This may come as a surprise, but I’ve never been to NASCAR. In fact, I’m not even sure how you use the word – a NASCAR? The NASCAR? NASCAR-esque? This is not the only blind spot in my world view. I’ve never made it through a whole episode of Hee Haw. Or Jerry Springer (though I’ve heard that the opera based on it is quite interesting). And I use a Mac instead of a P.C.
I guess it’s time to own up: I am the Liberal Elite that the Republican party has been warning us about. In my own defense, it’s not really my fault. I was raised in a house with Dick Cavett and the Smothers Brothers. Sure, we knew of the existence of Gallagher and that Ernest fellow who went to camp, and to jail, and saved Christmas. But they weren’t like us. We understood that these were not people who saw America the way we saw America. And even though my Liberal Elitism is now out in the open, I still watch Jon Stewart instead of Bill O’Reilly. Perhaps I am the terrorist.
There has always been a split in this country between high-brow and low-brow entertainment, probably a by-product of the dual nature of America: two-party system, two tracks of culture. However, that more-or-less benign cultural divide started being manipulated for political purposes. This exploitation of Main Street versus Brainiac Boulevard reached its apex in 2000, as Karl Rove presented us with the ultimate "one of us" figureheads in the grab for the White House.
It has been an action-packed eight years in the Howdy W. Doody administration, and the past few crises have led a chunk of former believers to suspect that a smart sum’bitch might be a better choice for President than a drinking buddy. But the fears of a man who’s "not like us" are still there for the cultivating, and the smart forces behind the new wave of ignorance have been working overtime in the broken right wing.
Witness, for example, Sarah Palin’s recent rabble-rousing. In her rallies, she has incited such paranoia and prejudice against Barack Hussein Obama as to elicit cries from the crowd of "off with his head" and "kill him." It doesn’t get much more blatant and pernicious than that, even with John McCain’s subsequent, flailing backtracks.The fascinating counter to Ms. Palin’s pit-bullets is Ms. Fey’s satiric portrayals of her. Some of these Saturday Night Live skits are virtual transcripts of Palin misspeaks, yet so laden in irony as to actually halt the momentum of the strategies themselves. A very sophisticated mockery is gumming up a very premeditated pandering.
I leave the forecasts of the political push-pulls to others, but the state of our current media/entertainment climate is fascinating. The tug of opposing forces is manifesting in some surprising ways. I recently went to the world-premiere production in L.A. of 9 to 5: The Musical at the Ahmanson Theater. How would an entire musical (bound for Broadway, apparently) with music and lyrics by the prolific and well-loved Dolly Parton be? Though every performer is terrific, the show itself is appalling. It is not just that there isn’t a single stage-worthy song in the entire evening. Equally shocking is that some of the biggest laughs come from the very sight of bare buttocks, big boobs, and a simulated erection. Big laughs. There is a technique involved in writing musical theater; none of it went into this production, and I had the unsettling feeling of falling down some NASCAR-scented rabbit hole.
However, this does not indicate the end of humanity, or even the death of smart entertainment. In fact, some seedlings of depth are sprouting up on network television. A new ABC series, Life on Mars, features the way-out (and British-imported) premise of a modern-day police detective clonked on the head and transported back to 1973. But is it real, or simply a hallucination of a man lying in a 2008 coma? The pilot mines all the possibilities thoughtfully and at times playfully, and the future of this series looks promising indeed. Over on CBS, a new hour-long comedy (also adapted from a foreign series, this one from Israel) called The Ex List is light years better than expected. A young woman is told by a psychic that she has to marry within the year or remain an old maid for life – and her prospective groom is someone she has already been involved with (a long list). There is a freshness and contemporary whiff to the proceedings that makes me hopeful. Watch this show with senses alert, as half the wittiest moments are delivered as throwaways, bespeaking the overflow of creativity here.
Sometimes it’s not so bad being an elitist.