I have a fear I may regret writing this piece and come across as a total fool but here we go.
I have always had a dislike of awards, prizes and competitions. Not awards of the sponsorship kind, funding for people that will help with the progress of their work, say sponsorship for a student, or an artist, I’m fine with that. I’m not so sure about the type of sponsorship whereby a top sportsperson gets paid a million dollars to wear a certain brand of socks but that’s not a problem 99% of us will ever face so let’s not bother with that either.
(I am not attacking anyone in this blog. Frankly, I’m at a point in my life where I couldn’t care less what the hell anyone else does so please don’t take this personally, it’s just my feelings.)
I’ll begin with childhood in true therapist’s style. There are two moments that stick in my mind that may be where my perspective developed. Once at primary school there was an occasion where a small group were to be selected for a day out at some kind of charity event, and there was a big hoo-hah about meeting the celebrity that was hosting it. The teacher explained those who were working the hardest and behaved the best over the weeks leading up to the event would be picked to go. The second event was years later in secondary school where there was some kind of awards ceremony for a whole range of achievements, can’t really remember why it came about. So, first, as a nine or ten year old, I vividly remember believing that I was definitely in the running to go to the event, I worked hard and done everything that was asked for but of course I wasn’t selected. I remember my friends coming up to me and saying typically supportive kids things such as, ‘That’s really out of order, I’m never speaking to the teacher ever again.’ Or ‘Let’s run away from school and never come back, maybe join the army?’ Which was nice of them and I didn’t hold anything against the people who were selected even though inside I knew I had worked harder than them. The teacher got wind of the minor revolt in her ranks and attempted a political conciliation by pulling me aside and having a ‘quiet word’. She explained that she was very sorry for not selecting me, I had indeed done more than enough to qualify and the reason that I hadn’t been picked is because she thought I would be too quiet on the day and they wanted the louder more brash kids that wouldn’t be too timid to speak to the celebrity and get involved in the activities. Now of course, I had been very quiet getting my work done trying to make sure I achieved a high standard and for sure I admit I was never a boisterous pain in the backside for the teachers so it was obvious to me on those terms I wouldn’t be first choice to go (Maybe my first example of being told ‘Read the small print’). Later in secondary school we were all sitting in the hall while the teacher read out who had been awarded prizes for things like achievement, progress, and so on. This time I vividly remember thinking that there were several people I wanted to win these awards as they really deserved it, more so than me, and I ended up having my name called out a couple of times. Now they are just two early examples and combined with dozens of other incidents by the time I left school I had a clear understanding that adults did whatever they liked, lied constantly, changed the rules when it suited them and in the main didn’t care what happened to others as long as they were okay. I think it’s fair to say that as an adult I think that is a pretty fair summary and I haven’t been proved wrong!
For me, I have always believed that what one person loves another hates and vice-versa, and the sooner you appreciate that and stop trying to please the world you can get on with actually enjoying yourself. I’ve lifelong friends that I love as family, respect and admire, and think are amazing people yet I often disagree with their views. A viewpoint is just that, someone else’s view and the validity comes when that person is someone who has great skill and experience in the field they are discussing, or when the vast majority of people concur with a certain opinion. For the same prize, would ten different sets of judges produce the same result? You would hope so wouldn’t you but the chances are slim. So I think reviews for example are a good thing, customer surveys and ratings and all that sort of stuff, fine. However, when it comes to awards you just can’t win in the sense that there is no finite criteria (I guess I am talking about the arts in general). It is all opinion based on an approximate set of judgements, it’s not an equation that can be solved to come out with an indisputable first, second and third place.
Take a look at the Nobel Prizes, there is not many more globally prestigious awards than that and yet any news article you see that has a comments section or a forum linked to it you will find abuse towards the selected winners and the foundation (and not just from ignorant trolls). In the entertainment industry, the Oscars, I imagine one of the most watched events, people never agree on the shortlist never mind the winners! Those are two famous examples but even if you funnel down to a local town newspaper giving a prize and you’ll get a ferocious response.
Now a good outcome is that you get debate and discussion; that’s great, to have people talk about what their views are on a subject in an informed way (who doesn’t think they would do a better job than whoever happens to fill the current England football manager’s job?) So in a way, half the effort of these things is to stimulate debate, and that’s fine.
The other side of it, the important commercial side of it, is marketing and sales. I can totally understand the importance of finding ways to get your name out, and getting a recognized award is a fantastic way of doing it. Having something bestowed upon your work by a recognized influential and revered body is no mean feat and should be applauded. People will buy things based solely on its awards without needing to know anything about it. However, I just don’t like it.
It’s something I don’t feel comfortable with, eventually I would like people to review what I do and as I said I think reviews are vital, but I don’t think I would ever consider submitting anything I do for an award or competition (this is the bit I was talking about when I said I may look a fool). I fear that if I start looking for validation I will start ‘doing’ for reasons that aren’t my own. I don’t want to feel that I am searching for someone to give me a title. I want to produce what I produce for it’s own sake and be happy with that. Now before you start calling me a naïve idiot, let me repeat what I have said several times, I am a novice and do not write for a living, I write for a hobby, so there is the difference. Once you want to be a professional then you may need to do whatever it takes to pay the bills and that’s why I am not judging or attacking anyone in this blog, I need to walk in that person’s shoes before I can comment but it’s my gut feeling that I do not want to partake.
Inside me I feel that I cannot say that one person deserves something more than the other based on a few people’s opinion at the time. We don’t look for a knockout as in boxing, one person wins, the other gets their nose broken. If one person sells a billion copies of a book but everyone thinks it is critically poor, and someone else sells a few thousand but it wins a prize where is the equality, where is the justice, where is the fairness. There isn’t any, we are looking at it the wrong way, you may say that by nature of winning that prize that person may go on to then sell a billion but it doesn’t always work out that way and why should it. It’s a terribly basic thing to say, but work hard and make something you love and don’t care about what others think.
Hour is up. I’m sure I’ve missed something important…
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