Monday, 20 December 2010

Game shows, pop culture, and the great beyond

The birth of a new game show is a grand American design; think of it as a fabricated city gleaming: all sparkles and miracles. Opportunity. All eyes transfixed on presentation; red carpets and spotlights. Chance, circumstance, and trivia wrapped into the alluring host-contestant rapport and esprit de corps. Exhibit A: Million Dollar Money Drop aired tonight and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I knew about it 'cause I heard people talk it up a few days ago, mentioning how it looked worthy of their Monday night. So I'm talking about it here.

What else do people talk about? Pop culture. Celebrities rising and falling. Average Joes mimicking the highs and lows of all the famous names flying around. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This post is not to knock consumption of morning or evening gossip, but to talk about the three phases of our conveniently imagined protagonist, Michelle. Or Michael. Whatever pickles your violet.

As a kid, Michelle just wanted to see something amazing and be entertained. If Michelle doesn't get it, well, cravings take over, emotions fly, perhaps a cry. Sometimes it's necessary to be wowed. And sometimes there's a whole lot of wow in front of us that we don't see. Either way, that's the game show. The spectacle. The fantasy that the audience surrounds us and cheers our success and enlivens our spirits when we're down. So Michelle makes that her goal to have those cheers all the time.

Michelle grows. She goes to college. She gets a job. She thinks she has things figured out. A plan. She's gone through a few struggles. Her parents got divorced. She's seen her share of interpersonal heartache, seen turmoil on the news, pulled her hair out for deadlines, drank too much, slept too little. She's getting a little bored in her cubicle. At the water cooler she talks about Perez Hilton. Starts checking gossip. Talks to her friends about it. Her friends are in same boat and oblige. The spectacle is farther away than she would like. Living vicariously through the glitz and glam seems achievable and soothing. Her weeks point towards the weekends.

One day a thought crosses her brain. A thought that's wafted into her mind plenty of times. But now she pauses. Is this it? "Is there something I'm missing?" She thinks about the existence of God, of fate, of cosmic significance. Is she special? Is she ordinary? She doesn't dare think she's ordinary. But being special is hard to fathom as well. "Things used to make sense. Why don't they anymore?" There's no turning back. She has to choose. Her beliefs are stacked around her in chaotic piles. She longs for the mindlessness of hearsay and celebrity weddings. It doesn't satisfy her, but still she tries to add it. She craves the spectacle, but it's fleeting.

Michelle will end up alright. Alright. A word the late, great William Safire deemed nondescript and non-sensical. But it's just about the most perfect thing in Michelle's theoretical life. The truly loyal, amazing people in my life, those that stand apart, those that mean something--they're not archetypes, not parables. Less predictable than my hopes and fears. We all scratch and claw sometimes, but I just want to say that as you gather round and enjoy the important people in your life, think about who they are. If they've struggled, are they struggling, what question flashes through their mind before they commit their troubles to the dream world.

Life is far better: more unpredictable than alright.

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