Well, MEFA results are trickling in to authors with the final list of winners forthcoming. Celebration already pervades, both of individual results and of the accomplishments of the MEFA staff in another smooth-going and fun season. Fun for most, that is. Because for every cheer and every lifted glass of virtual champagne, there is an inevitable iota of bitterness from those who feel neglected and/or overlooked. Some will speak of it but many more, I suspect, will put on a smile and swallow their hurt. Nonetheless, there it is.
My ambivalence toward awards has been discussed before. Clearly, I have come to terms with my own participation in the MEFAs since I have participated as an author, reviewer, nominator, and volunteer at various times in the past four seasons. But my ambivalence remains. How so? For me, nomination in the MEFAs is the award. A nominator has the chance to choose her or his twenty favorite stories for the year and chose one of mine; that is really high praise to me. The reviews only sweeten the deal. By the time the actual winners are announced, my emotion towards it is largely one of curiosity. In the end, though, no matter how well they’re matched in categorization, I don’t believe that you can judge one work of art against another. That my story about Maedhros was somehow deemed better than her story about Elrond but not quite as good as his novella about Gil-galad really doesn’t say a whole lot. It may well be that the majority of readers did agree with that arrangement but it may well be that the next batch of readers will disagree completely, to say nothing of the myriad factors that influence votes and have nothing to do with the readers’ actual preference for one story over another. (Like I have time to read one of the three and pick the shortest or the one about Elrond because I like him more than the other two characters.)
I don’t say this to diminish the satisfaction or pride of this year’s (or any year’s) winners. The meaning I attach to the awards is mine alone and surely not the only–much less correct–way to look at things. It comes back to that ambivalence: The fact that some people will inevitably walk away from the whole experience with a decreased sense of enjoyment in this community, a lessened view of their work, or a diminishment in desire to be involved in future events (not just the MEFAs). And while I know that is not the intention or even necessarily the dominant experience, it exists, and it makes me wonder, not for the first time, what role awards should have in art.
I don’t write this because I have answers. I have been wrestling with this question since my first exposure to the MEFAs came through a fandom friend who, despite several nominations, did not receive a single award and was hurt by that. And seeing similar experiences every year after. I have been wrestling with this question since deciding to participate as an author and reviewer, then a nominator, then a volunteer. I think I might be even further now than I was then from finding an answer, if such an answer can even exist. Part of me thinks that those who end up bitter just have the wrong outlook. Part of me thinks that works of art should never be pitted against each other; that that misses the point. Part of me thinks that the collateral benefits of recognizing our favorite stories each year and creating an easy means to find new authors make the enterprise, in itself, worthwhile. Then part of me replies that we don’t need awards to do that.
I can only congratulate again those who were nominated this year, thank those who wrote reviews and administrated the awards, and remain ambivalent.