Nominating the Blackstar Video – a Discussion

Edited and retranscribed.

‘Blackstar’ is the title track from David Bowie’s final album that was released last Friday. In between times David Bowie died of cancer at the age of 69. The album (which I haven’t listened to in its entirety) covers themes of death, introspection and general weirdness that acts like a final QED to Bowie’s career.

I had a discussion with somebody else (listed here as NQC on the ground of those not being their initials) on the merits of nominating the specific video clip for the track ‘Blackstar’ for a Hugo. I’m not in favour but it was an interesting discussion. What is below isn’t really a transcript but my edited version of how the discussion sort of went. The views expressed by NQC shouldn’t be taken as the literal position of a real human being (or cat or robot or androgynous starman rockstar come to warn of us of our impending destruction or just an aspect of my own mind).

 

CF: OK, we both like Bowie and we are both sad that he is dead and from what I’ve listened to so far Blackstar is a great ending.
NQC: Yes and we agree that Bowie was a very SF phenomenon and in more ways than just the obvious i.e. Space Oddity or Ziggy Stardust.
CF: Agreed. Bowie engaged with strangeness and also social alienation as well as that other-Britishness that has always had a strong connection with the weird.
NQC: The Whovian thing.
CF: As one obvious example – despite no direct connection between Bowie and Who (although others have suggested some kind of psychic or zeitgeist connection).
NQC: But Bowie was cool 😉
CF: Ahead of his time, as always. Geeky is cool.
NQC: So, Blackstar video. A planetscape with an astronaut and a sky dominated by a black star with a glowing edge.
CF: An eclipse I suppose.
NQC: Or something more freaky. We also get a woman who has a tail, Bowie with bandages on his eyes, some weird dusty town village with some building or monument lurking behind.
CF: And people shaking in a barn.
NQC: And a sort of scarecrow Crucifixion.
CF: OK, lots of fantasy and SF imagery but it isn’t a dramatic presentation is it? It is a series of arresting images, like a sequence of cover-art for a SF/F magazine.
NQC: I think it is dramatic. It doesn’t have a story but the award isn’t for best story in video form. An award speech by Gollum won the award once.
CF: Granted, but fun as that was I don’t think it was a good win.
NQC: The Gollum speech was weak because it didn’t move anything forward. It was Serkis and the effects people doing the same thing that had already been done. I mention it because of precedent.
CF: I’m not saying whether the Blackstar video is ineligible, I’m saying it isn’t a good example of a dramatic presentation. Yes, it is a very SF/F set of images but the tricky part about SF/F isn’t coming up with a out-there image but making that image work within the bounds of a narrative. I could rattle off a series of strange ideas – people with kitchen utensil heads, trapped in a landscape built of bloody musculature – making that work is the tricky bit.
NQC: Are you saying the video doesn’t work?
CF: No, I do like it but I don’t think it is pushing any great boundaries. Visually lots of those ideas have been covered in mainstream TV.
NQC: Who again.
CF: Sure, the skeleton in a space suit, the freaky sun, that barn with the jiggly people is like the barn Moffatt has been using in multiple recent episodes.
NQC: I think it is unfair to see it as derivative.
CF: Well not derivative as such but just not as totally amazing as a dramatic work.
NQC: Or is it that you don’t like the notion of a posthumous award?
CF: I’m not saying that is your primary motivation for suggesting it should be nominated but, yes, I think the notion looks like an attempt to give David Bowie a posthumous Hugo Award for being really science-fictional.
NQC: For the sake of argument (because I think the video stands on its own merits) what would be wrong with that?
CF: I think it is divisive. A famous person dies and people feel sad but it is a vicarious grief. People have not genuinely lost a person close to them but the feeling is genuine. The thing is not everybody will feel that way. I mean, Lemmy from Motorhead died the other day and while I’m sad for his family etc I’m not emotionally engaged in the fact he died. There is a petition to have an element named after him but to me that seems a bit overblown. However, not going along with that then feels like I’m being mean to sad people.
NQC: I think Bowie is a bigger deal than Lemmy.
CF: I agree but that just means the number of people upset by Bowie dying is bigger.
NQC: Also there is at least a substantial connection between Bowie and SF/F than there is between Lemmy and transuranic elements.
CF: Heavy metal.
NQC: I think of that as a very American term.
CF: Is it? Not really my thing.
NQC: So last chance to give Bowie a major SF award?
CF: Not really. firstly it wouldn’t even be to Bowie but to whoever directed the video. Secondly, Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form is not as big a deal Hugo as others. Lastly who know what other stuff will come along. Say somebody writes the definitive book on Bowie’s influence on genre culture next year – that would be a sensible nominee for Best Related Work. Also Bowie was sort of nominated before for the Man Who Fell to Earth.
NQC: Which didn’t win – lost to No Award.
CF: Sure but nothing is guaranteed to win. I think I’ve lost the point I was making.
NQC: Posthumous awards.
CF: Well the bigger one is the final Terry Pratchett novel – whose name I’ve forgotten.
NQC: The Shepherd’s Crown.
CF: The fans of Pratchett will probably be split on this because he’d turned down nominations when he was alive but it will still probably get a lot of nominations.
NQC: And why not? I haven’t read it but people have said good things about it. I think you are over-compensating. Having an emotional reaction to a work is a vital part of art and that reaction is embedded in the whole framework in which the work is understood. You wouldn’t ignore the socio-political aspects of a work and say that those don’t count because of how you may react emotionally in context. I think you are trying to draw a line between the personal and social and failing.
CF: The difference is the context can be understood for longer.
NQC: I don’t think Bowie’s legacy will disappear anytime soon and the way his pop-culture existence dove-tailed with his life and death means that the specific resonance of Blackstar will last.
CF: Noted.
NQC: So nominate or not?
CF: Still not. Lots and lots of stuff to nominate. It was a good year for genre TV. Interesting show both on mainstream TV and on cable. Daredevil, Sense8…
NQC: Which you haven’t watched
CF: OK, but others have and I haven’t watched Jessica Jones or the Expanse pilot yet either. The point being it will be a competitive field and even if there was a groundswell of Bowie fans who nominate Blackstar there is no guarantee it will win. In fact I’d say the odds are against it. Apart from anything else Bowie’s death will be less immediate by the time actual voting comes around. And that highlights the other thing I don’t like about a posthumous nomination – if the finalist loses it looks like a slight against their memory by other voters. That’s what worries me about the Pratchett – it gets nominated and then loses and then some Pratchett fans are upset.
NQC: I think that is a bit condescending to Pratchett fans. I trust they have the emotional maturity to cope.
CF: I’m not saying everybody will be upset – just the the potential exists.
NQC: So in summary – you haven’t read Terry Pratchett’s last book.
CF: As good a way to summarize this whole discussion as any.

