The Recognition Racket

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 22, 2021

One thing that many of us feel we don’t get enough of is appreciation. We want to be recognized for our accomplishments, our contributions – or at least for our efforts. All around us, people are receiving prizes and awards, being written about, celebrated, honored in all kinds of ways. Isn’t it time somebody took some notice of us? (I myself am madly jealous of Bob Dylan, whose receipt in 2016 of the Nobel Prize for Literature seemed as unlikely as my own acquisition of that same award will ever be.)

But for those of you who would be satisfied with something less than a Nobel Prize, I have news. Somebody is well aware of just how you feel, and wants to satisfy that need. That somebody – or those somebody’s – are the entrepreneurs engaged in what I call the Recognition Racket. Why call it a racket? Because it’s a semi-fraudulent exploitation of a human weakness – that pathetic desire to have our worth acknowledged, before we too into the dust descend. (And indeed many a deserving person does have to wait for that word of praise until it is inscribed on his or her tombstone.) So, what is the purpose of these enterprises? They’re not kind-hearted souls who just want to give you the credit you deserve. Their primary motivation is financial gain.

But how do they turn appreciation of you into money for themselves? Some methods are more blatant than others. They usually involve some kind of publication. There used to be an actual reference book called “Who’s Who.” But, contrary to what many people believe, the term “Who’s Who” is no longer a registered trademark. Anybody can bring out any kind of list or compilation and call it a Who’s Who – just as “Webster’s” is now in the public domain, and any dictionary can call itself “Webster’s Dictionary.”

So, when you get approached by some firm offering to put you in their “Who’s Who,” usually with indications and implications of honor and prestige for your achievements and social position, don’t be taken in. They may not charge you for this “recognition,” but they will do their best to get you to buy one or more, usually expensive, copies of the book. And if you do get hooked, the chances are you’ll find your listing squeezed in among thousands of others, in very fine print.

The chief company exploiting this market is a firm called Marquis, which did so well using the “Who’s Who” title standing alone that they now publish at least fourteen spin-offs, including special Who’s Who’s for various regions of the U.S., for different professional fields, for “American Women” – and, believe it or not, a “Who’s Who in Asia,” and a “Who’s Who in the World.”

Needless to say, the less reputable of these shady companies not only have their listees pay in advance for inclusion, with no standards concerning their being genuinely notable, but they also sell their lists to other marketeers.

Only once was I suckered into ordering one of these useless publications, because I had been “selected” to be included in it. It’s the 1980-81 edition of “Who’s Who in the West.” (“The West” includes 13 American States and 3 Canadian Provinces.) It is 12 inches tall (too big for most shelves) and weighs 11 ½ pounds. It has over 800 pages, with three columns on each page, and eight or nine heavily abbreviated “biographies” in each column, in almost microscopic print. If you happen to own one of these volumes, which by now must be quite rare, you will, sure enough, find me, among 20,000 other honorees, on page 87 (by chance, at the top of the first column).

Isn’t there any form of recognition really worth having for its own sake? Of course not. The whole idea of fame and fortune is a modern Western invention. It would mean nothing to a Buddhist – or, for that matter, to any devoutly religious person. In past millennia, all power resided in the monarch, to whom, therefore, all earthly honor was due.  

Ironically, in our culture, the one day of the year on which a person is honored and appreciated, regardless of merit, at least by those who are closest, is his or her own birthday – a day which marks no greater achievement than that of having stayed alive for another year. 

But, people value their pets – especially their dogs – because, no matter what day it is, their dogs value them.


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