Friday, May 20, 2005

Bang The Gongs Slowly

chuck barris
Unknown Comic: What do you call a Mexican with a vasectomy?
Chuck Barris: What?
Unknown Comic: A dry Martinez!
* cue audience laugh track *
Unknown Comic: Do you like sex?
Chuck Barris: Yes.
Unknown Comic: Do you like sports?
Chuck Barris: Yes.
Unknown Comic: Then take a fucking hike.
Chuck Barris: You can't say that on television.
* cue audience laugh track and hard cut to commerical break *

"My way of joking is to tell the truth. That's the funniest joke in the world."
- Muhammad Ali

Back in the 1970s, "The Gong Show" was one of those boffo TV extravaganzas that come once in a generation - the type of cranked up audience dedication that sparked as much entertainment as it did outrage, even if the latter represented that famous media truism which states, rather simply, "Bad Publicity is Better Than No Publicity." As was the case with "Reverend Gene Scott" or "Jerry Springer" or "The Morton Downey Jr. Show," either you loved "The Gong Show" or you hated it, but everybody tuned in to watch this stripped down version of "American Idol" and shuffled about like Gene Gene The Dancing Machine in the bank line.

Millions of Americans went out and bought gongs for their homes - so that they could gong their spouses or friends with Smiling Bob-ish glee - and there were gong shows in churches and temples and community centers to raise donations, then even cruise ship social directors and singles getaway destinations jumped into the act. "Gong" became the catch phrase of that decadent period between free sex and recreational drug use - before the Reaganites declared that AIDS came from monkeys and Ed Meese got a hard-on for the end of pornography and Nancy canvassed inner cities with the ultimate "Don't Worry, Be Happy" beat manifesto by proclaiming "Just Say No" to our country's brownish people ... but "gong" really meant "Make That Idiot Stop" or "Get That Crazy Bastard Off The Stage!" Singer Jaye P. Morgan, comedian Arte Johnson (of "Rowan and Martin's Laugh In") and Jamie Farr (of "M*A*S*H*"), plus one or more guests, was each assigned the torture of enduring and judging the ameteur acts that performed on the show and could end the act by striking his/her mallet against an oversized gong, because that person or group was deemed as too hideous to continue.

And now, let us introduce, for your viewing pleasure:
  • A bearded, demented-looking dentist taunts his hapless patient as he drills her teeth, flipping the drill's switch to the tune of "Stars and Stripes Forever."
  • A petite homecoming queen, obviously nervous, is duped into singing the National Anthem after she and fellow members of the choir have been introduced as collectively performing "The Star Spangled Banner."
  • A grossly overweight man tap-dances to music from "Swan Lake"; later his equally obese wife squeezes into a tiny tutu and, after fitting her head in a teacup, spins around while playing "Old Folks at Home" on the mandolin.
  • An Elvis impersonator sings "Hound Dog," but his voice is a monotone.

Now, 20 years later, the journalistic establishment that speaks for Dubya's erstwhile 52% mandate takes to the airwaves and fishwrap with more lame whackjobs and bizarre yoyos than can be found in either the Halls of Congress or within the Peacetime Army or The Gong Show green room ... and we are left clutching our nuts beyond the mylar glow of a pop-culture effervescence and creeping paranoia not seen since the dog days of 1973, when guys like Sirica, Ruckelshaus, Woodward, Bernstein, Jaworski, Cox and Richardson were skulking around the hellish little byproducts of another debacle in hyperspeed which, of course, became "The Watergate Crisis."

This is a grim thing to draw comparisons to - or even put into words - given the current atmosphere of American Narcissism, Inc. and our renewed collective amnesia that regretfully pervades the press and our politics these days. Not just out there in Washington, but almost everywhere you find waves of average people who are so ass-deep in self-delusion about the balloon payment that is coming due in the form of far more serious and emerging threats aimed directly at our very resources and talents, our way of life and the ability to pay off our debts.

It's the Witching Hour, Sparky, and you better get a program because we're going to need a scorekeeper.

