. It was badly needed, of course. It was essential. But the District, as it stood, couldn’t be fixed. It had to be reinvented.
That’s where we are with the Oscars and Emmies and the rest. They don’t have to be reformed and tinkered with or revamped – did you know that word is almost 200 years old, and it referred to someone who fixed old clothes? Anyway … No. None of the above.
Erase erase erase and… begin again.
Making movies shouldn’t be a competitive process. The financial pie, the size of the marketplace, is not finite and irreplaceable. This year’s Barbie and Oppenheimer phenomenon is a perfect example. You can like them both, hate one or the other, whatever, but here we have two entirely different movies, with entirely different intents, that happen to come out simultaneously… and they both make literally billions of dollars. There is no ‘pie’. There is only ‘sky.’ One didn’t ‘steal’ the audience from the other. There was no ‘competition.’ And we don’t need to treat it that way –- in fact, it’s demonstrably destructive to treat it that way.
The ancient separation of films or TV shows into categories is equally outdated. Are superhero movies ‘dramas’? In the same category as deep psychological art films, or historical epics, or three-person docudramas? No. … but we find them slammed into the same category every damn year. Apples and oranges. And are there always just five great, say, comedies in a given year? Sometimes there aren’t nearly that many, so stunningly mediocre movies or TV shows get included, and even win, while in other years, undeniably great stuff gets ignored or snubbed because there can only be five spots on the ballot.
This year’s Emmies made that embarrassingly clear. The Bear was great writing, great acting, a great production all the way around… but it won for best comedy? So again: truly exemplary work gets shut out entirely because there just aren’t enough slots. Or maybe money gets slung around. What other reason could there be for Better Call Saul NOT winning anything? Or of any movie, even Barbia, to be nominated for Best Picture but not for Best Director? And it happens over and over. Simply because of the arbitrary, downright silly structure of the awards themselves.
But not all hope is lost. There’s a time-tested, well-respected model for honoring the best of what we put in theatres or on streams – on screen anywhere, in any form – which has everything to do with quality, rather than popularity, politics, or marketing millions.
Have you ever heard of the McArthur Fellowships? Created way back in the early 80s – more than forty years ago now – by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. They give out between 20 and 30 grants every year – notice that, general numbers, depending on who they think deserves them that year. The grants are up to $800,000, paid out over a five-year period, and they’re given to, “ support “creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.”
What’s more, you can’t nominate people for a MacArthur Fellowship. They find you. The whole nominating process is secret – who the nominators are, their deliberations and their criteria are all anonymous and serve for a limited time. Their job is to go out and find remarkable people who are doing remarkable things and honor them… and then they move on. And they do it again the next year. For all new people.
The list of people that have received McAethur Grants over the years is slightly amazing. Scientists, writers, political activists, artists– hell, even The Amazing Randi got one. The grant gave each of them financial help, of course, but more importantly, it gave them the recognition that they deserved, and we were all the richer for it.
So how about we go that way with the Emmties and Oscars and even the execrable Golden Globes (if, in fact, the damnable Globes are needed at all).. Let’s make the process secret. Let’s not tell anybody who’s under consideration, and let’s pay no attention at all to “For Your Consideration” ads in the trades or internet love-bombs. Just find the people – the directors, and actors, the writers, the technicians – who are doing incredible work … and recognize them. As many as deserve it. Every damn year.
And no more categories. No more “dramas” versus “comedies,” no more “mini-series” versus “variety specials.” And who cares if it was first on Peacock or CBS or in theaters or on Shudder or found in the dark corners of friggin’ YouTube. It doesn’t matter. And you’re not allowed to even mention box office revenue or ratings. The only real question: was it good? Did it change or enrich lives? Will it withstand the test of time? Okay, that last one’s hard, but you get the idea. Did the work matter,, and should everyone know that and appreciate it?
Because if we did it that way, mediocre pablum like The Tourist wouldn’t ever get mentioned, and years of consistently brilliant work like Better Call Saul would get the recognition it deserved.
All we have to do is burn it all down and reinvent it … working from the ground up.