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Top 10 Bizarre Awards You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
There seem to be endless awards for films, from the Oscars to the BAFTAs to the Golden Globes. The parody award show the Golden Raspberry, or the Razzies, gives out awards for the worst films of the year and serves as a kind of balm. However, sometimes, you just want to hear about awards that are a little more unusual. The world is a vast, weird place, and that weirdness deserves to be recognized.
This list rounds up some of the more bizarre awards out there, ranging from photography and fashion to phalluses and pseudo-science. Like the Razzies, some of these awards are mocking, and it might be more accurate to call the recipients losers rather than winners. Others are genuine awards, but for bizarre and interesting things.
10 The Turnip Prize
If you look at most modern art and think a five-year-old could create it, then you’ll like this award. The Turnip Prize satirizes the Tate Gallery’s Turner Prize by rewarding deliberately bad and low effort modern art. It began in 1999 in response to Tracey Emin’s My Bed, which was shortlisted for the Turner Prize that year. Her piece features an unkempt bed with stained sheets and trash heaped on the floor, including discarded condoms, vodka bottles, and cigarettes.
This spoof competition favors entries that include bad puns in the title and sometimes in the artist’s name. For instance, in 2019, Fanny Scorcher won with Bush Fire Down Under, which was women’s underwear with a hole burned into the front. In 2015, Bonksy won with Dismal And, a quickly drawn sad ampersand on a piece of wood. To mirror the quality of the entries, the prize is a turnip impaled on a nail on a block of wood. 
9 Mullet Awards at Mulletfest
Mulletfest is a celebration of the business in the front, party in back hairstyle. Laura Johnson, who of course boasts a mullet of her own, started the event in 2018 in Kurri Kurri, Australia, after the town’s aluminum smelter closed down and hundreds of people lost their jobs. She explains that she had two goals with Mulletfest: to “bring business to Kurri” and to “make people happy.”
One of the highlights of the festival is the awards. There are various categories, including Everyday, Grubby, Extreme, and Ranga (red hair). There are also awards for various age brackets, from Junior (0 to 3) to Vintage (Over 50). The event has been steadily growing each year, attracting mullet-loving contestants from around the globe. If you proudly sport a mullet, then Mulletfest is the place to be.
8 Worst Word/Un-Word of the Year
The Plain English Foundation’s worst word (or phrase) and the German un-word/non-word (Unwort des Jahres) both achieve the same thing: they select the worst distortion of clear language in the year. The Plain English Foundation’s version of this award started off fairly light-heartedly. For instance, in 2012, KFC’s “goodification” marketing slogan won. In 2014, it was Gwyneth Paltrow using “conscious uncoupling” to describe her separation from her husband, Chris Martin.
The English version of this prize has started to become more serious, though, bringing it closer in tone to the German version. In Germany, a panel of language experts selects what they consider to be the most defamatory and offensive word. The German Language Society (GFDS) used to announce both the word of the year and the non-word, but the latter has been independently decided since 1994. In 2021 “pushback” was chosen, which refers to forcing refugees back over a border without allowing them to apply for asylum. In 2017, alternative facts (alternative fakten) was selected as the worst phrase in both the English and German awards.
7 The World’s Most Phallic Building Contest
In a diary for Slate in 2003, Jonathan Ames described the Williamsburg Bank building in Brooklyn, New York, as “the most obviously phallic building I’ve ever seen. It’s so penislike it’s embarrassing.” While this claim may be true for Ames, there are many phallic buildings that upstage Williamsburg Bank. In reaction to Ames’s article, Cabinet magazine led a search to find out which building was truly the world’s most phallic.
Readers submitted buildings from around the world. From that selection, the editors of Cabinet crowned the Ypsilanti Water Tower in Michigan, which was erected—pun intended—in 1890, the winner. Locals even amusingly refer to the water tower as the “Brick Dick.” However, the readers’ vote went to the Florida State Capitol building in Tallahassee. This suggestive building features a tall central shaft with domes on each side of the base.
6 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition
Run by Nikon Instruments since 1975, this contest awards the best photographs taken through a microscope. The photos are judged based on a variety of factors, including their informational content, originality, and visual beauty. A number of techniques are allowed, including “phase contrast, polarized light, fluorescence, interference contrast, darkfield, confocal, deconvolution, and mixed techniques.”
