"Awards Season" is my least favorite season of the year. Yes, that means it comes in ahead of the "Holiday Season," which features incessant loops of songs that are charming after one go, but maddening after eleventy-billion. Awards Season makes me feel more hopeless than Back-to-School Season, which just dredges up memories of every year traipsing through the stores, looking for the specific type of folder required by my history teacher. If you didn't have the right folder, well, may the deity of your choice have mercy on your soul.
Fundamentally, Awards Season is flawed because there is no one way to, as Neil Gaiman so wonderfully put it, "make good art."
What's good? What's art? We could sit in a coffee shop for days and nights on end and debate just those two aspects of the human experience. There might even be bongo drums and black turtleneck sweaters involved--who knows? Each person's development shapes her perception of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, meaningful and hollow.
Sometimes I think about humans and how wonderfully, intricately complex we all are. It's mind-boggling to think that there are so many of us on this planet, and we are none of us exactly the same. Not even identical twins. So why is it, then, that we feel a need to declare certain works of art, be they musical, literary, or cinematic, The Best? Whose best? What does it mean to be declared "the best"?
As humans, we also crave admiration. That's normal. No one likes to be knocked down into the mud and manure, naked, and kicked in the ribs at every pass. If that sounds appealing to you, I'd suggest some sort of mud-wrestling club or psychotherapy. But it feels nice to have someone say, "I love that painting you created. It makes me feel happy," or "The book you wrote touched my soul." We can interact with other humans--complete strangers!--through our art, and affect them profoundly without even knowing it. That's why Twitter was invented.
I'm thinking about all of these things because two very big Awards Season events occurred this past week: the American Library Association announced its Youth Media Awards winners (you might know these as the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and so forth), and the Oscar nominees were announced. This post is but a drop in the ocean of posts, status updates, and tweets expressing some sort of opinion on one or both of these events.
As for the YMAs, there is this pressure to believe that since a Very Big Organization did so proclaim it, that these "best books" are really the best, and any leftovers aren't worth your time. Hold up, partner. I have several friends who served on committees this year, and it is extremely demanding work. In the end, you're just one person in one group whose responsibility it is to decide which book most deserves a specific honor. I am sure that these committee members try to be as objective as possible, but when art is involved, I also believe that all objectivity goes straight out the window. Art is, by its very nature, subjective. There is no right or wrong art. Art is.
And so while I am very grateful to the librarians and media specialists who worked their butts off to present the honors to a set of books, I also realize that the YMAs are just one way of looking at books. If I love a book that didn't win anything (which would be, oh, pretty much every book I've read this year, save Bone Gap), I'm still going to rave about it. I'm still going to squee about it at work. I'm still going to booktalk it up, down, and sideways to my teen patrons (and my adult patrons and my coworkers).
Please don't think that I minimize the issue of underrepresentation of female, black, Latin@, LGBTQIA, or any other marginalized group in these awards. It's really horrific that the Academy decided that not one single person of color merited even the chance to win an Oscar this year. It's shocking how few female voices we hear in 'critically acclaimed' books. Girls in realistic fiction? Ew! They're nasty, demanding, hormonal harpies. We can't have that! Remember what Oscar Wilde said: "The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame."
But what are we supposed to do? We can keep pushing at these institutions that are older than dirt and full of old, white, privileged people, and try to miraculously convince them to step outside of their narrow world view and see things as they are, in all their messy, colorful, diverse, chaotic glory. There's about as much chance of that happening as, say, the entire Academy deciding to become hermits.
I know that this does not solve the problem of underrepresentation and marginalization, but I would prefer to do away with these awards completely. Doesn't it make you feel uncomfortable--even a little bit--to have a faceless group of people declare film A to be more worthy of your time than film Z? Echoes of Animal Farm ring when someone says, "All the candidates were equally worthy, but the award goes to X." Isn't that a fancy way of saying, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others"?
I'm perfectly capable of analyzing books, films, and music, and then choosing my favorites. And so are you. I encourage you to read other opinions, to consider different points of view, but in the end, your choice is yours alone. Your preference is yours alone. Your favorite is yours, and no one has the right to take that from you.
Read on. Think. Enjoy yourself. It's art. It's glorious and it's imperfect and it's individual. I wouldn't want it any other way.