Recently, there’s been a lot of ire and recrimination thrown around about the Hugo Awards and the nominating thereof. “The voting was rigged!” “The voting has always been rigged!” “It’s not a system to be gamed!” “It’s nothing but a system to be gamed!” “Let’s prove it by breaking said system!” I mean, there has been a lot of really incredible finger-pointing. And having poked around in the hornets’ nest for a while to see what I could find out about what was happening, I’ve come away with a grim realization regarding the people engaged in the debate.
There are lots of philosophical/ethical questions that are raised by what happened with the Hugos. Do these awards really represent the will of people who like speculative fiction? Does it only represent the will of people who have forty bucks to blow in order to vote? Is the award really controlled by an oligarchy of persons with vested interests in fiction with Sociopolitical Messages? Is it a legitimate tactic to fight fire with fire? Or does fighting fire with fire just land everybody in the burn ward?
These are not questions I’m smart enough to tackle. Instead, I’d like to ruminate on something else, a fact that anyone who follows the Emmys or the Oscars with any kind of closeness knows, but that apparently nobody taking part in this discussion about the Hugos understands.
Awards. Are. Bullshit.
This statement comes with a few addenda. For one, this is only relevant to awards that have passed a certain size limitation. I don’t know what that size is, exactly, but it’s out there, like a Chandrasekhar limit for unmitigated nonsense. At X magnitude, an award or series of awards reaches a point where it collapses under its own weight and ceases to be about nothing but itself. The Oscars are no longer about movies. The Emmys are no longer about television. The Newbery Medal is no longer about… Kids in wheelchairs who die of leukemia and ennui at the end to tell us all about Life and Love and Happiness?
I dunno, I’ve never been clear on what the Newbery Medal was ever about. But you can be damn certain it’s no longer about… That. The thing.
The second addendum I’d like to make to that there are times—miraculous times—when these awards get it right and somebody who really deserves one gets it. Batman: The Animated Series won Emmys. Return of the King won Best Picture. Yes, Doctor Manhattan, there is such a thing as a thermodynamic miracle.
However, all that having been said, awards are still mostly for the birds.
The Hugos, like these other awards, have stopped being about SFF, or spec fic, or whatever you like to call it that lets you sleep at night. Sure, there’s lots of damned fine books that have won Hugos. Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, Dune, The Snow Queen, Neuromancer, hell, I could do this all day. Mostly because I have the Wikipedia page for the Hugos open in another tab. To add the tang of authenticity to that list, however, I would like to say that I’ve read and loved every one of those novels I just listed. I say they’re damned fine books because I’ve read them and deemed them so, not because they’ve won an award.
But, at some point, the Hugos reached that X magnitude. The Hugo limit, let’s call it, just for shits and/or giggles. The Hugos, like other awards before them, are now about themselves. The Hugos are about winning a Hugo. The Emmys are about winning an Emmy. The Oscars are about winning an Oscar. And at that point it all turns into money and politics and campaigning and knowing who slept with whose husband. The tautological nightmare rises from the oily, Stygian darkness. The awards turn into empty signs, signifiers without signifieds.
“I won the Flibbertigibbet Award!” someone proclaims.
“Great!” someone else says. “What does that mean?”
“It means I won the Flibbertigibbet Award!” the first someone says proudly.
This is why awards are bullshit. Like I said, they get it right sometimes—usually for the wrong reason, but they can get it right. Did Heath Ledger win Best Supporting Actor for his brilliant portrayal of the Joker, or did he win it because he was dead? Probably the latter, since I may as well carry through the pessimistic tone of this discussion. But he did win it, and I feel like he deserved it, so meh.
But, awards, by and large? Utter nonsense. So don’t worry about them. Worry about writing good stuff and reading good stuff. Everything else beyond that?
I’m pretty sure it’ll take care of itself, award or no.