Since we’re talking about awards

I wrote this a few months ago for Culture-Voice.com and thought it fitting in a way with respect to the previous post on the Nobel Peace Prize:

The Most Overrated List, Part 1

(actually, the list itself is fine)

By Ivan Goddard

The ironic thing about creating a list of the most overrated people or things is that two of the most overrated things are lists and awards (which are really just very abbreviated lists [or lists are extended awards]). People get so excited about awards in general thinking that some sort of injustice has been thrust on the world when the wrong movie wins the Academy Award or the wrong song wins the Grammy or the wrong ballplayer wins the MVP. Really, the only significant thing these established awards or lists do is boost egos. For instance, when No Country for Old Men won the Academy Award, it validated the opinion of those who thought that NCFOM was the best movie of the year. But let’s say you thought that There Will Be Blood was the best movie. You can boost your ego when you argue why your favorite movie is better than the one that won. After all, you know better than the Academy, right?

For instance, I know that I am more knowledgeable than the voters of the Baseball MVP since I’m positive that Ozzie Smith should have won the NL MVP in 1987 over Andre Dawson. Yes, if you were to compare offensive statistics, you might infer that Dawson looks more impressive. But how valuable is a player if his team finishes in last place? Would they not finish in last place without him as well? But the Cardinals made it to game 7 of the World Series and would not have done so without Ozzie Smith. This is hardly disputable. Therefore, Smith was more valuable. Q.E.D.  Because I can argue this, proving to myself and those who will listen 22 years after the fact, the MVP award has succeeded in making me feel better about myself. Q.E.D.

With that in mind, I realize that I am treading into problematic meta-waters even by attempting to compile a list of the most overrated people in their respective fields. And I am open to criticism. This is not a definitive list.

One more caveat. What does it mean to be overrated? I think it means, in my mind, that undue adulation or attention is directed towards a person or that it is taken for granted that the person is great in his or her field.

Oh, alright, one more caveat. It may be that I am unable to recognize a person’s greatness and I am making grave errors in judgment based on a lack of education or understanding. I’ll accept this, but part of my reasons for making such an error stems from the fact that I don’t want to educate myself on someone that I feel is overrated. Why waste my time on something that doesn’t warrant my attention? So without further ado, the first three entries on my most overrated list:

1. Ernesto Che Guevara. Once, in Vancouver, I had gone for a walk in my new neighborhood to find some coffee. Of the two on the block I was on, the locally owned one had closed for the evening, so I ordered a cup at Starbucks. I was reading outside and a guy sat down next to me with a Starbucks cup, wearing a Che t-shirt. It seemed a strange scene. I asked him about his shirt and he said he got it in Cuba.

The reason Che is overrated is partly to do with the fact that people regularly wear his iconic face on their chests while doing things that fly in the face of his entire program—like patronize capitalist enterprises that acquire their wares by exploiting impoverished workers in the global south. That’s the obvious reason.

The less obvious reason is that I think it can be safe to say that most of the people who choose to display their affinity towards Che likely don’t realize how ideologically different he is to most progressives in the developed world. In fact, you could probably find more in common between Che and Dick Cheney than Che and Dennis Kucinich (Hell, you can’t spell Cheney without Che). Che and Cheney favor violence to achieve political goals (and one of those goals might actually be violence). They are not what you would call civil libertarians and lean towards a police state once power is secured. Economically, Che might have thought the no bid contracts awarded to Halliburton and KBR in Iraq sounded pretty close to something he might consider. At best he is a complex figure, but that hardly befits his becoming an icon.

In short, the face of Che that liberals like to display has as much to do with Ernesto Guevara as the cross around Ann Coulter’s neck has to do with the self-sacrificial crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They are convenient symbols for ideologies the signified could hardly recognize.

2. Andy Warhol. One night several years ago a group of friends and I met at the art gallery to check out an Andy Warhol exhibit. I went to hang out with my friends, not for the art. The whole idea of having an Andy Warhol exhibit struck me as weird. Here was a guy who chose to do his art by silkscreen so that he could produce multiple copies of the same work as fast as possible. It was possible that nothing we saw at that exhibit would qualify as an original. But then, what is an original Warhol?

