This is not the blog post my editors asked for. In this space, you are supposed to be reading a Best and Worst of last night’s People’s Choice Awards, one of those snarky little fiestas where I run down all the highlights of the ceremony, crack some jokes, get worked up when Sugarland doesn’t win, whatever. But PopWatchers, I can’t do it this time.

I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, it’s hard to make a list of ‘bests’ when there weren’t any.” But even if I faked it by saluting Christina Applegate’s classy speech or the emotional fortitude it must take for Ellen DeGeneres to keep getting up there and smiling at the nice people who cheer for her when she dances her funny dance but refuse to give her the civil rights necessary to marry her “roommate,” I would be doing you, the intelligent and savvy readers of, a disservice. Because the People’s Choice Awards, by any reasonable standard, are the worst kind of pandering, artificial hooey. And we, the alleged people, deserve better.

I intend no disrespect to the winners of the “awards,” nor to enthusiastic hostess Queen Latifah (pictured), nor to the hardworking men and women who labored behind the scenes to produce these two hours of televised pap and circumstance. But with the exception of The Dark Knight — victorious in so many categories they had to shove them all into a montage at the end — do I think for a second that these “winners” are, indeed, the “people’s” choice? No. Let’s be honest: As the very clear post-show disclaimer explained, a complex system of “E-Polls” and market research and extravagant math went into choosing the nominees you saw upon your screen. And that system led to a telecast in which praise was lavished on a crassly commercial cross-section of demographically advantageous properties starring celebrities who were willing to show up.

Even as mindless distraction, this awards show was a failure. There was no suspense; every category could be easily predicted by remembering who you’d already spotted in the audience. Would the “Favorite Rock Song” be “All Summer Long” by Kid Rock, or those other two thingies performed by people who were not currently located inside the Shrine Auditorium? To quote “winner” Rock: What a surprise. Chris Brown accepted his “Favorite Combined Forces” award (for “No Air” with Jordin Sparks) “live via satellite” from Dublin, Ireland — where by my calculations it would have been approximately 3:30 in the morning. Rascal Flatts were handed a statue immediately after completing their unconvincing Rascal Flatts impersonation, and, like, 200 people rose as one from the good seats to collect the “Favorite TV Drama” award for House. Yes, tipping the winners off ahead of time has become pretty much de rigeur at this sort of thing, but when those “winners” stretch the limits of plausibility or common sense, I start sawing at my wrists with Twizzlers.

Examples: We were told early in the broadcast that voting was still open in the “Favorite New TV Comedy/Drama” categories. And yet when the time came, the casts of Gary Unmarried and The Mentalist –which, oh wow, just happen to air on the network we’re watching! — were in the house and ready to go. The cast members of the losing shows? Conspicuously absent. (Okay, there were 90210 people milling about, but I’m willing to believe they, like Paris Hilton, have nothing better to do.) But wait, there’s more: Britney Spears losing to Robin Williams for “Favorite Scene Stealing Guest Star” — in an Internet-based voting competition? Kate Hudson (movie to promote) and Latifah (host) going head-to-head for “Favorite Leading Lady”? The Secret Life of Bees winning “Favorite Movie Drama”?? People. Bees made $37 million at the box office. That is just slightly more money than Marley and Me made opening weekend.

So what now? How to contend with the kinds of dark forces that would put Jewel outside the Shrine for the express purpose of pretending to randomly give out a CVS Pharmacy-sponsored makeover to some woman, then cut to a pre-taped segment featuring said woman’s makeover? Or somehow cajole my beloved Chandra Wilson into shilling for Downy fabric softener? PopWatchers, aside from saying “don’t watch the damn thing,” I am at a loss. For I know I am powerless, that the People’s Choice Awards are bigger than me, or you, or even Christian Bale, whose aggressive gravitas had absolutely no effect on the woooooo!-ing hordes in the balcony, desperate just to hear themselves scream.

The only thing I can hope for is this: When people like Kid Rock and Adam Sandler take to the microphone and crow ever so humbly about how their work is not “for the critics,” but “for the people,” all of us will take a second to remember that there is nothing wrong with a people who are also critical. Whether we use our mouses, our remotes, our blogs, or our hard-earned cash, it is up to us to decide what kind of culture we want to live in. And while it may be easy and indeed quite fun to stand in a metaphorical mosh pit and high-five every shiny famous person who comes down the pike, I happen to believe we as a people are capable of ever so much more. (Need proof? The Dark Knight.) To echo last night’s oft-repeated phrase, Yes we can demand excellence. Yes we can think analytically, write articulately, and speak passionately about art and artists in our society. I go so far as to say it is our responsibility. We cannot let crap like this win.

Did you watch last night? Agree/disagree? And even if you skipped the show, who or what would be your personal choice for the very best pop culture has to offer?

More awards-season buzz:

Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch blog