Best Blog Entry, ever

The nature of theater being what it is (ephemeral) and the nature of Dallas culture being what it is (oooooh, shiny, costly!), the idea behind establishing the Dallas Theater Critics Forum Awards 20 years ago was to give exceptional theater artists a little something extra to mark their best work. A form of thanks.

But these days, who wouldn't agree with Jason Cowley's point in the Guardian that pop culture has gone prize-crazy? He's elaborating on the argument made last year by John English in The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards and the Circulation of Cultural Value.

It's not just that Hollywood found prize shows cheap to televise. Publishers know that when a reader is staring at a wall of books in a store, any little thing to help tip the purchase choice can help: the jacket design, the blurbs, the book's placement in the store and -- voila! -- the "belly band" and the "gold seal," those attention-getting devices on the cover that convey "acclaim" and "significance."

More than any critic or well-meaning organization, publishers have helped inflate the profile of book awards, although there's relatively little evidence they influence sales much (beyond the Pulitzer). And I'm certain the vast majority of readers couldn't distinguish among the American Book Award, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the American Kennel Club. I once jokingly asked a leading book editor if a Pulitzer could actually increase sales by, say, 10,000 to 50,000 copies, had anyone ever thought of bribing a judge?

He laughed derisively. If I'm going to bribe anyone, he said, I'd bribe Oprah's producer.

In short, awards -- other than, say, the Quills -- tend to spring from idealistic intentions ("promoting excellence" gets used a lot in award press releases). Yet they end up inspiring betting pools on the Man Booker, Stephen King insulting critics and the entire "competitive sport" culture that English analyzes. One of the nice things about the Dallas Forum Awards has been their resolutely low-rent nature: no dinner, no trophy. And because the shows have generally closed, no box office.

That said, I'm looking forward to these awards. We need more like them. Simon Dumenco of Advertising Age is looking to pick the worst magazine covers of the past 41 years. My favorite so far is the wounded Rosie O'Donnell on the cover of her own publication, looking as though someone has pulled a thorn from her paw.

October 22, 2006 10:00 AM |



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How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

The disappearing book pages:  

Papers are cutting book coverage for little reason

Thrillers and Lists:  

Noir favorites, who makes the cut and why



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This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on October 22, 2006 10:00 AM.

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