Yes, our miserable world is overrun with meaningless awards and empty accolades.
It used to be you could get either a Pulitzer or a Purple Heart and that was about the full extent of it, but now if you are an ambitious person with a global “brand,” you have to leave enough space on your shelf to separate your Emmys from your Grammys from all your Nobel Prizes.
And with each of these prizes, there is a requisite amount of gratitude one is expected to express publicly.
That has proven to be a boon for the Acceptance Speech Writers of America (ASWOA), whose members specialize in crafting all manner of short, humble statements that are designed to publicly recognize the inescapable fact that no one does anything of consequence without help.
I’m a member of ASWOA, and I admit I’ve never scored a large-scale acceptance speech, even though I’ve studied and practiced the various forms.
For example, we know that Oscar acceptance speeches are famously long-winded, thanks-wise. Enough said (except that enough is never said in one of these).
One of the best things about that MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant is that you don’t know you’re in the running until you get it, so your reaction is pretty much pre-written.
“This came totally out of the blue and I can’t believe I was even up for it. I’m stunned speechless. Love you mom!”
The shout-out to mom is important because there’s hardly anyone else to thank. It’s so much about YOU.
But the one global prize the members of ASWOA absolutely detest is the Forbes Most Powerful Person Prize, which went to Russian President Vladimir Putin this year for the second year in a row.
Why no love for this mighty sounding accolade?
Because winners of the FMPPP rarely give an acceptance speech of any kind. To understand why, all you have to do is take a look at the draft I wrote for Putin last year:
“Me getting this means the world finally recognizes what I’ve known for a long time. I’m awesome! So to pretend I’m grateful would be counter-productive.
After all, you can only be the Most Powerful Person if every other person is weaker, right? How can I thank anyone for that? Does a mountain thank the prairie for being flat? I don’t think so. For me to credit anyone for my greatness would make me less than them, thus disqualifying me for the award I just received.
So there’s no way I can accept this award, because I already had it long before you realized I am the winner! And only by being a complete jerk about it can I clearly indicate to you that I totally deserve to be The Most Powerful Person in the World, and that with the announcement of this award I am simultaneously delighted and completely and thoroughly bored out of my mind.”
Not only did Putin not give this wonderful acceptance speech I wrote for him, he wrote back and told me I was a worthless little worm who was destined to do his bidding, or die trying.
Of course I took that in the way it was intended – as the highest possible compliment.
Who is the most powerful person in your world?