The Award for Smug Jerk Goes to …
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because everyone wins something at some point.
By Eugene S. Robinson
You’ve had that moment of self-satisfied, maybe call it borderline, contempt when watching awards shows and seeing your normally very composed star of stage or screen just break the hell down. From Sally Fields’ particularly groveling “You like me! Right now, you like me!” after a 1985 Academy Award win for Best Actress to Colin Farrell’s late 1990s Golden Globes’ speech where he insisted that the sniffling he was doing came from having a cold and not from snorting cocaine.
Not like when he used to snort cocaine, he went on to say. Which was before, when he was snorting lots and lots of cocaine during a time that was totally different from this time, wherein he was announcing the winner of the Best Foreign Film award. And not snorting cocaine.
Yeah, we love them but we, schadenfreude-style, also love to see them fail. Of course it helps that most of us don’t win much of anything and the prospect of having to do what they’re doing is remote because of this. But, of course, if we did, well, we’d do it totally differently. Right? Right.
In 1999, in the midst of editor-in-chiefing Code Magazine, an upstart style and fashion mag tilting at GQ’s installed base, I had a chance to find out. Good fortune smiled, and in our first year of publishing, we found ourselves nominated for a passel of Maggies, West Coast magazine awards, as well as an Ozzie, probably the most prestigious award competition for those who give a crap about magazines. Attending said ceremonies was guaranteed to be a hoot, and in an almost eerie bit of foreshadowing, nothing any of us took super seriously for anything other than the night out it offered and a chance to wear a tux.
Not like when he used to snort cocaine, he went on to say. Which was before, when he was snorting lots and lots of cocaine.
Not like you had to wear a tux. I just decided to wear one since there was no better way to show how little I cared for the event’s pomp and professional circumstance than by doubling up, not down, on pomp and circumstance. And if I could have found a large hat with an even larger feather in it? I probably would have worn that too. Because it was a bit of a fun.
Until I, while standing in line, started to look around. Journalists were dressed like journalists dress (not remotely tuxedoed) but with total game faces on, and then a glimmer of awareness. This kind of thing is, or could be, for all the marbles. In ink-stained terms: ad dollars, raises, promotions, bragging rights and, at the very least, a job for another few months.
So maybe it was not at all a bit of fun. In any case, the grim earnestness was contagious, and by the time we had taken our chairs, we were done. If there was anything in the world more important than winning these awards, we didn’t know what it was where we sat, surrounded by enemies/competitors. And, indeed, I saw people I had worked with and for at other tables. Resentments returned. This was now, officially, war.
“And for best new magazine, the winner is …” When they announced Code, all sound and vision telescoped into the waiting stage, podium and microphone. And I felt pats on the back from staffers from our small staff who could have made the walk with me but chose not to, very possibly because, as I was later to find out, I was not walking but was instead running, arriving at the award and the presenter not as much breathless as … triumphant.
“I’m not much of a speech maker,” I said, smiling and ripping off Buster Keaton. “But just to show my heart’s in the right place, I’ll fight any man in the house!” The laughs? Copious, contagious and more delicately giving a nod to the fact that no matter how much of an ass I was being right about then, I was still a winning ass. I gave love to the actual people who made it happen, the people who paid to make it, and our paychecks, happen, and I bowed off, walking slowly back to our table with a lingering dally by the table of folks I used to work for as an associate editor. Also known as suckers.
And that was just the first time. At the Ozzies, there was just the once, but it was a big one, while at the Maggies we won five more times, and each of those times I had to rachet up the speechifying to somehow be worthy of the award that was being given. Which meant good ideas, and I had come up with a doozy. Rather than just walk up to the stage like I had already done five previous times, I’d avoid the stairs entirely, and in an athletic show of vibrancy that would underscore our newness and vitality, I would simply leap up on the stage before accepting what would be our last award of the evening.
And it went about just like that. Outside of the part where my shoe caught the edge of the stage and I went tumbling and rolling across the stage floor, both my hip and my cool blown straight to hell. Straight to hell but still not lost as the save could come when I drew myself up to the mic.
“Ooh. I dropped something.” Laughter and, very possibly, a save. Not so much a save? Everything that came next.
“It’s a great honor to be honored by the honor of, in our first year, being getting the honor of our sixth honorable award,” I blathered, now three hours into a show not quite finished. “Through the blood, sweat and tears of trying to make media that sings, we’re pleased beyond measure to be recognized by youse, whoever youse are.” A self-congratulatory bow, a hustle back to our table, now laden with awards and a burning awareness that no matter what happened from here on out, we’d always have this … memory of infamy.
“Pretty memorable,” a former coworker smirked as we were leaving, juggling our awards.
“You think so?” It was a question that was never meant to be answered. And, perfectly, it wasn’t.