Upon accepting her Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama Series, The Affair’s Ruth Wilson shared the story of her first Golden Globe nomination for the 2007 miniseries, Jane Eyre. That nomination came in the year of the Writer’s Strike, when the 2008 Golden Globes were announced in an Entertainment Tonight-style telecast as opposed to the lavish Beverly Hilton celebration we have come to associate with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual “kudos.”
My first reaction to Wilson’s story was a little bit of shock at her bluntness at admitting she had been disappointed to lose that award (to Queen Latifah)—that’s rare. However, upon reflection, her callback to that particular year puts the meaning of this year’s Golden Globes and my shifting relationship with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in perspective.
There are likely a wide range of political reasons why the Golden Globes were unable to negotiate for the waiver that could have saved the 2008 ceremony, and given that the Oscars faced a likely boycott had the strike not ended it’s not as though the HFPA were alone in their contention with the WGA regarding the place of award show broadcasts during the strike (only the SAG Awards, due to Guild solidarity, won a waiver). However, something about the Golden Globes seemed particularly at odds with the climate in Hollywood during the writer’s strike: when the city of Los Angeles is dotted with picket lines, it seems weird to throw a lavish party at the Beverly Hilton.
That narrative of the Golden Globes as a celebration where the booze is flowing and the stars are mingling is dominant in popular press depictions of the ceremony, and it’s in general what made the absence of a televised ceremony so strange in 2008: When the whole point of the Golden Globes is to see the stars attending a dinner banquet that is occasionally interrupted by presenters and acceptance speeches, the absence of the ceremony itself leaves only a series of awards determined by a highly selective, largely unheralded collection of foreign press correspondents who write about the film and television industries. And if the Golden Globes are asked to stand on their merit rather than their showmanship, the house of cards typically falls quickly, as evidenced by Wes Anderson’s tongue-in-cheek acceptance speech for The Grand Budapest Hotel thanking the members by name, a list that either proves their names are unrecognizable or imagined them as gibberish to reinforce our ignorance.
And yet the 2008 Golden Globes Ceremony that wasn’t is a reminder that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association wants the Golden Globes to be more than a party. In fact, it seems right to say upfront that the Golden Globes, more than any other award show, exists as a platform for its voting body to make grand proclamations about the state of film and television. Its two most dominant trends in television awards—fetishizing new series over old, and heralding the arrival of young female stars—have often been derided, but usually with the presumption that the purpose of an award show is to determine the best in a given genre or medium. And, to be fair, this is how the Golden Globes and every other award show in existence tends to frame their purpose, and so we are not unreasonable to question their quick judgments.
However, the fact is that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association wants to have an impact. In most years, this has typically been framed as their wanting to claim responsibility for creating new stars—Keri Russell and Jennifer Garner are among the most commonly referenced—or for influencing the race for the Academy Awards, positioned as they are as a natural precursor. They want to be first, which is why in 2008 they were the first voting body to acknowledge AMC’s Mad Men—in fact, the 2008 Golden Globes remains the only time Jon Hamm has been awarded for his work on the show (which also won for Best Drama), a fact we often forget since we never got to see the surely charming speech Hamm would have given. Through this lens, we could think of what impact the Globes could have had if the winners from that year in both film and television had been able to take to the stage, provided we buy into the notion that a charming speech or a Golden Globe victory carries weight into subsequent award shows.
Mad Men didn’t end up needing the boost in visibility: it went on to win its first of four consecutive Emmy awards at that year’s Emmys with or without Matthew Weiner getting up to thank AMC for taking a chance on his vision or some such. But given how few people watched the first season of Mad Men, and the strength of the show, one could argue the HFPA was attempting to make a statement about this show being worth seeking out even though it wasn’t a big hit or on a cable channel with an existing reputation. As much as Mad Men now seems like a juggernaut in awards circles, it wasn’t when the HFPA nominated it, and they were technically the first to acknowledge it (although SAG followed shortly after with an Ensemble award).
This is a generous reading, and it’s difficult to accept in the context of an organization that conceivably nominated Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie for The Tourist—in the Comedy/Musical category, no less—simply because they wanted Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie to show up to their party . And yet it was hard watching this year’s television awards without thinking that the Golden Globes are a key space of visibility, in which the winners in their respective categories are honored not only for the quality of their work but for what their win would communicate to the audience. Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt wins for a sexual assault storyline, acknowledging the story’s impact on survivors in her speech; Matt Bomer, whose winning role in The Normal Heart more visibly captured the horrors of AIDS that were ignored by those in power in the period depicted in the film; Jane The Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez, following in the footsteps of Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera, wins Best Actress in a Comedy Series and reflects on what her success says about Latino/a representation in the media; Maggie Gyllenhaal, winning for her role in The Honourable Woman, lauds the HFPA for recognizing roles for real women, transforming the category into a statement about women in media regardless of whether or not those voters intended it to be.
However, no categories were transformed more than Best Television Comedy and Best Actor in a Comedy Series. The wins for Transparent and its lead actor, Jeffrey Tambor, in these categories were not necessarily surprising: Tambor’s performance as Maura offers the kind of transformation that voting bodies tend to gravitate towards, and the HFPA’s love of the new made the series a threat. The series was critically lauded, and the fact it earned a nomination suggested the Amazon factor—its Prime service has the least visibility among the three major streaming services (Netflix and Hulu being the others)—was not an issue, meaning that path was clear such that the two wins were not entirely unexpected. But there was still something incredibly profound about seeing awards being dedicated to the transgender community, and to the young transgender individuals like Leelah Alcorn (whom creator Jill Soloway dedicated the award to)—to see the show’s own goals of visibility manifesting in the context of a broadcast being watched by millions who didn’t even know this show existed is the kind of signal boost that makes you believe in the value of the charade.
