Recent Comments

John Denver and Eubie Blake perform on the Grammys, 1978.
Kyle Barnett

John, after reading your piece from today, I really see strong parallels with my own attitudes and yours about the cultural hierarchies of various awards shows. Here I was feeling all bad for the recording industry and its lowly Grammys for always playing second fiddle to the film and TV industries. But after reading your post on the Spike VGAs, the Grammys seem downright steeped in tradition and respect. For me, the question about awards ceremonies is tied to larger questions about the way we evaluate what counts and doesn’t count as media that matters.

John Denver and Eubie Blake perform on the Grammys, 1978.
John Vanderhoef

Thanks for starting the week out by bringing up concerns that probably span all the award shows we’re covering, Kyle. Namely, concerns about art vs. commodity, the transparency of the politics behind the voting process, and the delicate balance between promoting what’s popular while recognizing what’s niche but equally worthy of praise.

I especially enjoy the way you begin to construct the hierarchy of these award ceremonies we all acknowledge in the back of our minds. The Oscars hold the top spot with the Emmys and the Grammys following even while being the pinnacle award in their respected media. It’s important to point out that the popularity of the awards shows reflect the cultural status of the media they represent. And even within the medium of sound and music, you recognize that live performance is considered superior to recorded sound. Which do the Grammys really want to celebrate?

To your point regarding the scope of the music industry and the problem with representing and celebrating the hundreds of genres and sub-genres, I can only agree it’s an unrealistic desire, at least when it comes to what’s conceivable for a televised awards show meant to attract and hold an audience. Less popular awards are routinely given off-air, during the void of commercial breaks, and these decisions should always be interrogated to understand what categories are valued over others, what genres are given precedence, and what niche performers/bands are forgotten even as they are recognized for their efforts.

As we continue this discussion throughout the week, I think we’ll see parallels between all of these award shows, especially in terms of art vs. commercialism and the ways the industries behind the media we love drive the awards process in ways that we as scholars and fans do not always appreciate or agree with. You’re post brought the most basic question to my mind: What is the purpose of the Grammys? Going forward, I’d like to explore an even broader question: What is the purpose of a televised media awards ceremony?

Kyle Barnett

John, thanks for bringing the Video Game Awards into this conversation. I’m most interested in the VGAs as proof positive of the video game’s inferiority complex in relation to the film and television industries. Earlier on, the lack of narrative in video games was a clear difference. These days games with sophisticated narratives are much closer to film and TV (note all the movie-style trailers circulating with game releases as one example). In some cases, they far surpass film and TV in terms of narrative complexity.

We could read the Spike VGAs as stacking the pop culture deck with an odd assortment of celebrities for cross-promotional purposes (Tyson putting The Jersey Shore cast in its place!). And by the way, who is Spike’s parent company? I’m sympathetic to the notion that the show might reflect an unwillingness to rely on video games to make for exciting TV — and for gamers to be reliable award show viewers. In other words, this could be bet hedging as much as cross promotion. If this is the case, and with the cultural power of video games at present, why hedge? This leads me back to a version of my question from yesterday: How do you best represent video games as an experience or an industry on television?

Karen Petruska

Thanks for the post, John—I’m thrilled you are discussing the video game industry and hierarchies of power within the media industries.  Ebert has brought a lot of attention to the debate about games as a narrative and visual art form, and I heartily agree that the packaging of this awards program on Spike reinforces problematic assumptions that are implicit in Ebert’s claims.  I’m also really interested in the gendering of gaming and the corollary gendering of the audience for the VGAs.

But I can’t stop thinking about WHY awards programs need to be televised.  This question seems particularly significant with regards to a new-ish industry like video games.  Did the Oscars play a role in legitimizing the film industry?  Pulling from Kyle’s post yesterday—which discussed lesser-known artists promoted by the Grammys—doesn’t the Grammys also validate artists perceived to be "less than"?  Is part of the purpose of any televised awards ceremony the repeated and insistent claim to value, especially for upstart media industries still striving for recognition of their aesthetics and depth?

Sure, the VGAs participate in a masculinist discourse, but they also demand a recognition of worth.  Does that need override the other concerns?

