Before a flurry of flashing cameras, celebrities walk across the dazzling red carpet. The place swarms with reporters, all in a great frenzy to fight for the headlines, and the event draws attention from all around the world. As the year is hastening to a close, people are sparing their time to look back; the awards ceremony season is a chance to do so. The ceremony honors the people who have made or continued to make valuable contributions to our society by crowning their efforts with a tangible award. Holding an awards ceremony is a perfect way to end the year.
Most people will experience an awards ceremony at one point in their lives. For example, students and employees are acknowledged for their hard work, making them feel appreciated and well-respected because awards symbolize achievement, professional success, and talent. The chance to hold an award-winning title is a motivation for many to reach higher levels of success. Whether it is a small-scale celebration or a grand ceremony, these awards often provide a boost of motivation.
What Are Awards for?
It is obvious that awards elevate the nominees, but the reasons awards are given out each year and why people desire to gain them are not as straightforward as many may think. The academic field of phaleristics studies orders, fraternities, and award items such as medals and other decorations. Established as a scientific sub-discipline of history, phaleristics is related to sociology and anthropology in a broader sense. According to phalerist Jana Gallus, awards were created with a desire to prove the award giver’s status and improve their reputation. In other words, the person granting the award has to have sufficient prestige to confer awards on others.
Legacy is another considerable factor. Few would deny that people crave the establishment of a legacy. Thinking about the Nobel Prize, for instance, helps in the understanding of why such awards were established. There is an interesting (unofficial) story told about Alfred Nobel. When Alfred’s brother Ludwig passed away, people mistakenly thought Alfred, the creator of dynamite, had died and newspapers reported it as “The Merchant of Death Is Dead.” Being apprehensive about what his legacy would be, Alfred specified in his will that his fortune be used to create a series of prizes for those who bring the greatest benefit to mankind.
Creating an award establishes what is considered prestigious, valuable, and reputable. It also channels attention and creates role models in certain fields. Therefore, people desire to win the award and, by setting a high academic standard, awards ceremonies can shape the direction that a field takes. For example, the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, influence the way movies are produced because the award is considered valuable enough to be something that filmmakers seek to attain.
Awards ceremony is also used as an opportunity to generate revenue for agencies behind the event. According to Professor Chong Sang Soo (Department of Media Content, Cheongju University), the presenter of the ceremony often makes profit by attracting sponsors, securing exclusive rights to broadcast and holding other related events; psychological factor makes this possible. “In these days where rivalry lies in our daily routine, people basically show curiosity about selecting the most outstanding work, project or performer,” said Professor Chong.
▲ Professor Chong Sang Soo, Provided by Professor Chong
Awards Back in the Day
Naturally, awards and trophies make a clear statement about the value of someone’s achievement. The desire to be acknowledged and recognized by others is an elemental part of being human. In that sense, trophies have been a way to reward and commemorate victories throughout the history of mankind. The word trophy derives from the Latin word *trophaeum*, which means an ancient Greek or Roman monument commemorating a military victory.
Trophies in ancient times often took the form of magnificent statues, columns, and arches. After a successful battle, Greek troops often made trophies using the weapons and armor of their enemies. These trophies were made to look like warriors. It was common to have the details of the battle inscribed on the monument and these ancient trophies were generally dedicated to the gods as a form of worship. At the time, the idea of taking a trophy from one’s enemy was a way of proving victory and supremacy. Trophies were later used as a reward for sporting prowess in the Olympic games. During the Olympic games in Greece, victors were crowned with twisted olive branches.
In contemporary society, trophies are widely produced and used to reward not only athletes and war heroes but also school children for their academic successes and exceptional artists or actors. Unlike the past, the title of the award itself is considered much more important than the glittering appearance of the actual physical trophy. Arts, academia, and other cultural areas have become more important throughout time with awards ceremonies emerging as a common cultural phenomenon.
