The Long Way Home 3.31.23

My more conservative acquaintances lament the culture of so-called participation awards rampant with children these days. Kids get ribbons or trophies for showing up to sporting contests, theater, dance, and even school. These curmudgeons seem to think our children need to experience the agony of defeat in order to build character and that only the very best deserve awards.

I’ve had a firm distrust of awards, participation and otherwise, for a very long time. There are so many, and they really only seem intended to stroke some egos. But we like having them.

Earlier this century my lovely bride mixed up a batch of chili for an event at grandson Connor’s preschool in Las Vegas. The evening event at the school, an open house of sorts, included a chili cookoff. Attendees sampled about a half-dozen chilis and cast a ballot for the best one. Becky’s chili, made from a recipe of now uncertain origin, took first place among the discerning parents and siblings of the preschoolers. It was award winning. 

Now known as Becky’s Award Winning Chili, it has become our family's tradition and is part of the menu rotation up here on the ridge. 

For folks who aren’t intimately following the exploits and trophies of professional sporting figures there are awards for music, theater, and movies to rope them in. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out the Oscars every year at some swanky dining hall in Hollywood. The release of the names of nominees, months before the bash, is met with the same public discussion and predictions as the NFL draft. 

But there are more. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts goes through the same routine to give out BAFTAs. 

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association makes a big show for its Golden Globe awards. 

And there are international film festivals around the globe recognizing each one's choices to receive awards. 

Participation awards.

Not to be outdone, the publishing industry offers dozens of annual awards. And its “bestseller lists,” again numbering in the dozens (maybe hundreds), find notice on damn near every book published.

If you’ve ever seen a book written by a prominent public figure (it was likely ghost written by a struggling scribbler working in a cellar somewhere) you will see the word “bestseller” printed somewhere prominently on the cover. Often it becomes a bestseller, not because it is an exceptional piece of writing, but because some group purchases the book in quantities that put it on the list, sometimes to give away to their constituents and often to just dump in a warehouse somewhere. 

Participation awards.

The participation award silliness is evident when reading obituaries, resumes, and speaker introductions. Everyone is an Academy Award nominee or recipient, a best selling author, an “award winning” artist. I know it won’t end.

We do the same thing with lists, and bucket lists but that’s a topic for another day. 

When we resided in the city of sin, I was a daily reader of the Las Vegas Review Journal. The paper of record for this tourism mega-destination prepared an annual list of the top everything, casinos, nightclubs, gyms, and so much more. Every type of cuisine had its own category.

Since most readers of daily newspapers these days are of an older demographic one shouldn’t be surprised by this. According to readers of the Review Journal, year in and year out, Olive Garden was selected as the best Italian restaurant in Las Vegas. Talk about a participation award.