John Denver and Eubie Blake perform on the Grammys, 1978.
Kyle Barnett

Karen, we agree that there is a tension between the Grammys rewarding the hit-makers and recognizing lesser-known acts. There must be pressure on Grammy voters to recognize the moneymakers in what is the recording industry’s most difficult era since the Great Depression.

 I think that is why this year’s nod to lesser-known acts seemed all the more unusual. The Grammy Awards broadcast has not been a likely place for new artists to “break,” though some choices have appealed to indie credibility in hopes of regaining a certain equilibrium. I think breaking established global stars have fared better (Shakira, Ricky Martin, etc.). The difficulty in reaching a balance between constituencies points again to the incredible breadth of what the Grammys has to represent. 

I absolutely believe that the discourse surrounding the Grammys and other award shows most certainly adds value to the broadcast, keeps it relevant. Haters like me play no small part in this. 

Annie, there is something to the Grammys’ prestige in relation to a growing number of music award shows. Compared to the Oscars, the Grammys may be more susceptible to credibility poaching by newcomers. I also agree that various awards shows can lead to criteria confusion. In that context, it’s understandable that Justin Bieber fans were outraged that the Grammys doesn’t always behave like the People’s Choice Awards, etc.

Myles, I’ve never seen footage from the untelevised Grammys, but would love to do so. I think you could understand the Grammys in general as “a token gesture that fails,” and that’s why we love to hate it.  You hit on the point I had initially planned to write regarding the Grammys and the recording industry in general: the recording industry’s historical connection to musical performance and how this influences it. The added dimension of live performance is for me the heart of what makes the recording industry – and the Grammys – different.


John Denver and Eubie Blake perform on the Grammys, 1978.
Myles McNutt

Some great thoughts here, Kyle, and quite the odd couple video to go with it.

This year’s Grammys really were, as you indicate, a perfect case study for questions regarding the plague of the lesser-known artists: Twitter was alight with anger towards Spalding, and confusion regarding Arcade Fire (I can’t help linking to this Tumblr:, during this year’s awards, and it captured the perils of when lesser-known artists break into what one would generally consider major categories.

Of course, hundreds (although now likely dozens) of people 99% of viewers have never heard of win Grammys, but they win the untelevised Grammys. I watched a lot of that ceremony last year, seeing wins by acts like La Roux and Tia Carrere (for an award, Hawaiian Album, that will no longer exist), and it was like a whole different world. The Grammys, as an awards "show," is a concert with occasional award breaks. The Grammy Awards, as an objective body, is perhaps the most committed to genres outside of the mainstream out of the major award shows. The question becomes what it means when they marginalize that commitment to an untelevised (but livestreamed) event, and whether it counts if the acts aren’t on the "big stage."

It’s something that the Emmys do with technical awards, and something the Oscars don’t do, but the Grammys are unique in that entire genres and subgenres are relegated to those brief interstitials within the broadcast which announce those who won earlier. It’s good that they’re there (although their number is shrinking, as you indicate), but is this just a token gesture that fails, as you note, to actually reflect changing generic trends?

John Denver and Eubie Blake perform on the Grammys, 1978.
Anne Helen Petersen

 I think part of the problem with The Grammy’s is also the glut of other music-oriented awards shows, all created to boost sales (and create ratings).  What differentiates a Grammy from an American Music Award?  Or a People’s Choice Award?  Or a Billboard Award?  An MTV Music Award?  Because most viewers don’t understand who is voting — and for what — situations like what occured around the Bieber-loss/Esperanza-win occur.  (I’d say the same for the Oscars: the anger usually results from confusion about who votes for what, and what the politics are behind that voting).  

Now, you could say that this is the same for awards shows that concentrate on other media, but I’d argue that the Oscars hold a particular place of esteem, while everyone realizes that the Golden Globes are JV.  (And, because of more and more media coverage of the politics of the Foregin Press Association and its iffy politics, has become more of a joke).  

John Denver and Eubie Blake perform on the Grammys, 1978.
Karen Petruska

Thanks for starting off our week with some attention to the Grammys, Kyle.  I’m intrigued by a number of observations you make here, including the ever-present tension between art and commercialism.  More about that below.  

