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There's No Such Thing as Being Snubbed for an Award

By Daniel Carlson | Think Pieces | December 13, 2013 | Comments ()


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Yesterday morning, December 12, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced the nominees for the 71st Golden Globes. Within minutes, news outlets and blogs were covering the list like they do every year. And like every year, the coverage wasn’t just about what was nominated; it was about what wasn’t. Movies, TV series, actors, directors, and other entertainment professionals that don’t get nominated are often referred to as “snubbed.” Everyone does this, and I mean everyone: here’s a roundup of “snubs” from The Hollywood Reporter, one from Variety, one from HuffPo, one from Entertainment Weekly. You can Google more if you want. There’s no real shortage of pieces about people and films and shows that should have been nominated but weren’t, and those that should have won awards but didn’t. This is something that gets talked about every year. And it needs to stop.

It’s not just that focusing on awards is the easiest way to miss the real fun and joy of movies and television. It’s that talking about nominees and winners in terms of snubs or triumph means admitting that there’s an accepted annual canon of award contenders, and that awards should only draw from that pool, and that anyone in that pool who isn’t nominated has been unjustly ignored, while those who sneak in from the outside are somehow “surprises” or “upsets.” In other words, we treat these nominations as things that form to our will based on our pop cultural reading of the tea leaves, instead what they really are, which is a snapshot of how an arbitrary group of people decided to honor some other people based on the penetration of given marketing campaigns. Martin Scorsese has a new movie out, so he has to be nominated; Game of Thrones is a popular show, so it’s a crime it wasn’t lauded; etc. We act as if we know what must, what shall, what will be honored. We pretend to see the future and know who’s deserving and who isn’t.

Award nominations are a glance at a moment in time. It’s about what was popular or hot for a given window. That’s it. You can see it in the way that Globe and Oscar nominations fall in and out of sync over time, thanks to quirks in balloting and memory. As Variety’s own Tim Gray points out:

“For years, the Globes touted themselves as an accurate gauge of the Academy Awards, and from 1995-2002, that was true: one of the two Globe winners (either drama or musical/comedy) went on to win the best picture Oscar 87% of the time.

“But for 2003-2011, the percentage was only 33%. The change began when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences moved the ceremony a month earlier. The Globes used to be held in the middle of Oscar balloting; however, for the past decade, the Globes have been held after Oscar voting has closed. Perhaps they had served as a reminder of what Oscar voters needed to see, and thus there was a correlation.”

A list of nominees is just that, and nothing to put much stock in. What’s more, there are way, way more candidates than nomination slots. You know how many movies came out in 2013? A lot. A whole lot. There were a few dozen new TV series, too, plus all the returning shows. They’re all competing for one of five nomination slots. The odds are long for anybody, so it’s nonsensical to start acting like some things are guaranteed nominations while others aren’t.

Most importantly, though, nobody deserves anything. The warped relationship between award prognosticators and those who actually hand out the awards isn’t specific to entertainment writers/fans. The tech and finance industries have a huge problem with this, too, largely when it comes to how a company’s performance stacks up against what analysts thought would happen. Writing recently at The Motley Fool, columnist Morgan Housel expertly skewered the defiant, near-sighted, echo-chamber mentality that gets people tangled up. To wit: “Earnings don’t miss estimates; estimates miss earnings. No one ever says ‘the weather missed estimates.’ They blame the weatherman for getting it wrong. Finance is the only industry where people blame their poor forecasting skills on reality. … If you’re expecting earnings to beat expectations, you don’t know what the word ‘expectations’ means.”

It’s easy to see the parallels in the entertainment-industrial complex. We work from a small pool of prestige entries and well-publicized performances and assume those will be nominated for awards, then act surprised if we’re wrong, then talk about how certain people or works were “overlooked” or “snubbed.” But there’s no such thing as a snub, because that assumes that our guesses and prejudices were right, and that nominees must conform to them. Some things get nominated, and others don’t. Our expectations can’t go any further than that.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • kirbyjay

    2 of the biggest atrocities in Oscar history? The Departed winning best picture and Al Pacino winning for Scent of a Woman winning over Denzel as Malcolm X.
    What does this have to do with the subject? Very little, but it needed to be said.

  • Three_nineteen

    The Departed deserved it more than Crash. No, I will not let that go

  • kirbyjay

    How about Roberto Begnini ( or whatever his name is)? Maybe for the Bozo the Clown Awards.....
    I feel your pain, though The Departed was the worst. Horrible accents, Jack Nicholson mugging like the Joker, the shootout in the elevator, all just ridiculous.
    When I think of some of Scorcese's masterpieces and he wins for this crap........

  • Coolg82

    I agree with your point about opinions and such, but I disagree about there no such thing as a snub. I have expressed much criticism over awards ceremonies for my chosen actor not being awarded or nominated and it is due to my own guesses and prejudices, but the people behind the awards are doing the same thing. The members of the academy use their guesses and prejudices to make the determination of who wins and who gets nominated. The only difference between me and the people who do choose who wins is that I am not in the group and they are, and when dealing with an industry that is infamous for money and politics playing a huge role in decision making, its hard to not see some actors who are repeatedly not recognized as being snubbed. Whether snubbery is due to malice, oversight, or genuine belief that they do not belong can be up for debate.

  • Maya

    "Of course, no one is really robbed of an Academy Award nomination. It's a gift; not a right." - Roger Ebert, 2012

    On a related note, I so wish Mr. Ebert was around to see all these great movies. I wish we could read his reviews on The Great Gatsby, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks, and every other interesting film that's come out since his death. I miss his thoughts.

  • luckypete

    Interesting piece, which I agree with, to a degree, as it is just human nature to make these kinds of lists. But the article makes me wonder if Pajiba's not going to publish numerous articles relating to award snubs, as they have published them in past years (and which I've enjoyed reading).

  • vandella

    I disagree, I believe tatiana maslany was snubbed at the emmies. If they are judged on the act of the performance, how is it possible not to see how great she was on the t.v. screen?

  • Maddy

    Maybe there's a bit of a bias against sci fi and things that aren't considered 'serious' enough? I'm just happy that she got some recognition at the globes, and hopefully more people will watch it.

  • Maddy

    I still don't understand how Downton Abbey keeps getting nominated - it's like American people who think just because people talk in posh voices in period costume it must be good.

  • sanity fair

    This was an interesting piece. I've never really thought about it as people freaking out because their expectations weren't met, but it kinda makes sense.

    To me, it's always been more of a disappointment that a movie or performance that I connected to emotionally isn't being recognized.

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