When a mistake is made in front of thirty-three million people, it’s going to generate some chatter. I didn’t watch the Oscars live, but I woke up the next morning to see people tweeting about the “Oscar fiasco.” Words like “disastrous” and “devastating” were being used. I thought there had been a violent protest, or somebody had dropped dead of a heart attack on stage.
So, I was relieved to find out it was just a case of the wrong winner being announced.
“Just”? Yes, that’s what I said: “just.” Because it really wasn’t that big a deal. It’s happened before and it will happen again. In fact, I’ve seen it happen. Yes, even the sacred world of books has been touched by such tragedy.
I won’t say the name of the award or the author; the author has since passed away and wouldn’t want this moment to be part of his legacy, and the people who run the award are some of the most likable people around. And, to repeat, it wasn’t that big a deal.
The author was nominated for Best Short Story and it was a story that appeared in a collection the company I worked for published. He flew in to Toronto from Alberta for the ceremony, sat at a table with people from our company and the collection’s editor, and generously bought bottle after bottle of wine for the table. And if you know me, you know that someone who offers an endless supply of free wine is immediately in my good books.
His award was the first of the evening, and the organizers were trying a clever new idea for how to reveal the winner. Instead of opening an envelope, presenters opened a bag containing the winning book. This would work nicely for every other category because those categories were for full books, meaning the names of the winning writers were on the covers. For the short story category, the person putting the to-be-revealed books in the bags would have to be certain about which collection the winning author’s story appeared in.
And apparently, that person wasn’t as certain about it as they should have been. They thought the winning author’s story appeared in our collection, so our book was put in the bag.
The presenter, who was more familiar with the nominated stories than the person who set up the bags, pulled out our book and knew that only one of the nominated authors had a story in that book, therefore, he must be the winner. And our author’s name was announced.
The author was stunned. He’d just come for the party and wasn’t expecting to win. The look on his face was priceless. He walked to the front of the room to accept the award, but by the time he got there, there was confusion. No one was handing him an award; rather, the presenter and the organizers were conferring. A short time later, someone came to the mic to say they’d made a mistake and that another author had actually won the award.
The book’s editor had his head in his hands and was repeating, over and over, “how could this happen?” The author returned to the table, a little embarrassed, and people expressed rage on his behalf.
The author just waved his hand, dismissing the sympathy. “They made a mistake and they fixed it. It’s not a big deal.”
A mistake was made. That’s it.
What was the result of the mistake? Temporarily, the wrong person was believed to have won. Then someone rushed to fix the problem. And that’s what happened at the Oscars, too.
A mistake was made. The mistake was corrected. The rightful winner was awarded — it was just an embarrassing moment.
We can quibble about whether the organizers should have responded more quickly so that they could have avoided having the producers of the wrong film deliver acceptance speeches, but let’s step back a bit and ask ourselves how bad it really was.
The actual consequences of the mistake aren’t dire in the least.
And here’s the thing about all of this: the author I’ve been talking about was the least-bothered of all the people involved. In fact, he seemed more bothered by the fuss people were making afterwards than the mistake itself.
I suspect that’s the case with everyone involved with La La Land. They would much rather people celebrate Moonlight, the winner of the award, than focus on the awkward moment when they had to get off stage to let the real winner come up. They’d undoubtedly rather the moment be forgotten entirely.
In the end, what really happened? There was an embarrassing moment. But no one was cheated out of an award. The rightful winner received the award. And even though there might have been some embarrassment, no one involved in either film came out looking bad because of it. If anything, the graciousness of the La La Land team made them look good. They’ve even praised Moonlight. Emma Stone said it was one of the best films she’s ever seen.
And that has reminded me of the way our author responded to his moment of non-winning. He said that the important thing was that the award went to the right person, and he praised the winning story. And then he bought more wine for the table, because we were there to have a good time, and he was going to make damn sure we did.
Things don’t always go as planned. But when something goes awry, it doesn’t need to be turned into an opportunity to express outrage. Sometimes it’s appropriate to say, “That was awkward, but they fixed it, and now they should just make sure it doesn’t happen again.”