Around the time the old year turns into the new, people get busy giving awards and making up top ten lists of various things. Critics list top ten books, top ten TV shows, top ten movies of the year. Magazines and newspapers list the top ten stories. Around this time of year, the best soccer player in the world is crowned and the baseball writers make their decisions about who gets in the Hall of Fame. Hours are spent writing and reading and debating these awards and nominations which all have one thing in common: Identifying the best is beside the point. The reading and writing and debating is the point.
Sports award are never identifying the best players. If that was the case then you would expect to see players win the awards for defensive as well offensive excellence. This is rarely the case. The FIFA World Player of the Year and the Balloon d’Or awards (now combined into one award) have been awarded primarily to strikers and offensive midfielders. While no one can argue that Lionel Messi, the winner of the FIFA Balloon d’Or is undeserving, the key player on Barcelona, his club team, is Xavi, a midfielder who’s main talent is passing the ball to his teammates. Xavi was as important to Barcelona as was Messi, plus Xavi’s national team, Spain, won the World Cup. But Xavi doesn’t score goals so the casual fan doesn’t appreciate Xavi. Casual fans are more common than hardcore fans so the awards have to go to someone that the casual fan can appreciate. In soccer, this means players who dribble through people and score goals.
In American sports, the awards are the same. NFL MVPs go disproportionately to quaterbacks and running backs. NBA MVPs are often the top scorers and no one cares if the MLB MVPs can play defense or not. Again, giving the award to the best player is not the goal. The goal is always to generate interest which will generate revenue. The sports leagues want people to tune in on TV, to show up at the arenas and to buy merchandise, all so that the next TV contract will be larger, the advertising sold during game broadcasts will be more expensive and, ultimately, the value of the franchises will be greater.
The goal of the organizations that give awards to movies and television shows is also to generate dollars. How could anyone be expected to determine who gave a better performance? Is it the performance that involved mastering another activity like singing or dancing? Is it the performance that required the most difficult accent? Is it the performance that was the most uncannily similar to the real person that it was based upon? And how do you compare someone who had to look credible as a dancer with someone who had to seem credible as a well-known public figure? Plus, the voters take into account extraneous factors such as whether or not an actor was unfairly overlooked previously, is the actor nice or nasty in interactions, does the actor come from an award-winning family. Also, if the actor is from a movie that is being given a lot of awards, undeserving nominees in other categories may benefit. In 2004, no one reasonably believed that “Into the West” from “The Return of the King” was the best song. Yet the Academy was intent on giving every possible award to the last of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, so the song won. Again, none of this is to identify the best.
It’s fun to read these lists and to be reminded of things that you may have seen during the year but there’s no reason to get emotional about any of it. No amount of awards can make you enjoy a bad movie and no athlete can be fully appreciated only by looking at their silverware.
As I mentioned, at this time of year people love to post their ten best lists. Some years there are more than ten and some years there are less than ten deserving recognition, but people list ten. Sometimes, people list 100, which of course is 10 times 10. The decimal numeral system (base 10) is the most widely used numerical base in the world. Do you want to know why? Look at your hands.