Last week, Variety magazine announced that, at its “Women In Power” luncheon next month, the honorees will include Jessica Chastain, Shari Redstone, Audra McDonald, Blake Lively, and Gayle King. Okay, fine, but then we hit the problem spot — their “Lifetime Achievement Award” will be given to Chelsea Clinton.
Now, this has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with chronology. Clinton is only 37 years old — she has yet to live a lifetime. I don’t know what the minimum age should be for such an honor (65? 70? 75?), but I’m sure that it’s not less than 40.
Even someone who has accomplished a lot before they’ve completed four decades on this planet — Serena Williams, for instance — shouldn’t qualify for a lifetime achievement award yet. Let’s see what she does with the ensuing decades. Sticking with tennis, Billie Jean King qualifies because of everything she did after retiring from playing, but Serena hasn’t gotten to that point in her life yet, so we don’t know what she’ll achieve going forward.
As for Clinton, Variety says she was selected because of “her work with Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which empowers kids to develop lifelong healthy habits.” Again, sounds good, but she hasn’t even been at it for 20 years. She may go on to do amazing things in the next 20 or 30 years, but they haven’t happened yet and thus aren’t lifetime-achievement-worthy. And what if she does change the world for the better by the time she turns 70? Does she get a second lifetime award in one lifetime?
Now, let’s be honest about what’s actually happening here. Naming Clinton the award recipient ensures that lots of people who supported her parents politically will attend the event, and perhaps donate to whatever charity is involved. That’s what many of these honors are really about — name recognition and fund-raising — which is why you don’t hear of lifetime achievement awards being given to someone no one has heard of, even if they’ve done remarkable work.
Twenty-five years ago, in Washington, DC, I got a call one day from the B’Nai Brith saying they would like to honor me at a luncheon. I had never done anything for that organization, nor did I know anyone in it, but I was kinda famous because of my daily radio show and a lot of charitable work I’d done in the community. I told the caller I appreciated the thought and asked what I’d have to do (e.g. give a speech).
She told me that she’d need the names of a bunch of my friends and colleagues so the B’Nai Brith could contact them and invite them to the luncheon. I asked if they’d get in for free, and she told me they would not, that the organization would ask them to pay something like $100 each. I told her I wasn’t going to put my friends in that awkward spot where they’d have to pay to see me receive an honor that wasn’t actually an honor at all, but was merely a fundraising scheme.
The woman said, “Oh, no, we do this every year and we’ve never had anyone refuse to be the honoree.” I told her that, in me, she finally had one.
I have no idea who they did sucker into going to that luncheon, but if they were doing it today, someone on the honors committee would probably suggest Chelsea Clinton.
Updated 3/28 5:29pm…Thanks to reader Jim Alexander for discovering that the original article I based this column on was incorrect. Chelsea Clinton will not receive a lifetime achievement award — she will receive an Impact Award from Variety and the Lifetime television network. I’m glad to hear that, but stand by what I wrote about giving people under 40 (or even 50) an honor for achievements during “a lifetime.”