Yesterday I announced Ken M as the winner of the 2015 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award. In that post I didn’t do enough to explain why I did not select one of the other very worthy nominees, so I’d like to remedy that today.
Malcolm McLean is like several of Matt’s previous nominees — a business innovator who had to overcome entrenched interests to introduce a new and more efficient method that has improved the human condition. McLean’s development of inter-modal container shipping is a great advance but it is also a bit too similar to our past honoree and Matt nominee, George P. Mitchell, who pioneered fracking. Recognizing the variety of ways in which people can improve the human condition is a factor in selecting the recipient of The Al.
I nominated Gary Gygax, who created Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax does highlight the variety of ways people can improve the human condition, but he still falls short. The real contribution of D&D is giving permission to adolescents and adults to play pretend, not the development of a bunch of rules, books, and accessories. Had Gygax spent more energy emphasizing the former rather than the later, he might have been a stronger contender for The Al.
John Lasseter, is a crowd favorite and Greg writes a brilliant post nominating him. But The Al tends to recognize the un-recongized over the already famous. Lasseter has a shelf full of accolades for his amazing work. Honoring Lasseter would be like honoring Jonas Salk or Steve Jobs. There is no doubt that they accomplished great things that improved the human condition, but those accomplishments are already well-known and not in need of further recognition.
I explained my reasoning for selecting Mike McShane’s nominee, Ken M, yesterday, but I’d like to elaborate on that a bit. Ken M reminds me of The Lazlo Letters, a collection of correspondence between comedian Don Novello’s alter ego, Lazlo Toth, and a variety of public figures and major corporations in the 1970s. Novello, better known for playing Father Guido Sarducci, wrote idiotic letters to these powerful people and companies to elicit their polite but often manipulative replies. As he put it, “No matter how absurd my letter was, no matter how much I ranted and raved, they always answered. Many of these replies are beautiful examples of pure public relations nonsense.” PR letters in the 1970s were just the primitive ancestors of today’s perpetual social media campaign and flacking.
I’m pleased to report that Ken M contacted me this morning in appreciation of receiving The Al. In fact, of the living recipients of The Al, we have heard from all of the individuals or family members with the exception of Weird Al (perhaps a sign that he was already so widely recognized for his accomplishments that he might not have been the best selection to win The Al.) But to the rest of The Al honorees I can only say thank you for all you have done to improve the human condition. In the words of Lazlo Toth to then President Gerald Ford: “Lean to your left — Lean to your right — Stand up, sit down — Fight! Fight! Fight!”