But I think I’m most interested to hear more about how awards programs may (intentionally or otherwise) draw attention to lesser-known artists.  There seems an interesting push-pull within the Grammys in particular between acknowledging the hits (drawing the performers audiences want to see) and awarding the less commercial artists that reinforce the Grammys authority.  Sure, they give Taylor Swift a Grammy, but as long as the Taylors are balanced with the OutKasts and the Arcade Fires, the Grammys can keep it real.  

I bring this up because, of course, the Grammys are themselves a commodity.  As a nationally televised program (and it is my understanding, the Grammys have enjoyed an unusually long relationship with CBS—is that correct?), the Grammys need to attract a large enough audience to make the advertisers buying all the commercial time happy.  They need Beyonce with that baby bump.  

How do you evaluate the Grammys success at legitimizing commericial artists and publicizing the lesser known?  Is the significance of this awards program such that they can "make" an artist—either making them more popular or more respected?  Can we have it both ways?  Perhaps even more to the point—does the discourse that arises to celebrate or trash the Grammys in fact reinforce its necessity?  I think this is where you end with your post, so let me know if I’m reading you correctly.  Because that will mean the haters actually play a role in supporting the need for the Grammys.

MPAA Screen Thumbnail

(apologies for super late response… I happened upon this while looking for something else. hope it is still useful.)

I have always hated trailers. I’m the one in the audience with my eyes closed and my fingers jammed into my ears, singing loudly to block out the sound. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I often sing "baa baa blacksheep". no idea why.) to me, trailers destroy the movie-watching experience completely. to condense the 4.5 good moments of an entire movie into a trailer is cruel. because then I find myself having to watch random stuff while eagerly awaiting those amazing moments they had shown me in the trailer. and when those moments occur, my reaction to them is not joy or excitement or anything even remotely positive. it’s just: oh, there’s that moment. if you show me the joke in the trailer, I’m not going to laugh when I see it in the movie. thanks for killing it.

the other thing they spoil for me is the visuals. especially with sci-fi movies for which this is an important element. I want to be surprised! thrilled! amazed! but if I see it in the trailer, the thrill is gone. 

having said that, there are some movies I know I’m never going to watch. and for these, thankfully, there are trailers. for example, sex and the city 2 - there was no way in hell I was watching that, so seeing the trailer was definitely more than enough. in this case, trailers keep me in the loop of what’s going on in the world without having to pay the money and sit through hours of crap. 

I like your idea of trailers being the promise of something beautiful… it’s a romantic notion. but it doesn’t work for me.

while rare, there have been trailers that tease - I think this works better. a trailer should be something that gives you snippets but not the answers, not the punchline. something that whets the appetite, makes you want more, seduces you, and makes it hard for you to resist… as you noted, I want some of that fun anticipation ;)

Elena del Rio

This is what I meant all along. I’m borrowing Claire Colebrook’s words because she says it very precisely: "There is nothing radical per se about affect, but the thought of affect—the power of philosophy or true thinking to pass beyond affects and images to the thought of differential imaging, the thought of life in its power to differ—is desire, and is always and necessarily radical. The power of art not just to present this or that affect, but to bring us to an experience of any affect whatever or ‘affectuality’—or that there is affect—is ethical: not a judgement upon life so much as an affirmation of life." ("The Sense of Space: On the Specificity of Affect in Deleuze and Guattari," Postmodern Culture 15.1, 2004).

For me, this is a non-negotiable aspect of Deleuze’s thinking—the way he commits to a radical thinking that rejects any kind of reduction of life to any single term or series of relations, be it capitalism or any other form of axiomatic repetition or stratification. I agree with Shaviro that affect is the terrain itself where the war (of desire, of bodies and their will to power) is being waged, and there is no spatialized outside, no transcendental ground from where to judge its play of forces or dynamics. The affective itself is the plane of immanence, yet, for that very reason it cannot be totalized by, or subsumed under, one single term such as capital. And I even wonder whether, in fact, effecting such totalization does not amount to a reisncription of transcendence.

This discussion (and I know this doesn’t have to be the end) has been amazingly enriching for me, and I want to give a big THANK YOU to everyone involved, especially Michael, Karin, Kris, Shane, and Adrian, for their relentless intellectual generosity, and Shaviro for pushing me to think through his work and his comments.