Saturday, 15 February 2014

everyone's a winner

As you read these words someone, somewhere, is receiving an award for something. If you close your eyes and stick a pin in a map of the world there's probably an awards ceremony of some kind taking place there. (If you're doing this in a shop, pay for the map first.)

Our insistence on giving each other prizes is creating a culture that's like Sports Day at a progressive school, where no child goes home empty-handed, even if they fell over before their race began. This largesse is reflected in film posters, all of which are now embellished with laurel-leaf medallions, representing awards bestowed at various festivals. They look impressive from a distance, like the decorations on the chest of a Ruritanian Field Marshall, but it's best not to inspect them too closely. While it's good to know that a film has won The Golden Sausage of Zagreb, or whatever, many of these medallions are 'nominations' for a category no other film was eligible for, while others are 'jury' prizes, possibly awarded by the same jury that acquitted O.J. Simpson.

This plague of awards, and events at which they're presented, may spawn a new field of Cultural Studies called Acceptance Speech Behaviours. These behaviours begin in the period between the announcement of the nominations and the award ceremony, when all the nominees are rehearsing speeches most of them will never deliver. They're like the sperm who don't reach the egg, but must swim no less valiantly than those who do. And whatever the victors may tell us in their acceptance speeches, no winner of an award is ever taken by surprise, having thought of little else since their first casting call, or in some cases since birth, or even before. You can be sure that what they say at the podium has been rehearsed, although the actual performance may be modified by alcohol, adrenaline, medication, lunacy, spite, narcissism or all of the above.

However, it's now time to introduce a new category of awards, particularly for actors. Among the few moments of genuine entertainment for television viewers of interminable award ceremonies are those when the screen splits to show close-ups of all the nominees just before the announcement of the winner. We await their reactions with tense anticipation. And so do they, having prepared two basic versions of the same expression. The first is a guileless beam of joy at their own good fortune, the second a gracious laugh of pleasure at someone else's. There are, of course, almost infinite variations on these two themes: the welling up of grateful tears that provide alloy to the delight of winning; the wry shake of the head to confirm the wisdom of having anticipated losing all along, and so on.

But no matter how skilled these actors are at controlling their expressions, emotions are unruly, and betray themselves in fleeting ways that are almost imperceptible to the naked eye – but can be captured and examined with freeze-frame technology. The best acting you're likely to see on awards night is delivered by the losers, in their efforts to produce, instantly and undetectably, a radiant mask of generosity with which to conceal the horror, loathing and contempt that is, at that moment, flushing through their souls with the corrosive impact of drain cleaner through an ulcerated bowel.

Surely, it’s time for this gruelling test of craft and skill to be acknowledged. Here's how it would work. First, the announcement: "And the award goes to… (WHOEVER)!" Cut to Whoever.  Her adorable  face lights up with a girlish grin. She receives hugs and kisses from those near enough to squeeze into frame. She makes her way to the stage, tottering coltishly in a gown she's obviously wearing just to please her family, because, you know, she'd be much more comfortable in sweatpants, but she still manages to look stunning in it, even – or especially – when she nearly trips and… dear God, she blushes an authentic blush.

Okay, that's done. She's made her charming, moving, humble speech, including the obligatory admission that she's not fit to even breathe the same oxygen as Meryl Streep, never mind stealing the award that's rightfully hers. But now the announcer says, "What a terrific winner. And now let's look at the contenders for the Best Dissembling Loser Award!" Cut to a slow motion replay of the losers' faces as they heard the news. Slower… slower… and freeze. Who has most successfully repressed the tremors, tics and ripples that might betray their true feelings? Probably Meryl Streep. Applause! More hugs, kisses and tears.

And so it goes on, until existence itself becomes one long, continuous, perpetual awards ceremony at which the final prize is welcome death.

NB: If anyone feels like nominating this blog for some kind of award, please give me plenty of notice so I can start rehearsing.

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