Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Winning, and why you shouldn't care but you probably do

Book: The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value
Author: James F. English
Published: 2005 (Harvard)
Pages: 345

This is an interesting subject told in a boring way. And when I say “boring,” I mean dumbed-down academic writing that’s meant to be for a mainstream audience but has still managed to keep its stuffiness.

But the subject truly is interesting enough to be worth the read (mostly). It’s about how cultural awards, like the Booker and the Pulitzer and the Nobel and the architecture prizes I can’t remember the name of but it’s a really big deal, affect the making and presenting and sort of pimping out of our art.

It talks about the history of such awards that go back to the earlier British and French universities, and how the explosion of prizes in the last couple decades has both mimicked and encouraged art’s explosion of diversity while keeping things more and more divided into their own little pockets of the art world, and how mock awards like the Razzies really enforce the industry awards they’re mocking by picking the works the industry ignored for the best as the worst, and how much more expensive/time intensive it is to put out an award than benefactors ever really think about.

Good sociology, but it actually doesn’t go far enough past the ropes of the artistic world for me. It mentions very briefly how the Oscars influences movie-going, but not nearly enough to explain it, and it never really does talk about how other prizes affect the general consuming public, if it makes them care more or less about something they never heard of, and that’s what I most would’ve liked to learn.

I enjoyed what it did offer, though, in spite of its pretentions. I literally spent like ten minutes trying to decide between this and the history of just the Nobel prize that was next to it on the shelf, and I might go back and read the other one to maybe get a better, fuller society view of at least one of these. Back to the library. 

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