For Better or Worse: Lesser Known Award Shows to Reward the Overlooked

by by Belle Cushing

illustration by by Adela Wu

'Tis the season for gaudy and excessive award shows: starting with the Golden Globes in January, all the way through our old friends Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and finally Tony in June. Award shows encourage quality work and reward genuine artistic achievements. They also shamelessly promote public celebrity preening, raise viewership, and pile praise upon already famous artists. However, beyond the Academy Awards, there is a lot of achievement in America that goes unnoticed—as do the award shows that recognize it. Here’s to the award shows that represent both the niche successes and national failures of pop culture.

Hasty Pudding Theatricals: Man and Woman of the Year
Harvard would have its own award. The student theater group, which began as an arts fraternity in 1785, annually honors the achievements of one man and one woman in the professional performing arts world, Harvard diploma not required. This year’s awards went to Julianne Moore and Jay Leno. The award, which has been granted annually since 1951, began in order to recognize female achievement, the first honoree being English stage actress Gertrude Lawrence. It first included a Man of the Year in 1968, when Paul Newman was honored along with Angela Lansbury. The recipients are invited to attend a ceremony at Harvard, with a celebratory roast and parade. Basically it’s a good excuse to get a national celebrity to come hang out at their club. But out of all the potential Hollywood stars to invite, why Jay Leno?

The Nammys: the Native American Music Awards
The Grammys have Justin Bieber, the Nammys have Wind Spirit Drum. The Nammys, founded in 1998, promote achievements by Native Americans in all genres of the music industry. The ceremony, held at the Seneca Niagara Hotel and Casino in Niagara Falls, NY, honors artists in categories ranging from Artist of the Year to Best Country Song. It is an opportunity to spotlight work that might otherwise be overlooked in more mainstream awards. In the spirit of inclusion, even non-Native American artists can be considered; the Native Heart award recognizes those who are Native American ‘at heart,’ as long as their work promotes the artistic initiatives of the native peoples. 2010’s honorees included Joseph FireCrow (Artist of the Year) and The Boyz for Boys will be Boyz (Best Pow Wow recording).

Bad Sex in Fiction Award
The London-based Literary Review grants this award annually, upholding the noble purpose: “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.” The award has been embraced in English literary circles—after all, in the words of one recent winner, “There’s nothing more English than bad sex.” Winners have their work ridiculed in front of an audience of writers and publishers, and are presented with a bottle of champagne and a prize that resembles a naked woman sprawled across an open book. In 2008, John Updike was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. Author already dead? No problem! The award is even given posthumously, as it was to Norman Mailer for his description of the male reproductive organ as a “coil of excrement” in The Castle in the Forest in 2007. Other notable honorees were Rowan Somerville, last year for The Shape of Her (narrowly beating out Jonathon Franzen) and Tom Wolfe for I Am Charlotte Simmons. The Review cited the following passage to justify Wolfe’s win: “Slither slither slither slither went the tongue, but the hand that was what she tried to concentrate on, the hand, since it has the entire terrain of her torso to explore and not just the otorhinolaryngological caverns ...” Wolfe refused the award, and claimed that the tediousness of his erotica was, in fact, deliberate. Sure.

The Christophers
If Tony is the artsy theater kid, Emmy is the successful over-achiever, and Oscar is the bespectacled film student, then Christopher is the good boy from Sunday School that your mom always wanted you to date. The eponymous award show, the Christophers, finds spiritual inspiration in popular books, film, and television. According to Mary Ellen Robinson, VP of the foundation, “The creativity recognized by the Christopher Awards presents views of reality and flights of imagination that heighten inspiration and engage the human soul.” Winners are seemingly arbitrarily chosen by panels of media professionals, members of The Christophers’ staff with expertise in film, TV and book publishing, and by children’s reading groups. Nominees do not have to have specifically religious themes, but must contribute to a general optimism about life. The Pixar film Up, worth not only two Oscars and forty other awards, also apparently “affirms the highest values of the human spirit,” the qualifications of the award as set forth by founder Father James Keller. Dogs that talk, houses that fly, boy scouts that eat ice cream with ornery old men—definitely the stuff that dreams are made of. As the awards enter their 62nd year, they continue to encourage non-denominational spirituality in an increasingly atheist and nihilistic world.

The Razzies
Every year, the day before the Academy Awards, another golden statue is presented to Hollywood actors and filmmakers for memorable work—memorably horrible work, that is. The Golden Raspberry awards, affectionately known as the Razzies, dis-honor the large percentage of Hollywood’s output that is embarrassingly bad. Paying members of a website submit their votes for the worst in nine categories, including Worst Picture and Worst Prequel, Rip-off, or Sequel. Past special interest awards have included Most Flatulent Teen-Targeted Movie (Jackass: The Movie) and Worst Excuse for an Actual Movie (Gigli). For all those actors that just won’t get off the big screen, despite never making anything good, their hard work might finally be rewarded. The 31st Razzies will see vampires and bling, diva supporting actresses, and nine nominations for Razzie veteran M. Night Shyamalan. Who will carry away the Worst Eye-Gouging Mis-Use of 3-D, Cats and Dogs 2, or Saw VII? Will Miley Cyrus keep the Worst Actress award away from the entire cast of Sex and the City 2? The ultimate losers will be revealed Saturday, February 26 at the Barnsdale Theater in Hollywood.

Worst in Show: World’s Ugliest Dog Contest
If the plucked, shaved, and paraded dogs in a normal dog show aren’t freaky enough for you, the Sonoma-Marin Fair in California offers an alternative contest, for the world’s ugliest dog, au natural. The competition, which has been going on for 22 years, draws unfortunate-looking canines from all over the world, their owners looking to capitalize on the fact that their pet is a real eye-sore—and the $1,000 prize. Chinese Cresteds are generally favored to win, although the 2008 winner’s lack of not only hair, but also a left eye and a fourth leg seemed to give him an unfair advantage over other more complete canines. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, and winners of the contest end up with talk shows, blinged out doggie toys, and even modeling contracts. Beyond indulging spectators’ fetish for mutant animals, the contest has a philanthropic side. Models present orphan animals up for adoption in an “Ugly is the new Beautiful” Fashion show, although the models used to sell the dogs would certainly have no chance in a similar contest for humans. So if your dog is missing limbs or looks mildly challenged, send it out to Cali. Its misfortune could be your fortune.

BELLE CUSHING B’13 might just take that $1,000 prize.