Festive Finale of the Year
Since 1901, a grand banquet for those who enlightened the world has been held—the Nobel Prize Awards Ceremony. The prizes are presented to laureates at ceremonies on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. Often considered as the most prestigious award, the Nobel Prize is conferred upon the top minds within six fields: Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Physiology or Medicine, Promotion of Peace, and Economic Sciences. Every laureate is expected to deliver a lecture in order to receive their prize and this grandiose ceremony is the assemblage of all the issues of the year.
In total, 908 laureates and 27 organizations have been awarded the Nobel Prize between 1901 and 2018. However, information about the laureates says much about the gender discrimination against women; as of 2018, there have been only 55 female Nobel Prize winners. Further steps to safeguard women’s rights are continuing to take place, yet there are still environments where women’s rights are not fully guaranteed in terms of a well-rounded education. In that sense, the Nobel Prize organization gives attention to female winners, and these inspirational women are described as having changed the world.
In addition to the awards ceremony, the Nobel Prize organization plans various events. The Nobel Week Dialogue is a free full-day event that is part of the official Nobel Week Program. The event aims to stimulate discussion on a science-related theme by bringing together Nobel Laureates, the world’s leading scientists and experts, policymakers, and the general public. This year, the Nobel Week Dialogue will be turning its attention to a topic that is important to all—water. As a resource for health, environment, and culture, water plays a significant role. By bridging science and society, the Nobel Week Dialogue is a great opportunity to stimulate thinking and inspire greatness.
Moreover, the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative (NPII) is a global program designed to help Nobel Laureates share their inspirational stories and insights. By taking Nobel Laureates on visits to universities and research centers around the world, the NPII seeks to bring the laureates into closer contact with the worldwide scientific community, and especially with an audience of young scientists. This December, Professor Michael Young, the 2017 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, is expected to visit China to take part in an NPII event.
The Power of Sharing
The collective knowledge of programs like the NPII can be enormous. However, it has limited value unless the knowledge is shared. The Nobel Prize organization wants Nobel Laureates to share their inspirational stories and insights across a number of events. This sharing of knowledge is important for future generations. The Nobel Prize can also stimulate anyone around the world, thereby developing the potential for advances in various fields of study. Shinya Yamanaka, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2012, was the first to develop stem cells from normal body cells. “I have not achieved my goal. I really want to help patients and we have not helped a single one. We need to continue working very hard and hopefully we can help many patients before I die,” said Yamanaka.
Furthermore, as humankind introduces new developments and discoveries, old processes and approaches often become redundant. New techniques replace old ones and knowledge that was once pertinent becomes irrelevant. To stay in the game, organizations and individuals need to make the most of the knowledge they have by sharing and absorbing it readily. By building collective knowledge, people can increase innovation and stay abreast of changes. The importance of knowledge sharing should not go unnoticed.
Alfred Nobel dreamed of a better world and in many ways, the world has become a better place since he wrote his will in the late 19th century. Thanks to scientific, cultural and economic developments, it seems that more people have the ability to serve their needs. Scientific achievement not only leads to new technologies but has also given people a deeper understanding of how everything in our universe functions. These have led cultural advances and have reduced the impact of prejudice and convention. The Nobel Prize is a compensation for sparking this positive change. The ceremony is a way of honoring the values that the Nobel Prize stands for: enlightenment, humanism, and a peaceful co-existence.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, there are many other awards ceremonies that are closely connected to our society. Therefore, it goes without saying that they have a huge amount of influence over the general public. The Turner Prize, for instance, is an annual prize presented to a British visual artist. According to *A Cultural Sociological Study on the Art Prize* (Hwang Hyun-jeong, 2014), the Turner Prize has drawn the public’s attention to modern art and it ultimately allowed Tate, a family of four art galleries in the United Kingdom (UK), expand despite the recession. As such, awards ceremonies have a positive social effect; however, like a double-edged sword, these ceremonies do have a few problems.
