As someone who's actually lived in Hollywood, I know the importance of the Oscars. It's literally a holiday.. Anyone who shows up to work that day is there for the singular purpose of entering the Oscar pool. Here's the trick – just pick all the ones that Entertainment Weekly picks. They're usually right. Don't be like me and vote for the production with the most amusing title, or you will forever curse The Story of the Weeping Camel.
The Academy Awards were founded for one purpose that wasn't, and still isn't, about recognizing excellence. They shell out the big bucks to sell a product. Some people bemoan how Academy voting isn't fair, or how the taste of the voters is predictably mundane. In the same breath, people will weep (like a camel!) with delight when the scrappy underdog foreign contender wins. But you and I know that it's all a big gimmick so it doesn't matter. And that's ok.
The Oscars generate publicity like they were intended to. And they do have some curatorial merit. The winners are usually broadly appealing, quality productions. Not great art, necessarily, but they are usually things that can appeal to a mass audience. Perhaps the winners are not truly the best. They certainly are prone to unfortunate trends and pressures. But they're all reasonably good enough in some way to usefully promote their medium.
The Oscars provide other benefits as well. After the rhinestone sparkles fade from your eyes, the awards are still doing work. The logo gets slapped on DVD covers and posters. People watch films in anticipation of the event, and then rush to rent them when the winners have been named. The ceremony also brings together the industry into one big visible place, putting names to faces, and minting industry mythology. Watching the ceremony and the narratives constructed by it, casual viewers get a flavor and a proximity to the glamour, the tension, and the tears. And as the years go by, the list of winners remains, guiding new viewers to the old movies. That's how I came across Wings, the first film to win best picture. That and Clara Bow. Wow.
So – will the 2011 BBC Audio Drama Awards be the same mix of sex and glamour? Ah. Well. Let's not get our hopes up. But thank god someone's trying. There have been awards in audio drama for years – the Prix Italia, the Sony, the Imison, the Bradley, the Tinniswood, and the Giles Cooper. These awards have been shamefully squandered. Except the Giles Cooper Awards, which resulted in lots of plays being published. But the rest of the awards disappeared in a puff of microphone dust.
Who was the first Prix Italia winner? Where's the master list? An award doesn't do enough good unless it remains present. Sure, it recognizes excellence within its tiny context. But awards are entry points to excellence of years past. That's the tragedy of most of the radio drama awards of the past. They meant something to a small group of people, and didn't have an opportunity to mean something to more.
On the Audio Drama Wiki, you will find the complete list of Giles Cooper Award winners. I read every single volume and listened to a good amount as well. I've a bit more work to do, but eventually there will be an entry for every single play and author that was honored. It's a way in, allowing people to connect with the medium. I could give somebody a stack of CDs and say “here, listen to all this stuff,” but that would be useless and stupid. We shouldn't keep doing that to the medium we love. Instead, we should give our friends a list - “the Best Drama award winners,” or “these are my favorite plays”. Say “listen to these because they're special.” That's how you get people to care. Act like your work is special and other people will learn to love it, too. The affection transmits.
The BBC Audio Drama Awards are long overdo. It's the kind of institution that needed to be created to raise the visibility of the medium. But don't expect too much. Like the Academy Awards, this ceremony won't make everybody happy. It may reflect or create unwanted pressures in terms of artistic output. It might drive the industry toward plebeian, mass-market shlock. But it doesn't have to.
All it needs to do is make people notice audio drama more. I think it may be a turning point, if the BBC finally realizes that it's been treating the medium incorrectly.
Audio drama is fragile. That's really the point of all my posts, isn't it? Unique compared to other mediums, the way we present and organize audio drama, particularly online, has a significant impact on the ability for audiences to appreciate it. We need web design to reflect it in aesthetically graceful, visual ways. We need institutions to collect and maintain knowledge about it for us to access. And we need access to the output itself. I hope the Audio Drama Awards will do that.
In the meantime, I'm still trying to track down the complete list of Sony Award winners.