A Deep Dive into the Whimsical World of Award Shows, Representation, and Style vs. Substance

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Note: Apologies in advance, as this very well may turn into stream of conscious bout of rambling, much of which has already been said in various places here, but even if this turns into a glorified diary entry, I just need to organize my thoughts in whatever chaotic way this post turns out to be.  May I suggest gearing up for a light-hearted review of My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (coming soon!) or below with a hilarious spoof of K-Dramas.

At first I really didn’t know why I cared so much about a really trivial argument such as which critically lauded drama will now have an added chip on it’s shoulder, but for some reason I couldn’t put it out of my mind.  Yesterday the winners of the 50th annual Baeksang awards were announced (which are similar to the Golden Globes) and in what surprised several readers at Dramabeans, Good Doctor took home the prize for best TV drama over dramas like the dark, critically acclaimed Secret Love Affair, and the most popular (and perhaps most superficially influential) drama of the year You Who Came from the Stars. From my earlier posts it can be seen that I was a big fan of Secret Love Affair (SLA), which was my choice for best drama.  A debate soon broke out amongst commentors that centered on two factions, either for or not for Good Doctor winning.  GD is a of a type that has long been awards show fodder for its broad four-quadrant appeal, “important story telling”, and usually a nice happy ending to prove that we as humans can overcome. I have nothing wrong with that, in fact I am huge sucker for those kind of stories. But as with all award shows the award its for the BEST not the most popular or your favorite.

In my opinion the best should be something that is innovative (ex. Gravity) or thought provoking (White Christmas, Eternal Sunshine) or challenging (SLA), and demonstrates all-around excellence from every part of the above the line folks.  By that definition was Good Doctor really the best?  But i’m neither upset or surprised Good Doctor won, because, it was a feel good show with great ratings and added depth because of because it incorporated autism. It fits in line with typical awards show bait. By having it come into the public consciousness and bringing about discussion about mental health and rights for such individuals – well, all the better for it! (much better than discussions revolving around when its okay to commit adultery with students à la SLA)

This is very similar to the successes of The Kings Speech or Silver Linings Playbook (and don’t get me wrong I love them both);  Crowd pleasers where the protagonist overcomes a physical/mental disorder. But take away the veneer of the “disability” and you have a normal history lesson/biopic and a standard rom-com, respectively. In GD’s case it would be medical procedural. All of these examples were made competently, but perhaps not best drama/movie material.

For a slightly different take here is another example: Lets focus on this most recent Oscar winner. 12 Years a Slave won best picture, which was beautifully directed and acted (and I myself was certainly shedding tears), but I’m not too sure if people were voting for it because it was unequivocally the best of this years offerings, or because it’s a slavery epic. If you instead vote for the movie set in a futuristic Shanghai/LA where the lead has a computer girlfriend (Her), is that not taking this seriously? Does a piece of content have to be “important” enough to achieve the highest praise, or is its execution of more importance? I thought Silenced/The Crucible was amazing for its story(which also brought about change), but as a film it leaned more towards average, while if Answer Me, 1997 were made this year, or YWCFTS had a better grasp of  its mythology I could make a case for them winning even it they are certified rom-coms.   But because substance can be, well substantial I don’t think there is one right answer as much as I would like there to be. Which is why I’m seemingly arguing both sides of the style and execution vs. substance debate. There is no easy answer.

Now bringing this back around to something more important than who gets a trophy, the reason why this continued to irk me is as follows:  As someone who has often been in the minority due to my ethnicity, upbringing, where I grew up, ect. I can tell you that it can get complicated.  Being an other can take on many different forms (be it your superficial looks,  how one thinks, new genres, issues ect..) but how the masses view the other remains consistently annoying.

Such is the problem for being a minority…anything. You are now representing your whole group or thought or whatever (whether you want to or not), which means you’ll get it from both sides. On one hand you can instantly have detractors saying that you are not correctly representing them (i.e autism, a biracial person, someone who is paralyzed) whereas on the other side you might have a steadfast contingent who thinks you of Gods gift (and will do so for more than 14 days;) simply by existing in today’s homogeneous media realm. Good Doctor was unique in how it brought an issue such as autism to the public consciousness, which also means it will always be treated differently than other shows, in a similar vein to an kinda ethnic girl who had all-white classmates, or gay guy in the NFL . In order for true equality doesn’t that not have to be the case?  Le Sigh.

This almost seems like an argument for GD, but is not the case. In order to be fair to every project, we can’t just simply heap praise for one the sole reason that it brings up autism. I for one am super glad more people are learning about it through the show, but how is it fair if an average drama with a unique premise wins simply because of the premise alone, that would be like me, receiving accolades based on my mere skin color, rather then my output. That said, the ESPY’s (sports awards) have something called the Arthur Ashe award – given to sport related people who demonstrate courage and often give back to the world. Good Doctor seems an excellent candidate if a similar award were given to dramas. And I’m glad for its ratings success because it means people won’t shy away from making shows featuring mental illness in the future (perhaps the worst aspect of being a minority something, is that if it fails either critically or ratings wise, it becomes that much harder for such a thing to ever get back on air as people/executives deem it a failure because it was “different” even if it just had poor execution.) But shouldn’t the award for best drama be just that, and not best idea that will lead to think pieces and discussion on an issue, because then your inferring that anything the drama does is worthless, as it simply becomes a product of it own premise.

And that,  my dear one reader is how you can make a topic as innocent as best television show into an unyielding discussion on racial and social politics dealing with equality. They said it couldn’t be done and probably made not 1 iota of sense, but I sure feel better.  Here’s to next years Baeksang awards! where I will probably write a think piece on what color gown you wear says about that persons chances of achieving self-actualization. Which will probably be about as coherent as what I just wrote.  Cheers!

PS to me:  A sincere congrats to all the winners (but especially Ahn Pan-seok, who should direct my life because he can do no wrong.  Jeon Ji-Hyun and Lee Bo-Young for giving two of my favorite K-Drama performances, and Lee Jung-Jae for working that sling and looking fine doing so.)

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