“As a measure of just how absurd the Academy Awards are (even at its primary function of being a slick marketing gimmick for the reissue of films that most people have already seen) consider the fact that the two greatest directors ever to work in Hollywood, Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock–both of whom were workhorses who made popular films that were also cinematic masterpieces, all of which made money for the studios (Bringing Up, Baby and Vertigo, excepted)–never won an Oscar for directing.”
— Jeffrey St. Clair
Who indeed are “the greatest,” in any field? And how do we know?
Cary Grant never won an Oscar despite being a consistently popular leading man (over 30 years, 1930s-1960s), and big money-maker for the studios and theater chains. He retired in 1966, was given an Honorary Oscar (you know, an ‘Ooppsie’) in 1970, and died in 1986.
All awards (Oscars, Nobels, etc.) are political. Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921 (100 years ago), for his discovery in 1905 of the law of photoelectric effect (which is an aspect of CCD devices today, like solar cells and digital cameras). But pointedly NOT for his revolutionary theories of relativity (the special theory related to light, speed and time; and the general theory that includes the effects of mass and gravity, and the law of mass-energy equivalence that is the basis of nuclear fission and nuclear fusion). Einstein’s papers on relativity were all published before 1917, the first in 1905. Einstein’s 1921 Nobel was an Ooppsie.
The giving of awards is more often about the “needs” of those awarding, than the merits (often ignored even when exceptionally worthy) of those being awarded. When you explore any field you find that there are many workers in it of admirable character and exceptional skill, and who have accomplished wonderful things deserving recognition, but who are more conveniently ignored by “the management” that doles out rewards, and by “the audience” that is mainly fascinated by the tinsel of fame, notoriety and popularity (basically: money wealth) they wish dearly to camp onto even if even just virtually.
Great artists, poets, singers, musicians, actors, thinkers, writers, scientists, engineers, naturalists, and gifted goofballs (our societal court jesters) are all around us all the time, but you will not see most of them if you rely solely on “the management” (‘the capitalist management,’ as a good Marxist would justly correct me) to ‘award’ them for you to notice and fan-cult onto them (“branding”).
We are always happy when by coincidence one such worthy has the official award spotlight placed on them for merited wide acclaim, but don’t expect such justice to be routine to the operations of the politics of awarding. In general, politics is the defense of mediocrity.
So enjoy your movies, insights from engaging and even philosophical writers, music from poetic architects of soundscapes, and humor from our societal court jesters with deep understanding of human emotions. “The greatest” are those who move you to knowing more and being better than you were before becoming aware of them; and you discover more of these authentic luminaries as you expand your own appreciative awareness. Don’t take my word for it: try it.