T.S. Elliott got it wrong. It’s February, not April, that has the sadistic streak in it. For it is in February that depression, gambling, alcohol consumption and body piercing peak. This is all documented, trust me, but really the only proof yee need know that all hope has indeed been abandoned in the dreary succession of overcast, flight-postponed, football-less days is the annual airing of the grand-mal spectacle, the Oscars. This utterly pointless, suspense-less, self-congratulatory preen-fest of wealthy high-school dropouts is the high point of the low point of the year.
Television executives know we are “trash vulnerable” at this time of year. Even the chastest aesthete can only attend so many ballets and read so much Proust. Inevitably, if only to escape the tyranny of using every moment constructively, we embrace the urge to put the body and mind in neutral and reach for the clicker. And clicking we are subjugated to a barrage of unredeemable trash programming, the likes of which include (my picks, descending order) American Idol, the Grammies, The Golden Globes and of course the Little Gold Guy awards.
There is a difference between redeemable and unredeemable trash television programming. Redeemable trash programming works, if only momentarily, to take us outside our self-consciousness, allowing us to see ourselves and society in a larger context and achieve what the Greeks called “ekstasis”. Unredeemable trash programming is merely voyeuristic. Thus WWF wrestling, as semiologist Roland Barthes understood, is redeemable because its choreographed mayhem re-enacts primal, quasi-religious and social themes, such as loss and redemption. American Chopper (one of my favorites) is redeemable not only for its ridiculously surreal bikes but also for the psychoanalytical elements it reveals in the relationship between dad and sons. Unredeemable trash television, however, is simply about us watching and imagining and fantasizing what it is like to be them.
So let’s break out the bubbly and toast spring and the start of the rites of juicy renewal, which is not actually baseball’s spring training, but the passing and internment, for another year at least, of the epitome of unredeemable trash programming, the Oscars. This is a moment rich with symbolism we should all savor: out with suck-hole meaningless of Hollywood, in with the meaningfulness of life to be lived.
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