Glenn Hauman: Hugo Awards, No Awards, and Network Effects
In the current contretemps over the Hugo Awards (including coverage from, among many others, Slate, Salon, Entertainment Weekly, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Dot, i09, Breitbart, the National Review, and us) and now that voting for the Hugo Awards are now open, the question has come up about voting for “No Award” over various nominees, whether it should be done, and whether it would be an unprecedented event.
The answer to the last part is: No, it’s not unprecedented. “No Award” has won categories before, most recently in 1977 when no award was given for Best Dramatic Presentation.
And ironically, that’s really a shame. Because it turns out there was a really great science fiction movie that year that showed us where we were heading. I’m not talking about any of that year’s actual Hugo nominees– Carrie, Logan’s Run, The Man Who Fell to Earth, or Futureworld.
No, I’m talking about Network.
It’s a tremendous film, even though it is the definition of social science fiction. A cutting satire on the media landscape, the film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won four, as well as being nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Writing. In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. In 2006, Chayefsky’s script was voted one of the top-ten screenplays by the Writers Guild of America, East, and in 2007, the film was 64th among the 100 greatest American films as chosen by the American Film Institute.
If you’ve never seen it, let me give you a quick recap. Peter Finch won a posthumous Best Actor award for playing a man named Beale, a media personality who’s becoming less and less popular with the public, until he undergoes a nervous breakdown and believes God is speaking to him directly. He proceeds to rant and rile up his audience, telling them:
I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” Things have got to change. But first, you’ve got to get mad!
While initially enjoying a burst of popularity, the audience loses interest over time when they realize Beale is not actually offering any coherent solutions, and is just becoming “very tedious and depressing”. Beale continues to lose his grip on sanity and public opinion (though he does maintain a small core audience that applauds a lot) and his ratings plummet in the face of his deranged babbling. In the end, his only legacy is lowering the terms of discourse for everyone who comes after him.
Now, tell me– has there ever been a more accurate depiction of the future in the history of science fiction?
Here, take a look at one of the more famous moments of the film and see if you agree with me.
Yet, on the other hand… it’s all a bit dated now. Beale comes off as a raving loon. The few women are treated as either incidental side-bits to men or as manipulative shrews. The only blacks shown are depicted as criminals and terrorists. Everything is blamed on the Arabs, who “who despise this country and everything it stands for — democracy, freedom, the right for me to get up on television and tell you about it!” Looking back, these stories spend more time showing us the way things used to be, and why it’s good that we continue to look forward and change.
Perhaps the antics of Mr. Beale and his Network aren’t worthy of a Hugo Award after all. Even if there’s a small group of people who think it should come above “No Award”.