The images demonstrate the weird and wonderful complexity of nature. The top 20 photographs from each year, as well as honorable mentions and images of distinction, can be viewed online. Previous winning photographs include a fluorescent turtle embryo (2019), the eye of a honey bee covered in dandelion pollen (2015), and cell nuclei of a mouse colon (2006). These photos allow us to see the world on a different level. Nikon also runs a Small World in Motion Competition for videos and time-lapses captured through a microscope.
5 The Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year
The name is self-explanatory here: it is an award given to the oddest book title of the year. The prize began as a bit of fun during the 1978 Frankfurt Book Fair, but since 1982 it has been given out by The Bookseller, a publishing magazine. The winner used to be decided by a panel of judges. However, it is now determined by a public vote on The Bookseller’s website. Publishers are not allowed to nominate their own books to ensure that they don’t give books deliberately weird names.
The 2021 winner was Roy Schwartz’s Is Superman Circumcised?, an academic study of the Jewish origins of the Man of Steel. Schwartz humorously commented that “the competition was stiff, but I’m glad I was able to rise to the challenge.” Previous winners include the strange yet delightfully titled Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop, The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories, and Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes.
4 The Bad Sex in Fiction Award
The magazine Literary Review has been awarding this prize since 1993 to novels that feature poorly written and cringe-worthy sex scenes. Explicitly erotic fiction is excluded, so Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James was never in with a chance of winning this unfortunate award. The judges decided to take a pause in 2020, though, because they thought that “the public had been subjected to too many bad things this year to justify exposing it to bad sex as well.”
The Independent newspaper has helpfully rounded up some of the funniest scenes but not all of the nominated and winning authors see the humor in it. The 2004 winner Tom Wolfe, whose novel I Am Charlotte Simmons includes the line “slither slither slither slither went the tongue,” commented that “You can lead an English literary wannabe to irony, but you can’t make him get it.” Morrissey’s List of the Lost won in 2015, with lines like “the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation,” and the singer said that it was “best to maintain an indifferent distance” from the prize, rather than let “repulsive horrors pull you down.”
3 The Barbara Dex Award
The Eurovision Song Contest is known for its eccentric songs and unconventional costumes. But while countries are casting their votes for their favorite songs (or, let’s be honest, the countries they’re friendliest with), online fans are deciding whom to honor with the Barbara Dex Award for the most striking look of the evening. The award was created in 1997 and was named after Barabra Dex, who wore a self-made, semi-transparent dress that made her look “like a lampshade” when representing Belgium in 1993.
Originally, the award was for the worst dressed contestants, but it was recently switched to most striking. Some of the outfits are absolutely wild, from Lithuania’s 2014 rubber ballerina dominatrix look to Croatia’s 2016 tent-like Japanese kimono, which was whipped off to reveal a metallic feathered dress. These looks are best appreciated in motion, so do yourself a favor and watch the performances, which have all been handily collected together on the Belgian website Songfestival.be.
2 The Bent Spoon Award
Since 1982, Australian Skeptics, a group who scientifically investigate and challenge pseudo-science and the paranormal, have presented the Bent Spoon Award to the “perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudoscientific piffle.” The trophy is a spoon, which may have been used at the Last Supper, attached to a piece of wood, allegedly from Noah’s Ark. The spoon was bent by unknown forces and was plated in gold through a process now lost along with the submerged city of Atlantis. However, winners are not simply given this trophy, as “anyone wishing to acquire the trophy must remove it from our keeping by paranormal means,” which obviously has not been achieved.
In 1985, the award went to the Findhorn Foundation, which sponsored Willard Fuller, a self-proclaimed psychic dentist. Fuller claimed that he could make cavities disappear and turn amalgam fillings to gold through praying. In 2012, it was awarded to Fran Sheffield of Homeopathy Plus! for claiming that the whooping cough vaccine is ineffective and that people should instead use homeopathic remedies.
1 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards
Animals looking stupid is comedy gold, and this award celebrates that. Sure, there are many wildlife photography competitions that capture the beauty of our planet. However, sometimes it’s just funny to see animals doing weird things and making funny faces. The competition began in 2015 and is open to both photography novices and professionals.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so you really need to see these photos for yourself. Winners and finalists can be seen in all of their glory on the official website. The 2021 winner shows a monkey looking like he’s just hurt his family jewels after landing on a cable, but photographer Ken Jensen explains that it’s “actually a show of aggression.” The 2020 winning photograph is of a turtle that looks like it’s angrily flipping off the photographer.