Who are participation trophies for? — Armchair Philosophy

I’m tired of being beaten with this particular stick.

Episode script:

Who are participation trophies for?

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I’m just about 35, hats, cats, and other folk, and I’m getting a little sick of this chestnut: 

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I don’t quite fit with the millennials, being born in ‘82, nor do I quite fit with the Gen Xers. 

But this has given me some perspective. I don’t get blamed for all of the problems of the world, as I’m too old, and I don’t get excused for everything I do, because I’m too young. So I get to watch two generations above and below me argue about why we are where we are.

Y’know. Ignoring the fact that only one of those generations has money and power.

Seriously, though. How weak do you have to be to scapegoat your literal children for what’s wrong with the world? 

How badly are you denying your responsibility to this planet that you think people you raised are what’s ruining everything, and that couldn’t possibly be your fault?

I can think of no better talking point to frame this particular issue than the Participation Trophy.

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Being born in the early 80s, I was among the first group of kids ever given a participation trophy. And let me tell you: We all knew they were bullshit, and more importantly, we didn’t give them to ourselves.

Who gave us those trophies? Did we demand them? Did we cry until we got one? No!

Not a single one of us I saw raised one of these worthless pieces of metal in the air in triumph and proclaimed victory. We all of us, went home after receiving those lies, knowing that if all of us got a trophy, a trophy meant exactly nothing.

So were the trophies really meant for us? Were we really the unique snowflakes who would riot if we weren’t given recognition for doing absolutely nothing?

No, judgy older folks. These trophies weren’t for us. They were for you.

Now thankfully, my parents, as embarrassing as they were, as all parents are and should be, from time to time, didn’t indulge in this particular behavior.

But I saw these parents, as a kid. You probably did to. Have you ever seen a bumper sticker proudly proclaiming “My kid is an honor student at whatever high-school?” Do you think their children demanded that bumper sticker be put on that car? Or were those parents the ones who needed coddling all along?

Those parents couldn’t stand the idea that their kid wasn’t the best. That their offspring wasn’t the pinnacle of accomplishment. And so we started giving trophies to everybody. Not because the children demanded them— y’know, the eleven-year-olds who are known to be so even-tempered and eloquent as to achieve such a thing from adult institutions.

No. Those trophies existed because parents, too ego-driven to accept the fact that their kid wasn’t the best kid, in this minor way that didn’t actually matter? Were the best.

So you can say the millennials grew up entitled all you want, but I’ve worked with that generation, on plenty of films, and not a single damn one of them expected an award just for participating.

In fact, the only trophy I have ever received in my life that meant a damn to me was given to me by a film director named Justin Robert Vinall, who was 20 years old at the time I was his assistant director on a little film called Buried State, his second feature film. 20 years old, he was. Second feature-length film.

Look at this thing. Skull crackin’ motherfucker. Y’know why it says that?

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And yeah, I’m never gonna’ win an Oscar or an Emmy, or even a Webby, probably, but knowing I earned the respect of a man damn-near half my age for actual hard work that I actually did, earns this trophy a place in my studio with the company of exactly zero of my other trophies, which don’t even sit in a cardboard box next to some Ninja Turtles toys. Because I knew they meant nothing and I threw them away.

None of us thinks we should have somethin’ for nothin’. We’re only proud of what we earned. Older folks have been blaming the generation behind them for their ils since time immemorial. So from this embittered man to the generation behind me, you’re doin’ just fine. Don’t listen to these jerks.

For Sofa Justice Warriors, I’m Joe. BLAHBLAHBLAH.

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