We live in a culture of celebrity and self-congratulation, often valuing and rewarding sales figures and numbers of followers over and above real talent, innovation or skill. From Oscar nominations to kids vlogging about lipstick; reality TV dating shows to YouTube videos of kittens, Instagram photos of the meal we ate or the pop star endorsing jeans, we are bombarded with images telling us what is good and what to like. There is nothing wrong with aspiration and competition but let's look a little more closely at how it all works and how the prizes are handed out.
I am no stranger to awards shows. I am married to Andy Ward who has been responsible for producing the Brits, Bafta Film Awards, Channel V Music Awards, Indian Film Awards and many others for television. I have sat through many a dinner of rubber chicken and warm wine surrounded by industry notables worldwide, watching public and not so public drunken exchanges and backstage dramas. I am a sucker for the Oscars - staying up and watching them live every year. My own dreams of producing an Academy Award-winning movie fading long ago when I left the film industry to work in television and then to bring up our children.
There have been some great moments over the years. Hilarious hosting by intelligent, sharp-witted women such as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are infinitely preferable to cheap jibes by egotistical comedians, crossing the line between humour and bad taste. Heart-breaking moments rewarding the dedication of a ten year old looking after a sick parent or a soldier's bravery must be applauded as is the recognition given to world peace-makers, writers and scientists.
The shows can be platforms for great collaborations and memorable speeches or political comment. Performances by Bjork and PJ Harvey or David Bowie and the Pet Shop Boys, Jarvis Cocker storming the stage during Michael Jackson's Earthsong stand out in shows produced by my husband whose creative input pretty much reinvented the Award show in the UK. We have all laughed and cried our way through countless ceremonies, gasped at audacious comments, cheered at impassioned speeches about diversity, women's rights and the plight of refugees; squirmed at the toe-curling thanks to wives, husbands and... God.
BUT and there is a very big but. The majority of awards shows, prizes and competitions are not open, fair or democratic, nor do they necessarily reward the really interesting brilliant work that is going on in the Arts or any other field for that matter. Whether it is a local business-sponsored excuse to put on a long frock or a Hollywood red carpet extravaganza, these ceremonies recognise individuals or organisations that more often than not have nominated themselves, spent loads of money on advertising, bought expensive places at dinner tables, know the 'right people', went to the 'right' schools or universities, have wealthy and influential backers, or simply are the 'right' colour or creed. Does selling the most records, having the biggest distribution or advertising budget or buying more tables really make you the 'best' in your field? Is the designer dress or earrings more important than the process involved in making the film or the album? Does who are you dating take precedence over the novel you have penned or the hours quietly spent campaigning? As for the public vote - that is a travesty of democracy whereby one call, text or log in makes the production company shed loads of money. Money rules - you only get the winner you want if you pay for it.
It is no surprise that there are awards for everything these days and even less surprising that they are becoming increasingly dull, safe and predictable, which brings me back to the 2016 Brit Awards and the upcoming Academy Awards. This year has seen a boycott of both from artists protesting against the lack of diversity. It is not the shows' fault - but rather the industries they serve and which they reflect and more must be done to represent all sections of society. It is little wonder that as we in the UK are ruled over by the public school educated elite, we also recognise the talents of similar public school and Oxbridge educated actors and musicians. Eton school employs several full time members of staff for their professionally run drama department; Westminster school has two theatres - the smaller one easily matching the standard of many small provincial theatres and studios, so is it little wonder that with all that help and encouragement we are producing a whole roster of privileged actors? They may be good but as Julie Walters, Michael Caine and the late Alan Rickman have said, with their backgrounds they doubt whether they could possibly achieve the same in their careers today. Top private schools in London are visited by theatrical agents on the look out for new acting talent - these same agents never make it to the local comprehensive on a sink estate in the Midlands.
Maintenance grants have now been cut which makes access to higher and further education even more difficult for young people without the financial support of their parents or family. How can kids from less privileged backgrounds ever hope to start an Art Foundation course if they have to pay for them? I watched a recent demonstration against the cuts outside the new Central St Martin's School of Art in Kings Cross, London. Whilst I sat drinking a flat white and watching the protest, I wondered how the students could possibly afford to eat in all the cafes and restaurants built around their new buildings? Soft shell crab and red lentils being a far cry from the food served and subsidised in my student union. I felt sad that the old iconic St Martin's art student vibe had long given way to new office developments and organic pizza. Successful artists today need to be confident and adept at using social media and other marketing tools. I even heard a rumour that universities may start taking commission from sales at Degree Shows - something the undergraduates never signed up for.
Where will it all end? Ant and Dec hosting the Nobel Peace Prize Show with a live set by Coldplay or perhaps some other band no one ever heard of until they were shot at? It doesn't have to be like this. Bring back creative producers, event producers and writers - don't just have celebrity presenters walking in pairs onto the stage only to say "... and the nominations are...". They are performers and more than able to say a few more words - scripted or not - and without looking at the autocue. Stop hiring lazy hosts with an enormous ego who cannot be directed. Make these shows representative and exciting and innovative. It is all very well having tributes to the late and very much lamented David Bowie - but he would be turning in his grave to think he was part of these unimaginative, safe and unchallenging shows. A transgender nominee boycotts the Oscars as they were not invited to perform their song. What would David have thought of that? So-called live shows are subject to heavy editing. Leave in the good bits - if there are any these days. Be brave and take risks. Be inclusive and fair. It is not that difficult, surely? If you can't do it, then just ditch the events altogether and give the money you save to training and education to produce a new generation that is diverse, intelligent, compassionate and creative.
Me? I will be setting my Sky + to record the red carpet on E! entertainment channel for Sunday's Oscars. Bring on the manicam!