The Kennedy Center Honors gala welcomed a rather odd combination of celebrities over the weekend. From Dustin Hoffman to David Letterman to Led Zeppelin and one woman, there must have been quite a few furrowed brows among the attendees.
What do you get when you ask a bunch of middle-age rich people to come up with a list of the country’s most significant citizens? You get the Kennedy Center Honorees.
This year’s honorees are:
- Dustin Hoffman
- David Letterman
- Natalia Makarova
- Led Zeppelin
- Buddy Guy
As Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein introduced each of the honorees, generational significance seemed to be the running theme. Dustin Hoffman was the most “iconoclastic actors of this or any generation,” while the only woman recognized was Russian immigrant and ballerina Natalia Makarova, who Rubenstein claimed, “ignited the flames of the world’s greatest ballet companies and continues to pass the torch to the next generation.”
Meanwhile, six-time Grammy winner Buddy Guy was described as someone who, “influenced virtually anyone who has picked up a guitar in the last half-century.”
Holden Caulfield would call the whole thing “phony.” While Kennedy Center Honors can often seem stuffy when you’re younger, it’s a respectable tradition.
Most likely, the honorees aren’t from your generation — yet. The Kennedy Center rarely honors fresh-faced celebrities. Instead, it waits to see who has staying power and has contributed the most throughout their lives.
The honorees aren’t the Kardashians of the world, who use their celebrity to push milkshake shops or perfumes. The Kennedy Center almost always honors people who have contributed not to their own bank accounts, but to their occupation and to the world around them.
This year’s honorees are no different. Many outside of the ballet world may have never heard of Natalia Makarova at all. However, she continues to travel the world to perform and choreograph ballets for some of the world’s most prestigious companies.
We all love Jimmy Fallon, but he’d be no one without David Letterman and Johnny Carson clearing the late-night talk show path before him. When 13-year-old boys pick up an electric guitar because they like Green Day or Nirvana, they’re emulating guys who credit Buddy Guy as their inspiration, even if that 13-year-old doesn’t yet know about Guy.
2012’s Kennedy Center Honorees may not influence the way we dress or sing the songs that describe our recent break-ups, but they’re outstanding representatives of their generations. And, if you pay attention, you might see they have influenced more than you first thought.