Monday, September 03, 2012

Just a Bit Outside

The last day of fourth grade, my teacher went to the front of the room and began to announce and distribute awards--certificates of accomplishment.  I had no idea prior to this ceremony that any of these awards existed.  Nobody in our class had aspired to any of them, but everyone who received one was more than happy to accept the certificate they were proffered.  Anxiety mounted in my gut as I wondered if I would be receiving one.  At last, it was announced that I was the class "outstanding weather person."  Even now, I do say that this was a well-deserved designation, since I had of my own volition decided, during a meteorology unit in science class, to keep a record of daily weather statistics (in other words, I copied down the trivial information given by the TV meteorologist that most people ignore, then handed it in to my teacher unsolicited). 

Of course, I needn't have feared whether I would be given an award.  It eventually became apparent even to my fourth-grade brain that the teacher had contrived a specific award to give to every member of the class, so that all of us would go home happy and satisfied that we were high achievers who were well-equipped to handle the rigors of fifth-grade.

We are a society that likes to give awards.  Sometimes there are stringent qualifications in place to objectively determine who gets an award (such as who receives a gold medal for the 100-meter dash).  More often, a group of people uses subjective criteria to identify the worthy party (because everyone knows committees are the most reliable method for making decisions).  Sometimes, awards are arbitrarily created in order to boost a kid's self-esteem.  But for all the trophies, plaques, medals, ribbons, banners, and certificates of accomplishment that are issued,we are also a society that values humility.  For some reason, the minute someone starts talking about how deserving they are of winning some kind of award, this is considered a possible reason not to give them said designation.  Meanwhile, those who claim to have no merit are often looked upon kindly when merit is assigned.  The proper way to act when given a compliment is to denigrate oneself (Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame induction speech stands out as a public relations disaster because Jordan insisted upon doing the exact opposite).  Likewise, those who make a habit of self-deprecation are often lauded higher than anyone else, and consequently are given the highest accolades.

I thought about all of this while watching Friday's dedication of a statue of Milwaukee Brewers' announcer Bob Uecker at Miller Park.  It was a curious combination of toast and roast.  Uecker's autobiography is subtitled, "The Man Who Made Mediocrity Famous."  He has built his entertainment career on self-deprecation.  And yet the "honors" section of his Wikipedia page is longer than the any of the other sections: he belongs to four halls of fame (yes, one of them is the pro wrestling hall of fame, but still).  He has his name on the Miller Park "Ring of Honor," and now he has a statue alongside Hank Aaron and Robin Yount.  During the statue ceremony, much of the humor was predictably in the pattern Uecker has established, many of the speakers making cracks at his expense.  (Bob Costas remarked of the statue: ""Pigeons all over the Midwest migrated to Milwaukee to pay their respects").  But of course, there were plenty of accolades for one of Wisconsin's all-time greatest entertainers, much said about his talent to make us laugh, as well about his personal characteristics, with his great loyalty being particularly highlighted.

But I found it odd that pains were taken to highlight aspects of his famously undistinguished playing career.  It was pointed out on multiple occasions that Uecker hit a few of his 14 career home runs against legendary Hall of Fame pitchers. A slide show was presented in order to highlight specific statistics so as to portray his career in the best possible light (at one point, making a ridiculous comparison between his career fielding percentage as a catcher vis a vis the other Milwaukee statue recipients, who played different defensive positions). It was almost as if the Brewers organization felt obligated to point out to people that Uecker has always exaggerated his ineptitude.  But why would they feel this obligation?  Everyone knows that Uecker's statue was awarded for entirely different reasons than Aaron's or Yount's.  But something apparently made the powers-that-be uncomfortable about the possibility of leaving people with the impression that Uecker's playing career was a complete and total failure.  Perhaps Uecker's self-deprecation inspires a kind of defensive reaction among those who revere him.  But ironically, if it were not for his self-deprecation, there would be no reverence to begin with.

It makes me wish that instead of "Most Outstanding Weather Person," I had been awarded "Most Humble Weather Person."


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