Overheard on CBC Radio:
This is about an award that Toronto has just given to artists (or just random people) in the city. The award is called the Awesome Award, and its goal is to celebrate projects that make the city, quote, “awesome.”
Host Matt Galloway (Metro Morning) listened raptly, and prompted his guest to chat about her Awesome Awards. She was a city councilor, I believe, and she and Matt agreed that This was So Great. The award-winner was a group (artists? designers? they did not say) that were creating Dots, that is, giant discs that would be placed upon selected roof-tops. The Dots might then be aerially viewed, via services such as Google Maps.
If you zoomed up (or down), said the lady on the radio, you could print out the Dots and connect them, and create a visual from that. This could help “make the city Awesome!”
(I’ve had trouble verifying specifics [posted Feb. 25]. I’ve found no mention of a Toronto Awesome Award on the Internet, and I can’t pull up the group’s project name. Metro Morning’s own site, in its summary for Feb. 25, makes no mention of these matters, nor of any so-described interview; similarly, I could not locate an audio recording of the show; we’ll just have to deal with it as “overheard in passing.”)
My commentary today is not about the Awards, their virtues or merits. Public art is always an interesting initiative and should be supported and given wide latitude. This Connect-the-Dot project seems inspired by the work of environmental artists such as Christo. Christo might approve, while Recti demurred, but this remains in abeyance. It's the Googling public who'll vote on this with their fingers.
Then what are we on about? The name, of course, Awesome. It’s ridiculous. It’s empty of content or reference. Some cities are already awesome – Paris, New York?? Awesome cities are also a matter of relativity; in Africa, they’d be those that shot looters on sight. In North America, they’d be those that put the welfare class near the Landfill, or incarcerated people who insisted on partying until dawn.
So it’s meaningless. But also, it reeks of programmed cheer and toothy enthusiasm, and sounds exactly like what you’d hear on Entertainment Tonight, or from the pages of a high-school bulletin. And that narrows it down: this post is about the infantilization of the language.
Deliberately childish, and I submit that the name is deadening. It might have called itself “ViewTO” or “SkyDotted” or something descriptive and that pointed the listener to an inherent value in the act of listening. But no, all we get is Awesome! Parents of teenagers will sigh along with Recti.
Where does this official baby-babble come from? We don’t know: the show did not cover the name itself, nor tell us how it was chosen. All it did was burble about Awesomeness. There is a process, though, in choosing a brand name. You hire a professional, usually a brand expert, and you ask some questions: who are you and how do you describe yourself? What’s the vocabulary that expresses you? Who are you speaking to? What is your ethos, product, mission, or activity?
Reply: Awesome, ma-a-a-n! This is cause for concern.
To get some comparatives, I scanned the Internet for the comparables, other Awesome Awards. Here are the first few of my many hits:
1. An award from New Zealand called the Awesome Service Award. Previous winners include a hair stylist, a receptionist, and the owner of a hair salon.
2. A company named Awesome Awards. Former name: Western Trophy Co. of Riverside California. That company distributes cheap trophies and caters to high schools, amateur sports teams, small firms. Their site says this: “Whether you are looking for trophies to celebrate a team's success... an elegant glass, crystal or acrylic…”
3. “Oma’s Crafts” website (Oma is German for grandmother). Its headline, out of Nebraska, today reads as follows: 100 Posts and 2 Awesome Awards! The lead-in: “I was given the Stylish Blogger Award from LaLa at Scrappin' with LaLa. I in turn am required to give it to 8 other Stylish blogs …”
(Oma here uses the word as it was intended: a pleasant exuberance, devoid of meaning or portent.)
The news, then, is that Toronto has an award for sprucing up the city. Amongst whom? Twelve-year olds? Their grannies? Their school principals? We need to worry – it’s a civic brand name, put out in a town of 5 million people, suburbs included. We need to worry about creeping, crawling infantilism.
How did our friend Matt Galloway, companion to all the best mommies, respond? He oohhed and he awwed, and at the end, positively gushed: “This makes you not wanna move to Vancouver!” he swooned. Oh my dear Matt, have you raised a new enthusiasm for us to worry about...