Do Awards Matter?

THE STEPHEN KING CONTROVERSY

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THE LATEST literary news is that author Stephen King is the latest celebrity to have inadvertently generated outrage, with what some view as an outrageous statement. (Made on Twitter, which should never be taken too seriously.) He was discussing the Academy Awards. What he said:

I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.

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THE POINT both Stephen King and his critics largely miss is that the Oscars like all such awards have always been political. Awards ceremonies, like hall of fames– sports, music, and otherwise– are in reality highly successful PR appendages to their particular industry. As such, a big part of choosing “winners” is putting the best face possible on the industry, “quality” often pushed to the sidelines.

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Case in point: Academy Award winners for the retrograde year of 1961. (A very good year for cinema.) For the Oscars– presented in April 1962– two overtly political message movies dominated the nominations and awards. “West Side Story” and “Judgement at Nuremberg” received eleven nominations each. The former won ten of those categories; the latter, two.

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Both are fine movies. Yet in retrospect, one can name five other films from the same year which are artistically better (especially when viewed in a movie theater): El Cid, The Guns of Navarone, The Misfits, One-Eyed Jacks, and The Hustler. All five of these are visually superior, deeper films. The last three have not just better acting, but are virtual master classes of film acting. I’m confident that in the perspective of more time, all five will be ranked higher on any critical list than they are now– this especially true for One-Eyed Jacks, which is psychologically deeper than even the movie currently ranked all time #1 by the prestigious British Film Institute, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. (Which itself was ignored by the Academy Awards when it came out.)

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Awards are of the moment, swayed by the ideological currents of the moment. As important as they are for their particular industry as a way to hype products– and for the winners and losers themselves– in the long run their meaning is minimal, and should be recognized by the intelligent observer for what they are, and not more than what they are.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

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