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10 responses to “Nominating the Blackstar Video – a Discussion”

  1. With all the good TV, I don’t think this video stacks up to it. Bowie could get a special award for being Most SFnal Actual Person Who Was Possibly An Alien. But this video isn’t better than about 20 episodes of various TV shows.

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  2. The Hugo is an award for an individual work, not a lifetime achievement award. I think it’s really pushing it to call Blackstar a SFFnal dramatic presentation. And as lurkertype has mentioned, there are so many great things which very clearly are SFFnal to nominate this year in that category.

    I loved Bowie too. But the Hugo is not a consolation prize just to give out to make people who are sad feel better. I’ve seen a lot of hardcore Pratchett fans saying that, much as they love him, his last book is unfortunately not up-to-snuff for a Hugo nomination.

    I really oppose giving Hugo nominations/award to things for sentimental reasons (which is not at all its intended purpose) rather than for “this is unquestionably a Hugo-level work” things.

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  3. I just watched the video and heard the song here for the first time. I’m not sure I like it, but the percussion is compelling. And yeah, very, very Whovian. And the way the “eyes” on Bowie’s wrap are set too far apart and too low is landing right in the Uncanny Valley and creeping me the hell out. As a guy with a song on Bandcamp that amounts to Einstein Intersection fanfic, I’m all for giving BDP-S to songs, even if they’re not strictly narrative. But so far this won’t be on my ballot. As others have said, it’s been a very good year for genre TV.

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