Oscars Buried in Discrimination
Social phenomena that are influenced by the award ceremonies inversely underpin the proper functions of those events. However, prestigious awards ceremonies often err badly in their implementation and consequences. For instance, the voices that the Oscars have long been charged with having numerous problems despite its glamorous appearance. The issues fundamentally derive from the ceremony’s discriminative attitude towards certain members of the film industry.
▲ Nominees of four major awards in the 88th Oscars, Provided by LA TIMES
Immediately after announcing the nominees for 88th Academy Awards for 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) faced harsh criticism from commentators and the public for having no persons-of-color nominated for any acting award. There are four major awards categories for actors and actresses at the Oscars: Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, and Actress in a Supporting Role. Five names are usually nominated per category, giving a total of 20 nominees for the four major awards. However, it was surprising for some people that all the 20 nominees were Caucasian.
The 2016 Oscars was not the first time that Caucasians accounted for all of the nominees; in fact, it was the second consecutive occasion. According to an investigation by the *Los Angeles Times*, 94 percent of Oscars voters were Caucasians and 77 percent of the voters were male. The data showed that African-Americans only accounted for about two percent of the voting members and other ethnic groups such as Latinos and Asians made up the remaining four percent.
Furthermore, the *Los Angeles Times* also revealed that the median age of the AMPAS voting body was 62. Constituents younger than 50 accounted for only 14 percent of the voting body. Taken together, one may argue that the composition of the AMPAS voters for the Oscars is considerably biased towards older Caucasian males. Even though Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the AMPAS has stated that the organization’s goal is to actively consider different voices regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, the proportion of non-Caucasian voters has remained at about ten percent. To achieve fairness in the voting for the selection of nominees would still seem to require more effort.
Celebrations Trapped in a Treadmill
In addition to the famous international film festivals, such as Venice, Berlin, Cannes, and Moscow, there are a number of domestically significant events that are marked on the calendar of both Korean artists and their fans. The Asia Artist Awards (AAA), Melon Music Awards (MMA), and Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) are a few representatives that lead the award season each year. The three main broadcasting companies Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), and Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) also host a majority of the K-pop concerts held at the end of the December.
▲ Three major drama awards in Korea, Provided by SBS, KBS, MBC
From the point of view of ardent K-pop fans, year-end celebrations might be a long-awaited treat. Nevertheless, along with the flood of end-of-the-year concerts is the flood of criticism targeting their lack of diversity. Mainstream music awards are bombarded with a repetitive list of performers leading to a lack of variety in music. Television (TV) programs in December are plastered with the mainstream hits of popular K-pop idols. The failure to recognize other music defies the intent for which annual award shows are held — to celebrate the diverse artistic impulses that drive the industry. Lee Myeongsun, a student from Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) Department of Film, TV and Multimedia, stated, “The year-end awards ceremonies excessively focus on the popular arts that are centered on broadcasting shows. There are a lot of other types of awards ceremonies that are going on in other areas, but those do not seem to be the issue.”
For industries outside of music, various awards ceremonies held by the three dominant broadcasting companies contribute to the same problem. For the film and drama awards ceremonies, the shows go on for about three hours on average, and long acceptance speeches by the winners are a key cause of this. Some believe that it is natural that the spotlighted person should thank all of the people that helped them in their acceptance speech, but some critics insist that their speeches are generally monotonous and repetitive. In fact, recently a staff member was accidentally caught on air complaining about actress Choi Hee-seo’s acceptance speech during the 55th Dae Jong Film Awards.
The Emmy Awards are a notable case in which people from diverse backgrounds have an equal chance of winning, and it can thus be a good role model for future Korean awards ceremonies. The presenters of the Emmy Awards, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) award figures of many different fields related to television including sports, news, documentaries, and broadcasting technologies. In the 58th Emmy Awards, the program presented a scene which provided plenty of laughs for viewers of the show. American comedian Bob Newhart was shown confined in an airtight container with enough oxygen available for only three hours, which was the estimated running time of the program. The host Conan O’Brien emphasized that if the running time exceeded three hours due to overlong acceptance speeches, Bob Newhart would be in trouble. It was just a fun scenario, but it had the required effect of shortening speeches and entertaining the audience.
