The Nobel Peace Prize has been, for a long time, an award of rather dubious objective meaning. The award has recently been given based on the hopes of the prize committee instead of the actual work for the sake of peace on the part of the recipient.
Consider this year’s winner: Juan Manuel Santos. The awarding of the Peace Prize to Mr. Santos was based on his attempts to bring an end to the civil war in Columbia between the government of Columbia and FARC, and was predicated on the populace of Columbia voting for a brokered peace deal between FARC and the government. The vote was held a few days before the Peace Prize was awarded and the result was that the voters decided that they wanted to make no deals with FARC. The result by popular vote was no peace — so Mr. Santos’ efforts were really a waste of time and whistling in the wind.
We can look at the awarding of the Peace Prize to Mr. Barack Obama before he was President – Barack Obama as a prime example of wishful thinking on part of the Nobel committee. Before he was elected, Mr. Obama was known to have done nothing for world peace. He was a community activist in a violent city and had accomplished nothing to achieve community peace, let alone world peace. But, he had a style and was liberal and a minority, so the committee thought he looked pretty good for an agent of world peace. Now at almost the end of an eight-year term, he has three hot wars on his hands (and a possible fourth in Yemen) and has even been quoted as saying something akin to, “I’m a good killer” because of his use of killer drones against Al-Quada and ISIS. Hope dashed on the rocks of reality.
Al Gore won the Peace Prize because he was against man-made global warming. He even made a movie about man-made global warming. He flew in private jets to fancy places to speak against global warming. He told us to replace our 60 watt light bulbs, that cost about fifty cents apiece, with mercury filled florescent bulbs that cost about five dollars apiece. He was against fossil fuels and all burning of wood, which threw thousands out of work or meant that a bushman can’t cook his meat in the velt. Gore loves humanity so much that he wants to destroy it. And that’s peace; back to the age of bloody tooth and nail.
The list goes on and on. Rigoberta Menchú – a liar. Betty Williams – supporter of the IRA. Anwar Sadat – a terrorist godfather. They’ve all won the Nobel Peace Prize for nothing that they actually did, but what the committee hoped that they would do. It’s like giving a kid off the street ten bucks and hoping that he’ll wash your car.
The Nobel Prizes have been a bit better in the science areas. But science is science, despite the occasional blips of hysteria and faux science. Modern physics is a bit hincky because so much of it is in cloud cuckoo land, and is as much imagination as physical facts. But one and one still equals two, and a germ or virus are still germs of viruses no matter their politics.
One would hope that the Nobel Prizes in literature would be awarded for literary excellence. Good writing is good writing no matter the political bent of the author. There have been a few odd choices, such as Ernest Hemingway who was a good writer, but not a great writer, in fact. There were also Henryk Sienkiewicz, and Anatole France, and Toni Morrison. Good writers and popular writers, but not great writers. The last great writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature was Mario Vargas Llosa.
Tastes in literature, like tastes in food or beer, differ. But, one thing that has been a constant: the Nobel Prize for Literature has always been awarded for literature of the written word. The word on the page in ink. The word that one can – while sitting in one’s easy chair or chair at the kitchen table while drinking a brandy or Pabst Blue ribbon – ponder over and read again and again looking for the deeper meaning if there is one, or appreciate the play of words and the tricks of a sentence structure. The Prize was always about the word on paper or the spoken word.
But this week the Nobel committee decided to give the prize for literature to a lyricist and song writer: Bob Dylan. And the award makes one wonder what the committee was thinking. Or not thinking. One finds one’s self wondering if the committee actually sat down and read the body of Dylan’s works – as poems, they don’t work. Song lyrics rarely do. The lyrics or poems (as the committee would have us believe they are) are no more deep than the scribbling of a nerdy high school sophomore in his or her composition book. There really is nothing there that isn’t in other places in spades.
Sure, Dylan, as a musician, was a bit transgressive after he quit riding on Woody Guthrie’s back. He electrified his folk music at Newport, and then went off into a Christian bent for a while before he re-discovered his Jewish heritage, before finally landing himself in a Christian/Jewish slot.
But let us face the facts. He was never a great singer and he was never a great songwriter. The hacks at the Brill Building and in Tin Pan Ally wrote a lot of much better and deeper songs than did Dylan. They just did it with subtext instead of blaring the message in the title.
So, this is what the Nobel Prize for Literature has become. Another Peace Prize based on hope instead of fact. In other words, besides the monetary prize and a medal, a big participation prize like those given to the worst Little Leaguer on a team.
Congratulations, Bob. Officially you’re up there with Faulkner and Yeats. But, you may have been graded on a curve.