Again, there’s no evidence to support that the HFPA consciously chose to acknowledge Transparent and Tambor’s work in the interest of creating a platform to help educate a broader audience on the transgender community. However, the show’s politics are built into its premise, and in acknowledging the show the HFPA is embracing that community in much the same way as embracing Jane the Virgin—or Ugly Betty before it—addresses groups and audiences that are marginalized within the media industries more broadly. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the awards for Transparent crafted a narrative of visibility that will transcend the “awards” themselves, and the fact they acknowledged a tremendous show and performance in the process is almost beside the point.
Now, considering the Golden Globes through the lens of visibility creates problems for the HFPA, including the notable lack of overall diversity among nominees and winners, reflecting a general lack of visibility within award circles and in Hollywood more broadly (which this year has been galvanized by the snubbing of Selma by a range of voting bodies—it won only Original Song at the Golden Globes). There’s also the question of what value visibility has when it takes the form of a running comedy bit in which Margaret Cho vaguely revives her 30 Rock role playing a North Korean member of the HFPA. Additionally, while the thread of advocacy continued into the references to the tragic shooting at Charlie Hebdo could be connected to the issue of visibility (and the political undercurrent within the show as a whole), those touting “Je Suis Charlie” were white men like George Clooney and Jared Leto, comfortably representing the Hollywood establishment who themselves are already plenty visible in these settings.
Despite these concerns, however, visibility has given me a new appreciation for the role that the Golden Globes play within the realm of television in particular. The wins for Showtime’s The Affair and its star, Ruth Wilson, struck me on the surface as premature: Wilson’s performance is great, and the show’s premise remains incredibly compelling, but I don’t know if either were consistently strong enough to best The Good Wife or Game of Thrones, both of which I preferred last year. As a result, I can relate to those who felt that the show’s win fit into the category of the HFPA fetishizing the new in a circumstance where there were other shows that offered more consistently strong—or simply “better”—television in 2014.
I liked The Affair a bit—and in some cases a lot, looking in Tim Goodman’s direction—more than those making these complaints, but I see where they’re coming from if they perceive the Golden Globes as the HFPA picking the best shows on television. However, I’ve decided based on this year’s winners that they’re not, or at least I’m going to pretend they’re not. If you instead see the HFPA’s goal as “making a point,” rather than simply rewarding the best show in a given category, here they are acknowledging an ambitious first-year show with minimal commercial upside from a female creator and showrunner, and by rewarding its female lead rightly identified the series’ central appeal within its efforts to explore the gendered dimensions of infidelity as depicted onscreen. They’re not saying The Affair is perfect, and in my head they’re not even saying The Affair is “better” than the other shows in the category: rather, they’re saying that The Affair is worth rewarding, and making the reasons why visible to a broader audience.
To think this way is a delusional exercise, one that presumes singular agency regarding decisions decided by a voting body where everyone voting may well have had completely different reasons for making the voting decisions they did. But more than any other voting body, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has established over time a willingness to expand their voting criteria beyond a generic “excellence,” privileging certain types of excellence depending on the story attached to it. Whereas this has often—perhaps too often—manifested in stories of stardom and novelty, those narratives happened to coincide with the representation of latino/a individuals in the media and the transgender community during this year’s ceremony in ways that suggest the ceremony is not simply a party. This year, at least, the HFPA’s quest for influence coincided with actors and creators who strive to engage with issues beyond the medium itself, creating a framework in which the sometimes wacky nominees and winners can be rethought as a group of renegade journalists pushing against entrenched patterns and creating opportunities for visibility on a broad stage.
Again, I’m not claiming this is necessarily the case. If nothing else, however, this perspective has reclaimed the notion of a “precursor”: what if, instead of signaling a new era where The CW can legitimately lay claim to prestige, where Amazon can claim a victory over Netflix in the Streaming Service Showdown, or where these results can directly influence the race for next month’s Academy Awards, the Golden Globes were a precursor to changes in how groups of human beings are represented and respected in the media? It’s a pie in the sky notion, and it is selectively applied to some communities and not others within this year’s ceremony (and award shows more broadly), but the very idea of it has given more meaning to the madness that is the HFPA’s annual celebration than I’ve ever found previously.
- The way shows “retire” from Golden Globes consideration is occasionally strange—like Mad Men getting erased from the board entirely, even in acting categories—but they’re the only voting body who has successfully bucked the trend of Modern Family domination, so they have that going for them.
- The choice of Fargo and Billy Bob Thorton over True Detective and Matthew McConnaughey was pretty surprising, but given that the HFPA had already forcibly placed True Detective in the Miniseries category despite HBO’s efforts to pitch it as a Drama Series, there was evidence to suggest they were not picking up what Nic Pizzolatto was putting down.
- If McConnaughey were to lose the SAG Award, it would mean that the Critics’ Choice and TCA Awards would be the only ones he would win for True Detective, which would be a rather shocking turn of events all things considered (including both the presumed logic of movie stars in television awards and, being fair, the strength of his performance).
- While no one can deliver a somewhat tired set of monologue jokes as well as Tina and Amy, there remained nothing content-wise that managed to overcome the fact that the Golden Globes doesn’t really require a host. Combine with the tired Interview bit that kept recurring right to the bitter end, not a particularly interesting hosting effort for the pair to go out on.
- It took me a second to remember why Jeremy Renner—who seemed so disinterested in presenting an award, even before the lame boob joke—embraced Noah Hawley so readily, but then I remembered that his own awards entry point came after he spent time on television with ABC’s The Unusuals, which Hawley created.