Manipulated Awards Ceremonies
According to the Oxford Dictionary, *awards ceremony* is defined as an event awarding prizes to an individual or organization in memory of outstanding achievements in a specific field. The definition implies that when someone receives an award, their performance should have been recognized by many professionals and the public. Awards must be considered as targets that are genuinely invaluable and scarce. However, a great number of awards ceremonies happen to be losing their reputation because they are run as the broadcasting companies please.
After a specific awards ceremony, the final arbiters who selected that year’s awardees often encounter strong disagreement over their choices. Because most celebrities have a lot of fans who support them, one may argue that discontent among certain groups is a natural part of awards. However, this dissatisfaction needs to be considered if there is something wrong with the way awardees are selected.
The public and critics insist that many awards ceremonies are becoming more commercial due to the excessive influence of broadcasting companies. Alleged manipulation by a broadcasting company can be confirmed by the number of awards with indistinguishable titles, distributed in a single ceremony. For example, in the MBC Drama Awards, the categories are subdivided into daily soap dramas, Monday and Tuesday dramas, weekend dramas, and mini-series for both the *Top Excellence Award* and the *Excellence Award*. Moreover, there is an award named the *Golden Actor Award*, and it is split again into four subcategories: men’s top excellence award, women’s top excellence award, men’s excellence award, women’s excellence award. People impugn the diversity of these awards. It is difficult to understand the distinctions between these awards, if there are any, and it is difficult for the audience to remember the awardees. Kim Hee Woo, a student of Korea National University of Arts (K’Arts) Department of Film, said, “Rookie of the Year Award does not have particular criteria in awarding yet. The person who had already won the award sometimes receive another Rookie Award. This goes against the fundamental purpose of awards ceremonies, and it is a big discourtesy to both the awardees and real rookies.”
The problem of so-called *distributed awards* lies in not just the wearisome events but also in the damaged reputation of the event. Many netizens believe that the sub-division of awards categories is for promotional purposes only, and they are not completely wrong. Furthermore, satisfying the actors is also a crucial consideration for the broadcasting companies in order to scout them more easily for upcoming projects. “Public enjoys various kinds of mass media nowadays such as Social Network Services (SNS) and Youtube, which are able to substitute existing medias such as TVs and movies. Therefore, some consumers even cast a question mark to the year’s awardees of broadcasting companies’ awards ceremonies about their performances compared to those of Youtubers and other creators of such industries,” stressed Lee.
Reshaping the Culture of Awards Ceremonies
In response to the issues surrounding the awards ceremony culture in Korea, integrating the awards ceremonies of the three major broadcasting companies has always been an option. Those who highlight the positive effect of this form of combination, cite the Golden Globes as an example. The Golden Globes is an awards ceremony that has been celebrating films and TV programs since 1944 and is run by Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). The awards are important enough that some prognosticators use them to predict the awardees for the Oscars. Because the event encompasses movies and TV programs from various companies, it is presented with no bias.
Unfortunately, promoting an integrated awards ceremony is a challenging task. Despite criticism of profit-motived broadcasting companies, viewer ratings for their individual shows are guaranteed to be high every year, giving no reason for these companies to collaborate with the others. Although a new attempt at establishing a joint awards ceremony might be considered impossible at the moment, it is possible that it could still occur naturally as the number of channels increase in the future.
At this moment, it is important to create a culture that attracts more attention and participation from the public. Just as democracy is built upon the voices of the public, the viewers must also recognize that their participation is required for the industry to advance. Once audiences gain a sense of ownership within broadcasting culture and awards ceremonies, the louder voices of the viewers would be able to influence year-end award ceremonies, leading to the selection of deserving recipients, rather than the viewers passively accepting results that are suspected to have been manipulated.