Awards Show Inflation: When Everyone Wins, No One Does

By Greg in Hollywood (Greg Hernandez) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Written by Rebecca Jahnke

By Rebecca Jahnke
BU News Service

You know back in grade school when you’d go to highlight the important parts of a reading, only to end up with the entire page colored in? That’s exactly how your calendar will look marked for awards shows. And with too much highlighted, nothing stands out as particularly important.

Start by identifying the ubiquitously recognized shows, from the Academy Awards to the Grammys. But keep tracking, and the task becomes overwhelming beyond critics’ worst lamented nightmares. Awards show season isn’t just extended–it’s a 365-day circuit. Attempt to keep up with who won what, and you’re bound to sink into information overload–or stop caring altogether, not just about the shows but about the awards themselves.

The problem is the effect having so many shows has on the art. Awards–no longer few-and-far-between–no longer serve as special markers of merit. Rather, with everything winning something, the bar for awards–worthy art lowers. Artists don’t have to produce anything great to win some honor, and the cream of what’s out there is unfairly lost in the surfeit.

Take country music. Was the genre’s ‘biggest night’ the Country Music Association Awards (ABC) in November, or the Country Music Television Music Awards (CMT) back in June? It could have been even earlier at April’s Academy of Country Music Awards (CBS). Or perhaps, we still had it to look forward to with the American Country Countdown Awards (FOX) in December.

Forget that the separate networks behind each show market their awards as unique programs. By the fourth go-round, it’d be impossible for the shows and their honors to not blur together. You lose the ability to distinguish the original ceremony from the spin-offs, or which show’s award is actually the highest achievement. If the Academy of Country Music crowns Luke Bryan Entertainer of the Year after the American Country Countdown has already given that title to Jason Aldean, which guy is the true champion? Perhaps we should have another awards show where all the other shows’ winners duke it out.

If it’s confusing to watch different people win identical awards, what’s downright frustrating is watching the same artists win time and again across shows. The acceptance speech gets stale. The motivation to sit through the full three-ish hour runtimes wanes. You already know the outcomes.

The people being awarded for the umpteenth time aren’t even necessarily deserving of the armfuls of awards being thrust at them. When one awards show attains massive ratings because a certain celebrity wins, it only makes sense for every awards show that follows to aim for those same ratings – to chuck its own crystal trophies at that person to keep a rabid fan base watching. With the same artists walking away with armfuls of Oscars or double-fisting Grammys, these awards lose their oomph as pinnacles of achievement–their meaning diluted by the endless knock-offs and their commercialization for ratings’ sake. Amid awards inflation, a Grammy becomes one of many hunks of crystal–an Oscar, just another hunk of gold.

The trend has spread to the depths of cable, where awards shows are one of the only incentives left to dangle before subscribers otherwise cord-cutting for online streaming. No matter how inane, uncreative or altogether useless the program it comes up with, a cable network can try to market it as something exciting to jip subscribers into staying.

Yet, these programs have little to add. The Food Network Awards may appeal to Food Network viewers, but what larger weight do they carry in the TV and food industries? How hard is it to win an award when there’s no larger industry competition? A contained circle can pat its members on the back, but don’t devote entire pomp-and-circumstance filled programming to what boils down to a personal paper plate competition.

So much overly niche programming clogging the listings makes for a lot of terrible quality TV. Does anyone actually set their DVRs for Hallmark’s American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards? Would there be uproar if G4’s Game Developers Choice Awards dropped off the schedule?

The onslaught causes even more issues among artists. According to ABC News, the first American Film Institute Awards “was instantly dubbed the ‘MIA awards’ because 11 of the 17 winners didn’t show up,” proving how some celebrities can’t keep up with awards shows either, or have also stopped caring to. Actor Peter Mark Richmond lamented: “Every organization, every guild, wants to capitalize.” Golden Globe winner Sally Kirkland made similar statements.

“There’s too much minor stuff,” Kirkland said. “It takes away from the preciousness.” Sadder yet are those artists caught up in the rat race for meaningless ‘honors.’ For every Richmond and Kirkland, there’s a Taylor Swift-interrupting Kanye West overly wrapped up in who wins every last honor, or a Nicki Minaj who starts a Twitter feud after reading too far into not being nominated for a silly MTV Video Music Award. While it’s natural for artists to want the art they believe in to be validated, scrambling for weightless awards is hardly the way to go about that. And when, amid the ratings race, they can’t even count on being judged by the merit of their work, the quality of their work is bound to suffer. Artists who still care about awards are going to give us exactly what we’re demanding–art designed to get ratings rather than art that’s good.

Awards shows began as a means for rewarding and highlighting what’s worthy of our attention. Now with so much content awarded, nothing gets distinguished. Things that are worth our attention, time and money are lost among splashy, but too often unworthy pieces. It’s an artistic crisis. The awards system has effectively collapsed.

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