Theater of Cruelty

Price Inflation

Often awards are more about the distributor than the recipient.


[cultural prices] Prices have been rising. And then I'm not talking about housing, car or electricity prices. Not the kind of prices we poor consumers have to pay. On the contrary. I mean the kind of prizes being awarded.

It is quite possible that you experience the same phenomenon in the IT, hotel or oil industry, but I doubt whether in any other field you are now awarding as many awards as in the cultural field. A quick count on the web showed upwards of 40 national literary awards. When you consider that these awards are awarded each year, in one country with 4,5 million people, you might wonder if there are any Norwegian writers who have not yet received any kind of award for their work.

We see the same thing in the film world, where Ane Dahl Torp must soon have a whole fireplace shelf filled with various statuettes and diplomas. At the rather small Short Film Festival in Grimstad this summer, not only the eleven traditional prizes will be awarded, but this year also a new short film prize from NRK P3's Film Police. I can't document it statistically, but I find that the number of awards is only increasing year by year, and that not a day goes by without at least a notice in a newspaper about some award winner.

Price inflation is naturally linked to the growing number of ratings and lists. The rating has never been as strong as it is now. Every newspaper, festival, website and every television and radio program consistently scores the top 25 or something, or the ten worst quips and dates. Of course, every award involves a winner, who can then be interviewed both in his own medium and in others.

There are many noble motives for awarding a prize. The closest is the desire to award an individual who has delivered an exceptionally good performance. It can also be about highlighting a group that is talented and important, but not visible (youth book writers or movie editors), or it can be about raising the status of an entire field that has fallen outside of high culture's own awards (the advertising Gold Pencil, the cartoon's Spring Prize) . But I suspect that it is often as much about shining the awards as the awards.

The beauty of awards and awards from the distributor's point of view is that such a thing almost necessarily entails media lookup. Big industry awards such as Amanda, Brage and Gullfisken, with hour-long television shows, naturally generate a lot of attention, celebrity glamor and, at times, debate. But even smaller and younger prices are relatively automatically gaining some media attention.

Handing out a prize is thus about marketing itself. Media attention can be vital for certain institutions. With liberalization and privatization, the need to seem increasingly important. Norway is undergoing efficiency improvements, and organizations, institutes and editorial boards are threatened by closures and mergers. Handing out an award can be one way to give yourself legitimacy as an organization. "Look, we have the authority to execute taste judgments and we have been given x the number of press releases for this award, so you can't shut down such an important institution?", Says the awards ceremony indirectly.

You can ask if it is so dangerous with more awards, prizes, award winning interviews and more salaries to the award winners and those who award them. The problem with inflation is, as is well known, that it quickly leads to deflation. The more prices, the less important they become. If every performing cultural worker in Norway has received his award or the same "celebrity artist" has to hold a thank you speech several times a year for some meaningless award, we have torpedoed the whole concept of quality.

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