The court jesters of today have no messageWe have become the society of the spectacle. The car wreck. The plane crash. People who aren’t sated unless we see another less fortunate. We watch Cops not merely to chuckle at what we deem as being low lifes (although one could make the argument that we are no higher—socioeconomic status notwithstanding—than they, and perhaps even lower on the scale: we’re watching; they’re doing) but because we want to see them get slammed around. Wrestling with authenticity and a badge. We want to see when animals attack because they are ripping something to shreds. Feel the viscera. We watch the makeover programs not because we’re interested in the ostensible attractive individual that appears at the end, but because of the unattractive person at the start who must undergo what are evidently painful procedures. We don’t want to know these people. We simply want to watch. Heretofore the master at doing this sort of thing on television was Chuck Barris, not only permitting us to see the object of derision in the form of the “contestants” on The Gong Show—what would you win beyond heightened humiliation?—but also the painful agony of those who appeared on The Newlywed Game when seemingly obvious answers weren’t proffered: It became clear that those who made the mistakes would have either a truncated marriage or a lifetime of underlying misery. Watch the Wheel of Fortune spin for the shitheels. Watch them slip and end up with a foot in their mouth. We’re protected.

But we don’t admit this. We make claims its about something else. Interest. Entertainment. No, no, not about those who are the unfortunate. Something else. It is not a question of finding these people to be pathetic, because that would presume that we actually feel something for these people. We don’t. We feel only for ourselves. Our smugness.

And the entertainment industry knows this in spades. One could argue that J.G. Ballard should be the prevailing author of interest, given his clinical fictional analyses of scenes of dismemberment, death and destruction, but spectacle requires seeing. And we are now to the point where fictional renditions aren’t as good as bona fide flesh under the scalpel.

William Hung, the reject from American Idol who managed to become famous for being so awful with his rendition of “She Bangs,” is still another example of this morbid fascination. His handlers are milking his evident deficiencies with another song, “We Are The Champions.” The music video includes Hung vamping like Freddy Mercury, which is two-levels of the pain of others: The pain of Mercury’s actual demise; the pain of seeing an unwieldy individual acting out the moves of someone who had evinced a sense of smoothness. Horrible to witness. Which is why people watch.

The court jesters of old were said to tell a truth, a truth to power that no one else dared tell. The court jesters of today have no message, at least no message of truth. It is merely a message of consumption. Which is similarly horrible to behold if we were willing to watch.

10 thoughts on “Crash”

  1. Personally, I despise the idea of giving William Hung any additional press. Yet Mac’s piece perfectly articulates why I feel this way.

    These are mean times when it’s become okay to put a mentally handicapped person onstage for our amusement. What’s next? A show where we watch bullies poke puppies with a stick?

  2. You have a good point, but I think this kind of voyeuristic obsession people have is perfectly healthy as long as it isn’t to excess. I mean, I love “Cops,” I’ll admit it. I even watch Jerry Springer once in a while. Let me put it this way: you come home from a shitty day at work to credit card bills and your cat pissed on your mattress but hey, atleast your girlfriend isn’t a man, right? I think that kind of stuff can help people put their own life in perspective. And if they’re not interested in that, atleast they can laugh at the cops chasing a crazy naked man down the street with a knife. That being said, I have zero interest in watching the Nick Berg video, that’s a little over the line for me. As for American Idol, that shit needs to go.

  3. I agree with about everything that Stephen wrote. I think something even more telling is how mean-spirited some of the commercials are now. How about the commercial, which is I think for an insurance company, where the guy shoves the kid into a pool to get the quarter…and then the company says he’s their kind of customer. That doesn’t make me want to run and out and buy the product let me tell you.

  4. Just strikes me that the commodification of the whole situation under the guise of “entertainment” is troubling. Sure, there have always been carny acts. But when we poke the bearded lady with a stick and don’t offer her a Mach3. . .

  5. In defense of William Hung–on the first track of his CD he actually thanks the listener for buying it, and sounds sincere. Sadly, that 25 seconds is the most listenable thing on it.

  6. This commodification of of others misery ain’t exactly new… in fact, it’s far less overt than it has been in the past. Christians to the lion, anyone? How about some good ol’ bear baiting? Say, we could go hurl garbage at the convicts in the stocks. Same stuff, different mediums. It is an ugly element of human nature, but it’s down deep and I don’t think it’s coming out.

    What’s truly horrifying here is the knowledge that Sab actually has the William Hung cd. What next, Sab? Self-flagellation?

  7. Jamie: “Gladiator” notwithstanding, the degree to which this whole schtick of superiority has become central (“Gee, let’s watch Paris and Nicole smirk at the rubes!”) is far greater now than at other points in the past.

    The concern is that it is like Gresham’s Law (not to be confused with John Grisham’s) applied to the entertainment industry, with the bad driving out the good.

    And as for sab’s observation of the sincerity of Hung in thanking people for buying the disc, while that may, indeed, be Miss Manners-approved, doesn’t it seem even more distored than sab ostensibly owning the disc that this is even there?

  8. “The court jesters of old were said to tell a truth to power that no one else dared tell. The court jesters of today have no message.”

    That’s nuts-on. We’re in a downward cycle where cruelty is the new funny.

    The problem is, as always, letting the normals in on the gag. They never get the irony of it and just go for crude imitation.

  9. So, who is the court jester? William Hung or the sick bastards who take advantage of him? While Gresham’s Law certainly seems to apply, there are no laws dictating that the networks have to run the filthy pap that pervades the airwaves. Believe me, I’m no prude, but if I wanted T&A I’d rent a porn movie, not turn on the pseudo T&A of Survivor or Paradise Island or whatever the hell it was. If I want comedy I’ll turn on Comedy Central or read my emails. Wait. Maybe I am a prude after all. Shit.

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