Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#25, January 19, 1999


by Marylaine Block

The year has just begun and we've already seen several processions of men in tuxes and women in (or falling out of) evening gowns, accepting statuettes and explaining that they owe this honor to God/their agents/their mothers/their wonderful coworkers. We've had the People's Choice awards and the American Music Awards, and will be treated this week to the Golden Globe Awards, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's selection of the best movies and TV shows (question: on what other occasion do we actually CARE what foreign journalists think?). And soon the Oscar nominees will be announced.

Since 1950 there has been a veritable explosion of such awards and glitzy televised ceremonies, which suggests to me that once large numbers of us had achieved our goals of making decent money and moving into respectable professions, our new aspiration was for recognition. Even for the rich and famous, doing good work is not enough without public acknowledgment.

Some awards were created to honor entirely new art forms and technologies. Before most people even had a television, and before there was much in the way of programs, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences created the Emmy to honor outstanding work in TV, and to make sure people understood that television WAS an art.

The music video award show was born almost immediately after the music video was. Now there is also an International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences that offers the annual Webby awards for the best web design. And since there are now film critics whose work is entirely online, there is the Online Film Critics Society, which offers its year end awards for the best movies.

If your reaction is "Huh? Who ARE these guys?" you may have touched on one reason for the proliferation of such awards: an organization or magazine can get free publicity by offering them. The Rolling Stone Magazine Music Awards glorify the artists in passing, but they glorify Rolling Stone Magazine throughout.

The main reason for the quantity of awards, though, is hurt feelings. The People's Choice Awards clearly exist because the movies and TV shows WE liked didn't get Emmys or Oscars.

Since the American Book Awards and Pulitzers only honor "serious" fiction and nonfiction, science fiction writers created their own societies which offer Hugo and Nebula Awards, while mystery writers choose winners of their Edgar Allan Poe awards. Those who write articles, not books, can win a National Magazine Award. Country singers who didn't win a Grammy can win awards from the Academy of Country Music or the Country Music Association.

Other awards, like the Mobil Playwriting Competition or the Coty American Fashion Critics Awards, seem designed to get a a little free advertising for a brand name, while the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Awards were designed in part to give celebrities a reason to go to Cleveland.

But what about public recognition for the rest of us? Where would automotive engineers, or retail merchants or advertising artists be honored? Were their achievements to be ignored just because they didn't have press agents?

That's why professional and trade groups began to offer their own awards to make up for this gross unfairness. Now there are prizes for outstanding contributions in actuarial science, direct marketing, and school library media progams; there is also an award for distinguished reporting of Congress (which I suspect may not have been handed out in the last few years).

There are also, of course, awards you'd really just as soon not get, like the Worst-Dressed Women awards, or the Doublespeak Award (Colonel Opfer, 1974's winner, complained to reporters: "You always write it's bombing, bombing, bombing! It's AIR SUPPORT!").

There are now so many awards that every American can reasonably hope to win one and get the 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol promised us, and enough awards to guarantee a comfortable living in perpetuity for evening gown designers and people who rent out tuxedos.


There doesn't seem to be an award for online columnists just yet. Hmm. A Foxy, perhaps? After all, respect matters to everybody. Me included.

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