Rethinking lifetime achievement

January 12th, 2015

The Golden Globes (and award shows in general) aren't for everyone. They’re usually a standard, predictable affair, gearing up people and projects for the Oscars, the Big Dance. Still, they manage to dominate a three-hour block of prime-time TV dedicated to big names in a big industry. Lots of people end up watching, even those who don’t care so much who wins or who didn't even see most of the television and movies up for awards. It’s a night to catch celebrity on full display, so America watches.

I’m not concerned so much with celebrity for celebrity’s sake, but I am a huge fan of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler—two incredibly smart comedians with a ton of great work under their belts—so my evening was spoken for. The best lines of the night belonged to them, with my favorite joke delivered perfectly by Fey:

“George Clooney married Amal Alamuddin this year. Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an advisor to Kofi Annan regarding Syria and was selected for a three-person UN commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza strip ... So tonight, her husband is getting a lifetime achievement award.”

That’s great writing, folks. It’s got truth, wit, and hilarity in a neat package, which is what great humor is. But this joke is more than great humor; it’s an observation we’re often uncomfortable making in this country. We prize what we shouldn't above what we should. For all our lip-service to humanitarian work and to our identity as the land of prosperity, we’re still more likely to tune into an award show than help our neighbor.

I don’t say any of this to disparage Clooney, who I think is a remarkable actor and who seems to be a generous person in more ways than one, or to discount the arts or entertainment, which hold a lot of cultural value and significance. This is really an issue about priorities, which we in America tend to have a rough time organizing. We’re not alone; this is an issue for all countries of privilege, where people have time to indulge in leisure and the resources to choose from a nearly unlimited list of interests. If we have the time and money to get distracted and become disconnected, we do. It’s another one of those pesky flaws related to being a human.

It’s easy for many to overlook the woman fighting oppression and violence across the globe when she's on the arm of a movie star. Not only does it tie into our disturbing sexist tendencies to ignore what strong, capable women are doing, it ties into our fascination with fame and fortune over and above the messier issues of justice and mercy.



We celebrate celebrity, we objectify people, men and women alike, and in doing so we miss the things they do or say that matter (both good and bad). That's what Tina Fey was doing: reorienting our perspective and reminding us of what matters.

This habit of sidestepping complicated issues, issues of justice and equality, isn't surprising when you think about it. Justice is big, right? Living out God’s call to love and care for the stranger in our midst, for the least of these, for all people … that’s big. It’s daunting. We tend to shrug off our duty to join Amal and those like her in the fight for others, maybe because it’s hard to find the energy after a long day or because we're not sure where to start, even though starting from an unsure position is a large part of faith.

I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, here. None of this is to say that you shouldn't enjoy sitting down and watching an award show. Still, we cannot let ourselves fall into the red carpet trap of ignoring important work because it’s less glamorous or more complicated to deal with and talk about. Seeking out the troubles in this world and doing our best to bring grace into them is no easy task. Living out a calling usually isn't. But grace is a two-way street, freely given so that it might be freely given again.

We are called to remember that we are bound up in the life of our neighbors, in the flourishing of the least of these, and in the mercy we show one another. We are called to remember what lifetime achievement looks like for a community of faith, and then we're called to do the hardest thing: act.

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