Terrible ratings, terrible hosts, terrible speeches... isn’t it time to put us all out of our misery and pull the plug on them? Well no, actually. I quite like them.
This may be an unfashionable view.
I do not claim to recognise half of the actors, artists, TV stars and musicians who clutch their gongs whilst weepily thanking the next-door neighbour’s cat.
In fact, watching the 2021 Brit awards earlier this week I had some sympathy with the dinosaur judge (a Yorkshireman, by the way) who, in the Swinging Sixties, famously enquired in court: “Who are the Beatles?”
But I quite enjoy awards shows. And I think the criticism of The Brits – and the Oscars, Grammys, BAFTAs and Golden Globes – has itself been a bit over the top.
They have been attacked for being sparsely attended and attracting small audiences. There have been angry columns from the usual suspects about woke box-ticking. And they have been lambasted by grumpy tweeters for possessing too much glitz and not enough glitz – as well as too much diversity and not enough diversity.
The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw thundered: “The Golden Globes have been sunk by sheer stupidity.” According to TV Line, the Oscars event was “a painfully earnest snoozefest”. Writing in The Independent, Fiona Sturges insisted that “self-satisfied hosts and a total lack of spontaneity have made everything from the Oscars to the Brits some of the dullest events in the cultural calendar”.
Sturges singled out, in particular, “the obsequious red-carpet interviews, the rictus smiles on the losers’ faces, the speeches lecturing us on the state of the world”.
These are three of my favourite aspects of awards shows. I quite like watching the celebrity interviews, the feigned pleasure or shocked anger (or derisive laughter) of the losing artists and the rallying cries against injustice and inequality.
The best bits are usually the gaffes, technical failures and stage invasions. Two of the most memorable Brits moments (involving Yorkshiremen of course) were when Chumbawamba’s drummer threw a jug of iced water over John Prescott and the great Jarvis Cocker cheekily waggled his posterior during a Michael Jackson performance.
There are some valid criticisms to be made of the genre. It was ridiculous that poor old Anthony Hopkins was snoozing away in his Welsh bed when it was announced
he had won the best actor gong at this year’s Oscars.
This awkward episode actually closed the show and was as anti-climactic a moment as the ending of Line of Duty’s disappointing finale.
And the bizarre voting membership of The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has been rightly called into question, with accusations of racism and sexism being levelled at the organisation; Tom Cruise felt obliged to hand back his three Golden Globes in protest at the HFPA’s lack of diversity.
I accept that some of these shows have been, to put it lightly, a bit of a mess. But, to adapt a well-known Bill Clinton saying: “It’s the pandemic, stupid.”
Covid restrictions have presented enormous difficulties but, on the whole, the ceremonies have coped well in the face of unprecedented adversity.
The virtual format has produced a lack of atmosphere and, with hardly any festivals, premieres or screenings to feed off, the competitiveness and hype of these occasions have inevitably diminished.
But, during a time of misery for the performing arts, they have raised the profile of the creative industries – and maybe even contributed to keeping some of the sectors afloat.
Critics are entitled to bemoan the so-called worthiness of certain films, TV programmes and music. l have nothing against traditional tales which provide some much-needed escapism to distract us from the cultural impoverishment of our daily lives.
But I also like films, TV programmes and music which draw on a far wider, and more diverse, range of stories. These stories make us human. They shape our lives. They help us understand the world.
In the end, awards shows are a celebration of all forms of storytelling. If “worthiness” means more stories about race, colour, sex, and sexual identity, then bring it on.