Prize snubs

Awards - Graham Bendel on the elite club too cool to turn up on the night

When Gorillaz, the cartoon band fronted by Damon Albarn, pulled out of this year's Mercury Music Awards, they instantly became accepted by a particularly exclusive club: the Snub Club, let's call it.

They were in good company. In 1960, Tony Benn refused to take a hereditary seat in the House of Lords. John Lennon, protesting at Britain's involvement with Vietnam, returned his MBE to the Queen. And Jean-Paul Sartre, who had already formed an expensive habit of turning down prizes and awards, declined the Nobel Prize in 1964.

Notable members of the Snub Club have included many a film star. George C Scott famously stayed at home and watched a hockey game instead of collecting his Oscar for Patton in 1971. He likened the awards to a "two-hour meat parade". Not to be outdone by Scott, in 1973, Marlon Brando was the next up to "diss" the Academy. In a trademark "sizeable" gesture, Brando sent a Native American girl named Sacheen Littlefeather, dressed in a deerskin, to refuse his award for him - and to demonstrate his disdain for an industry that dared to portray her people in such a bad light. This was perhaps one of the most eloquent things the actor had ever done (even since taking those large wads of cotton wool from his mouth).

Woody Allen was another offender. When Annie Hall won an Oscar, there was no one to walk up to the podium. Allen was happily jazzing away, playing his clarinet down at Michael's Pub in New York. At the 1976 Academy Awards, Warren Beatty turned to camera and thanked viewers for "watching us congratulate ourselves". The vogue of award ceremony backlash was well under way.

Dustin Hoffman, someone who once described the Oscars as "obscene, dirty and grotesque, no better than a beauty contest" took to not showing up. His moral standpoint shifted somewhat after he received the 1979 Best Actor award for Kramer versus Kramer, on which occasion he made an appropriately smug speech. This only goes to prove that most snubs are not entirely selfless acts, and often they conceal a hidden agenda.

The scriptwriter Robert Towne, utterly peeved by the director Hugh Hudson's intervention in his precious screenplay for Greystoke: the legend of Tarzan, substituted his name on the credits with that of his dog. Subsequently, his dog became the first canine to be nominated by the Academy for best screenplay. However, it was uncertain whether Towne was actually snubbing his dog, the Oscars or Hudson.

In Britain, the snubbing of awards is less common, which is why Gorillaz have grabbed so much attention. People are less inclined to be "dramatic" this side of the pond. But let's pray that artists continue to snub the establishment - if not to make a statement or to use the awards ceremonies as a convenient political platform, at least to forestall us hearing yet another Tom Hanks or Gwyneth Paltrow acceptance speech, ever, ever again.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2001 issue of the New Statesman, What would you do?