An Epidemic of Gratitude

Our world is awash in gratitude. Statistics on the incidence of thanks-giving reveal an unrelenting upward trend, and projections for the future are that gratitude will be out of control by the year 2050. Selfless bureaucrats are working feverishly to draft regulations to alleviate the anticipated glut of appreciation, but the outlook is not good.

The problem is particularly acute in the broadcasting industry: Television networks have had to cut back regular programming drastically to accommodate their rapidly multiplying special awards celebrations. The situation has reached crisis proportions, with the vast majority of awards presented at any televised gala going to the producers and cast of other awards programs. But the capacity of the American viewing public for recognizing and rewarding achievement appears inexhaustible, and the problem is compounded by the irrepressible humility of recipients, who insist upon sharing credit for their achievements “with all those people, big and small, who have made this evening possible.”

This generous gesture is repeated again and again during the course of the three-hours-plus needed to complete the typical awards extravaganza. We see it played out during presentations of the Academy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, the People’s Choice Awards, the Emmys, the Grammys, and the Country Music Awards “live from the Grand Ole Opry.” My producer, my director, my acting coach, my agent, my parents, my fans, my continuum of consorts, my therapist — endless is the list of beautiful people and geniuses who deserve to be thanked because “they believed in me.”

Award-winning entertainers have no monopoly on the gushing expression of gratitude: Our collegiate and professional athletes are just as self-effacing and laudatory of their teammates. The postgame disclaimers made by the towel-draped jocks to the mike-wielding sportscasters lurking in their locker rooms have taken on the prescribed and stylized quality of ritual. Set up with a fawning recollection of his recently immortal performance, the determinedly modest athlete invariably demurs: The obscure behemoth who opened up the hole in the line, the self-sacrificing downfield blocker, the defensive team that recovered the ball inside enemy territory, the coaches, the cheerleaders, the front office, the coddling professors at State U. — these are the real heroes. “Well, uh, y’know, like, I mean, uh, I couldn’t, uh, have done it, uh, without ’em, y’know.” Trophy Age magazine reports that manufacturers are hard at work developing Most Valuable Player awards with five, nine, and eleven-plus handles so that standout performers in basketball, baseball, and football can satisfy their oft-expressed desire to share their singular trophies with their several teammates.

Not a few actors and athletes grow up to be politicians, taking their grateful ways with them. They are quick to concede that their own personal charm and good grooming count for naught, and that their political connections and their ability to solicit contributions to a war chest are really not that noteworthy. What really counts are the dedication of the campaign staff, the perseverance of the precinct workers, and the unthinking devotion of the voters. “This election is not just a victory for [INSERT NAME OF CANDIDATE]; it is a victory for the people of [INSERT NAME OF VOTING DISTRICT]!” However much we may feel like losers when the outcome is announced, rest assured that our new mayor, our next governor, our incoming congressman, and our president-elect will insist that his victory is really our victory, and that the credit for the debacle belongs to all the little people, everywhere. Fairies, gnomes, dwarves, imps, and mouseketeers, take note: Today, all that is good in the world must be attributed to “little people.”

The least of cynics may detect a note of insincerity in all of these proceedings. That is not to deny that occasionally an actor, an athlete, or, in the rarest of cases, even a politician can experience and express heartfelt gratitude; but, rather, to acknowledge that by far the greater part of what passes for appreciation these days is not the genuine article, but a facsimile, and a poor one at that. It is to recognize pro forma modesty and self-satisfied humility for what they are: evidence of a talent for mimicry, and of a passing knowledge of the done thing. When thanks that are in order are communicated as though they were on order, we may be justified in concluding that a short line would suffice to plumb the depth of emotion.

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