There are huge numbers of people in this country - with columnists and editors and congressmen and strategists at the tip of the opinion iceberg - who stay awake at night for the way they ducked and ran during the salad days of the "Post 9/11 World" and the disgusting blob of revolving horseshit leading to our pseudo-spiritual sojourn into the Iraqi desert, while there were others who turned-the-other-cheek and accepted the facts as they had been dictated to the media funnel ... not because they really believe everything that their Godfilled Government broadcasts, but because once they open their minds to the real and dangerous possibilities there is no turning back - which means that they, too, are going to be sucked right down by the same whirlpool of shame and regret, then will say to themselves along the back pews of their unstable congregation of ignis fatuus, "Well, it really seemed like attacking was the right thing to do, but if we gotta bury a few more heathens out in the sand dunes, so be it."

We are sliding into a very deep hole here, and if I'd written this sort of thing two years ago I would have almost expected to find my email account bombed and the comment mechanism filled with freakish posts on the coming armageddon, and then beaten down into a quivering bloody sushi by the next evening by some of Dick Cheney's hired thugs in a greasy alley behind the Los Angeles Times building - along with a tattered polaroid festival of dead hookers scattered around my feet and a length of rope still clutched tightly in my hand.

But like Bob Dylan once sang, "Then you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone for the times they are a-changing."

And, man, was he right, Sparky. There is little mystery left in that corpse. But after scanning talk TV news on all three of the main cable networks during the last two days and then watching Newsweek's Howard Fineman perform his best Marcus Welby on Hardball tonight, I have a deep and clear sense that - besides the idea of the stone sinking at last - the times aren't very different from the days of "Chuckie baby! Hey, Chuckie, Chuckie, Chuckie!"

From here on out it will be a nasty story to cover, especially with an electorate driven by insatiable inner rage and a low-rent fascination for high speed and ignorance and seem highly similar to the "good germans" from The Thousand Year Reich and have pledged allegiance to a recalcitrant Prometheus of the dysinformation age. Dubya is the guy who realized that politics and message discipline hadn't come anywhere near its lowest common denominator yet, and that the public's appetite for salaciousness and humiliation had remained relatively crimped.

But beneath all his crazed layers of tinpot ambition and childish bluster, Dubya will eventually become excoriated by the high culture as the ignoramus who destroyed politics and public policy as we once knew it ... and the televised mini-series will be worth watching, because whatever form of harsh judgement and fuzzy reality that finally reveals its ugly head will be another Rethug landmark calamity in the panorama of American History and will serve as a stern warning, for both sides of the aisle, and to all the generations who will inherit this once great nation - or whatever scraps we leave them - that just because the audience at home appears entertained and is buying the products that endorse its taped existence, game shows and politics require a combination of profound mental illness and powerfully tormented minds feeding on uncontrolled guilt and shame to push the envelope.

By the time Dubya gets his last joyride on Air Force One - assuming he can sustain his appetite for prolific humiliation which has never been fully appeased - the fate of his legacy will have retracted to the dimensions of a crushed oil barrel. The long running game show of a presidency will be sent to syndication in Jakarta, and the outcome of his challenge with intelligence and the facts will have a USA Today-like color coded chart in the history books, right alongside the books that stress daddy has a penis and mommy has a vagina, and that Uncle Bruce's "male friend" likes to decorate. Dubya will have his seat next to Nixon and Harding and will be regarded as nothing more than a corrupt and incompetent monkey who got all slap-happy in the Oval Office, and the only reason for mentioning him will be to understand how he ever rose to the office of preznut in the first place. And if the Democrats ever find some balls and start demanding a Special Prosecutor ... the real defendant at this juncture will be the American political system, because if we once came to the brink of impeaching a president elected by the largest margin of victory in the long history of national elections why has the political system become a retractable righteousness roof and used kid gloves on a buffoon?

Unknown Comic: Chuckie baby! Hey, Chuckie, Chuckie, Chuckie!
Chuck Barris: Yes? What do you want?
Unknown Comic: Is my fly open?
Chuck Barris: No, it isn't.
Unknown Comic: Well, it should be. I'm peein'.


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