Lisa de Moraes, my colleague at The Washington Post, writes a television column so entertaining that I read it even though I don’t watch much television. Of course she covers the Emmy Awards.
Seems that there’s debate about the proper process of picking the nominees. Since 2006, “blue-ribbon” panels have selected the lucky candidates, which has meant that smaller, more interesting niche cable shows have done better than they might have under the old system, which put the issue to a vote of the entire television academy membership. This was not pleasing to the network giants, which host the annual awards ceremony. They naturally want to promote only their shows, and don’t want their mass-marketed product losing out to higher-quality cable fare based solely on the whims of inscrutable judges. So (after much debate and some pressure tactics) now the system reverts back to the full vote of the academy members, which makes the Emmy Awards essentially a popularity contest, excellence be damned.
I don’t comment much on television, in part because I don’t watch all that much television. I thought “The Sopranos” was a rehash of the old Callas-Tebaldi feud and gave it a pass. When I do watch, I try to watch to crap. So rather than say whether reverting back to the full vote of the members—to the disadvantage of better quality, cable television programs with a smaller audience—is a good thing or not, I’ll just present the options. Follow my à la carte menu, and write your own cultural screed.
1. The Grunt Democratic View: It’s a good thing because it’s more democratic. Elite panels of blue-ribbon judges are un-American and don’t reflect the general taste of the public, which should never be dismissed. Don’t leave culture in the hands of judges not answerable to the people. Insert quote from William F. Buckley: “I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”
2. The Basic Elitist View: It’s a bad thing because experts help elevate the standard of taste and reward excellence. If you conflate merit with popularity, then you have defeated the very notion of an award for excellence. Without making room for meritocracy, democracy cannot survive. Insert rhetorical question: What would happen if the Nobel Peace Prize were awarded by popular vote?
3. The Condescending Elitist View: Television is so stupid, who cares how the awards are chosen? Rise above the question, look down upon it and take a bemused tone. Insert invidious comparison: The best burger in Iowa, whether decided by a panel of ground-beef experts or by popular vote, will still never merit even a fraction of a Michelin star.
4. The Condescending Elitist View with a Lefty Spin: Television is stupid, which is why we should care how the awards are chosen. Entertainment for the masses may not be Shakespeare, but that’s all the more reason to try to elevate it. We can’t allow taste to be ground down by rapacious corporate interests. Insert dubious comparison to earlier art forms: The novel was a trashy medium when it first emerged, but with time it was nurtured into a great avenue of human creative endeavor.
5. Non-sequitur Change of Subject: Who cares about the Emmy’s? The polar icecaps are melting. Insert long, increasingly incoherent diatribe about the triviality of the American public, with references to the Mayan calendar, Jared Diamond, the Roman Empire and a not very germane quote from George Santayana (ie., “Sanity is madness put to good use…”)
I would continue with more options, but the icebergs are melting.