I’m not convinced Warhol had the same view of art as the people who touted him as a genius thought he did. The more I hear about him, the more I think of “Chauncey Gardiner” from Being There. “Chance the gardener” would say mundane or silly things, but because some deemed him a political genius, everyone interpreted his obvious statements on gardening as profound metaphors for public policy and philosophy. In comparison, Warhol’s most famous line has been taken to mean something I’m not sure is in the original phrase or context. What people generally say he said was, “Everyone has fifteen minutes of fame.” Joe the Plumber, for instance, is said to have received “his fifteen minutes” which is shorthand for this famous quip. But here is the original line: “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” Does this actually mean anything? Forget the fact that it’s not remotely true, it’s also so vague he might as well have said, “First comes the Spring, then comes Summer, then Fall, and then Winter… and then Spring again.”

Reading through his most famous quotes is like reading through a transcript of “Kids say the darndest things.” Maybe they’re profound and maybe they’re not. But I’m not convinced the mind of Andy Warhol has anything to do with their profundity. Seriously, read through these quotes and then through these and tell me if any of them couldn’t be switched from one website to another without people noticing.

So what about the art itself? I’m no expert in art by any means, but I have been to several memorable exhibits including those of de Vinci, Titian, Pissarro, Picasso, Monet, Rothko, and Emily Carr. All of those struck me in some way, either emotionally or intellectually. Warhol’s did not. Nor have I ever heard anyone wax eloquently about his style, explaining what I missed or what he contributed to the art world. Some say that he was critiquing the modern era almost as if he were a satirist. But if that were the case, then why did he spend so much time promoting himself, hanging out with celebrities, or talking about the importance of wealth in his life? He was an attention whore.

So maybe he is not overrated at all but succeeded at exactly what he wanted. He wasn’t interested in making good art. He was just Thomas Kincade of the previous generation. But this is not the pedestal he has been put on and that is the one upon which he is overrated.

3. Joe Namath. Speaking of attention whores. Broadway Joe’s fame is easily explained. He was the quarterback on a fluke champion from the largest television market in the country whose best player since then was Freeman McNeil.

Namath played 13 years and had a single season where he threw more touchdown passes than interceptions—19-17 in 1969, the year of his highest quarterback rating of 74.3. His career totals give us a 50.1% completion percentage, 173:220 touchdown to interception ratio, a 65.5 passer rating, and 140 rushing yards. And his most proficient seasons were in the inferior league of the AFL. He was the first to pass more than 4000 yards in a season, but was hardly the last. It’s a milestone he now shares with 39 others, including Lynn Dickey, Neil Lomax, and Brian Sipe. Who? Exactly.

And he parleyed that turd into a Hall of Fame bid? Here’s what the Hall says about him: “…during his 13-year tenure from 1965 through 1977 he was one of the game’s most exciting, proficient and publicized quarterbacks. Namath’s place in history was assured with his first pro football act, the signing of a reported $400,000 contract early in 1965…” Great, he was famous and made lots of money. Those are two of the reasons he’s in the Hall.

Okay, sure, you say. But what about Super Bowl III? He guaranteed victory over Johnny Unitas and the mighty Colts and then delivered! It was a huge underdog victory. He won when it counted. That’s more than we can say for Dan Marino! Plus his disheveled mane triggered the impulse in Homer Simpson’s mom to leave her husband. Let’s look closer at that game, then shall we.

Namath was adequate I suppose. He completed 60% of his passes for 206 yards, none for a touchdown and one for an interception. The starting quarterback for the Colts on the other hand basically gave the game away, going 6 for 17 with zero touchdowns and three interceptions. “Johnny U had that bad of a game?” you ask. No, Unitas went 11 for 24 after Earl Morrall shat on the field. That’s right, Unitas came off the bench because he had been injured. But Namath out-duelling the long-forgotten Earl Morrall doesn’t really keep the legend alive as well as the flashy Broadway Joe showing up the workman veteran Johnny U.

So there you have it. Three fields, three people unworthy to be mentioned as greats in those fields. I’m sure there’s more to be said and I’m sure people can defend these winners of the Legend Lottery, but life’s too short to get too worked up over such weak sauce.

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