Take it back, sir
When the honored disgrace themselves, and the award-worthy are overlooked, it’s enough to make anyone second-guess
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Perhaps you noticed this month that the queen of England “canceled and annulled’’ the knighthood awarded to the man formerly known as Sir Fred Goodwin, who ran the Royal Bank of Scotland into the ground. Hailed as “the world’s worst banker’’ by Slate magazine business columnist Daniel Gross, Goodwin displayed ineptitude and greed that were egregious even by banking standards.
Don’t fret for him. The 53-year-old golfer and Formula One racing fan is collecting a pension of about $540,000 a year, for managing a bank that had to be nationalized by the British government.
This is not such a rare occurrence. Over the centuries, Britain’s Honours Committee has stripped 34 honorees of their knighthoods, including Benito Mussolini, the former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and the queen’s beloved art curator, Anthony Blunt. He turned out to be a Soviet spy.
Handing back awards could be a disturbing trend. Who’s next? Sir Mix-A-Lot, the cofounder of Nastymix records, and creator of the hit album “Dun 4got About Mix’’? Will they come after Lady Gaga’s title? What about Lord Gaga? Is the University of Massachusetts planning to rescind Dr. J’s license to practice? What about Dr. Dre? Where will it all end?
On the one hand, it never hurts to be cautious when taking back awards. Every few years, there is talk of stripping former New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty of his Pulitzer Prize. In retrospect, Duranty was a Stalinist sock puppet, but he isn’t the only tarnished Pulitzer winner. Wallace Stegner copied portions of his prize-winning novel, “Angle of Repose,’’ from a diary entrusted to his care, and so on. Nobody’s perfect.
On the other hand, who wouldn’t want to reassign half or more of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year? What are those Scandihoovians smoking? Leaving aside the notorious Warmongers for Peace Prize, awarded to such miscreants as Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, and Menachem Begin, the literature award has become a standing joke.
My favorite: In 1974 the committee passed over Vladimir Nabokov and Graham Greene to give the Literature prize to Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson. Who they, you ask? By wild coincidence, they served on the panel that selects Nobel Prize winners! Fancy that.
Who knew the pope was in the business of handing out knighthoods? Former Boston mayor Ray Flynn knows—he got one, in 1995. So did Bob Hope, Ricardo Montalban, and the late publishing magnate Walter Annenberg (“Billionaire Son of Mobster, Enemy of Journalism, and Nixon Toady,’’ according to Slate’s obituary tribute). Speaking of evil, guess who else is a papal knight? “Sir’’ Rupert Murdoch, lauded as a man of “unblemished character’’ by Pope John Paul II. Now that Murdoch’s monkeys are facing jail time for wiretapping their fellow Britons, maybe the Vatican will take another look-See, so to speak.
Oscars, Grammys, Emmys—good grief, if the performers had any self-respect, they would return half of them. No Oscar love for Cary Grant or James Dean, but Denzel Washington gets a statue for ambling through “Training Day’’? James (“Not breaking a sweat’’) Spader has three Emmys and “Seinfeld’’ only one as outstanding comedy series?
Brief parenthesis: About 20 years ago, I plunged into a friend’s closet to borrow a necktie. In haste, I kicked over several little statues of anorexic ladies with wings. What are those, I asked? “Emmy awards for documentaries,’’ my friend replied. “A total joke.’’
In New Zealand, the Auckland Architecture Association offers Unbuilt Architecture Awards of up to $4,000. If one of these oddities gets built, do you have to return the money? What about my unpublished novel, “Mr. Know-it-All,’’ which takes place partly in Dorchester and partly in Tibet? Could I have $4,000 for that?
Should Pillsbury initiate a Bake-Off contest recall? Who could digest these prize-winning recipes—Brie and Cranberry Pizza? Magic Marshmallow Crescent Puffs; Greek Chicken Faux-coccia Sandwiches (“Turn Pillsbury® Southern Style biscuits into warm faux-coccias to create enticing chicken sandwiches’’)?
Will you take your Pepto-Bismol on the side, or should I serve it right on the biscuits?
For the record, I have no intention of returning my YMCA recreational squash trophy—the only trophy I ever won in my life. It’s true that I should have been competing at the “advanced’’ level, but then I wouldn’t have won a trophy, would I? I won’t surrender my Third Place acknowledgement from a journalism organization that no longer exists, and if the Boston Society of Architects intends to cancel and annul the “Nebulous Certificate of Merit’’ that hangs on my office wall, well no.
They are mine and I’m keeping them.
Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is email@example.com.