I asked former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl this very question last week, after a talk she gave at Stanford University.
Turns out that the James Beard awards, the so-called “Oscars of food writing,” launched a new humor category and nominated an anonymous tweeter called Ruth Bourdain.
This fictional character’s rain of raunchy tweets mash up Ruth Reichl and bad boy Anthony Bourdain (That’s Bourdain’s face and Reichl’s hair in the photo), often satirizing Reichl’s lyrical tweets in Bourdain’s sardonic tone. She mimics his humor, shock value and swearing.
There’s been lots of hand-wringing in the press about this nomination, because RuBo is anonymous. Also because the category is for a journalism award. I mean, are tweets journalism?
Reichl said she “loved the idea” of a humorous food writing category, and that Ruth Bourdain “wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago,” because of Twitter. Both Reichl and Bourdain are rooting for her to win. Reichl said she suspects RuthBourdain is a man. She’s dying to see whether this man/woman attends the ceremony and reveals his/her true identity.
Bourdain wants to see RuBo unmasked as well. Here’s what he said about the nomination: “I am, however, rooting for Ruth Bourdain to win in the new humor category. Because I’m pleasantly surprised to find the Beardies even discovering the existence of a sense of humor. Because it will be interesting to hear how the mysterious hermaphroditic on-line parody of Ruth Reichl and yours truly will accept the award if she/he wins. And because, apparently, some in the food writing “community” are said to be peeved that such an unserious, unidentified, uncontrollable–and well, funny, candidate might be honored by the purported “Oscars of Food”. It is said that some feel his/her nomination “cheapens” the enterprise.”
The two other finalists for the humor awards are:
- Alice Laussade for “OK, Who Put Food in My Beer?”
- Rosecrans Baldwin for “Popcorn: Cinema’s Worst Enemy”.
As for me, I think her tweets are entertainment, not journalism. Yes, RuBo’s a hoot, maybe food writers could use a good laugh, and she should get kudos for her ability to fashion a hilarious tweet. On the other hand, if I ever submitted a piece of journalism for a Beard award, I’d like the judges to take my essay seriously: the writing, concept, lead, research, revelations, structure, flow, conclusion — and the humor.
What do you think? Should tweets be eligible for a prestigious journalism award? Should an anonymous tweeter win a Beard, or should the award go to humor writers who write long, well-thought out essays?
Update: S/he won!