So Much Kerfuffle Over Awards

I am not a huge fan of awards for writing. On the one hand, it’s always great to have your work noticed and I do like to recommend amazing books and stories because it’s another way of telling the world they should read these particular ones.

But on the other, writing isn’t a competition in the way that, say, a foot race is. In a race, the fastest person wins.

And while it’s certainly possible to have bitter disputes over racing — the mistreatment of Caster Semenya comes to mind — the competition is quite a bit less complicated than determining whether one book is better than another.

Still, I recommend books I think are worthy for the Nebula Awards each year and I vote when I have read enough of the nominees to have an opinion. And certainly I’d be pleased to be nominated — hell, I’m pleased when someone recommends my work or mentions it in the year-end review.

So I have been paying attention to what happened with the Hugo Awards in 2023, where people and works were disqualified for reasons that remain unclear. If you haven’t been keeping up with this, The Guardian has a very good article on it here.

I note that Babel by R.F. Kwang won other awards last year and is viewed by many as one of the best books that came out. I have read it and thought it was very good. I haven’t read Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher, which won the novel Hugo, but I have read other books by her and would not be at all surprised to find that it was also excellent.

The fact that Babel was “disqualified” for reasons that remain unclear is unfair to both authors. The same can be said about the other categories.

Since the convention was held in China, there is a lot of speculation that certain works and people were disqualified at the behest of the Chinese government or out of fear that the government would be displeased.

If that is true, it is an argument that the possibility of government interference should be considered in selecting WorldCon sites.

However, if it isn’t true, if the disqualifications happened because of errors of some kind, it is important to clear this up so that it will not be held against Chinese fans in the future.

There is a large science fiction fandom in China and any organization called the World Science Fiction Society needs to include those people.

It’s clearly important to get answers, but unfortunately the people who have the answers are waving around the word “disqualified” as if it means something. If there was a rule that disqualified Babel, it’s not one anybody on the outside knows about. 

That brings me to the Oscar nominations, where at least no one is saying that Greta Gerwig was “disqualified” from nomination for best director. As far as I know, there were no behind the scenes shenanigans there, but rather just the usual misogyny.

And after all, one woman director was nominated, so I guess we’re supposed to be grateful. In fact, we’re probably supposed to be grateful that women get to direct at all.

The only nominated movies I’ve seen are Barbie and Oppenheimer, so I am in no real position to judge the best director and movie overall. However, comparing those two movies, there is no competition: Barbie was a much better movie and Gerwig a much better director.

I should mention that I was reluctant to see Barbie at first. I’m a second wave feminist and Barbie dolls were the antithesis of my feminism.

But Greta Gerwig is a brilliant director and writer and I decided I should give it a chance. It was a good call. Gerwig took a doll that gave us all impossible ideas about how to be a woman and made a feminist movie out of it without, apparently, pissing off Mattel.

That alone is worthy of best director. I also like the fact that this movie celebrates women enjoying things considered “girlie” even though I personally am in no way girlie. Movies like this assert that women no longer have to apologize or hide their passions for things that men don’t consider worthy of notice.

That is important.

Oppenheimer, on the other hand, is a movie about men jockeying for power with other men. (The bomb was a McGuffin in that the movie wasn’t really about it at all.) It doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test, which should be an embarrassment in 2024.

And yes, there were enough women involved that passing that very simple test would not have been hard. As I understand it, Christopher Nolan is interested in stories about men.

Now it’s not a bad movie. I got quite caught up in watching the interactions among the men. I looked at it as anthropology. And since I do know some of the history — I’m not that old, but I read a lot — it was much more accurate than the average historical film.

And hell, serious movies about men are a lock for big awards.

But that’s just it — it’s the kind of movie men have been making about men since movies began. It had none of the creativity or originality of Barbie. It was just “serious Oscar contender” movie.

Now it’s quite possible that one of the other movies was much better than either. Like I said, I didn’t see any of them.

I had fallen away from movies even before the pandemic kept me out of theaters and while I feel reasonably safe going to them now, there aren’t many I want to see.

A lot of people complain that movies aren’t made of their favorite novels, or that series based on those books are canceled, but given that so many books are mangled on the screen, I’d rather just read the books.

What I want from movies are the things you can’t really do in any other medium, which is why I loved Everything Everywhere All at Once and, for that matter, Barbie.

It would be nice if the award givers valued that kind of creativity, too, just like it would be nice if there weren’t embarrassing failures in literature awards.

But while awards help people build careers, at least sometimes, they aren’t really that important for the rest of us. We should just look for what we want in books and movies and other genres and enjoy those.

The system that gives us books and movies may be imperfect, but we do still have a wealth of choices. And that, not awards, is what’s important.

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