Monday, August 07, 2006
Kitsch a Falling Star
Rebecca: This is so bad, it's almost good.
Enid: This is so bad, it's gone past good and back to bad again.
-- Ghost World
I'm not now, nor have I ever been a member of the "Kiss Army."
In fact, I'm pretty sure I can safely say that if there were ever an opposing force facing the Kiss Army in battle, I'd probably join up willingly -- no draft required. I'd do this for no other reason than the fact that I and my Band of Brothers would almost certainly emerge victorious against an army of acne-addled kids who had to stop fighting every few minutes to masturbate, or roll a set of ten-sided dice to determine their next move.
In deference to those for whom I haven't made myself clear enough: Kiss fucking blows; they always have. They're probably the single most overrated and undeserving phenomenon in rock history -- and this is coming from someone who'd pay good money to watch every Grateful Dead/Phish fan mauled by bears. That, my friends, is saying something about the depths of my loathing for the geniuses who brought you that masterpiece of musical affirmation, I Wanna Rock & Roll All Night (and Party Every Day).
That said, you can imagine my reaction when I learned that A&E's latest foray into the creatively-exhausted reality series genre would be a show called, Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
For weeks now, the advertising for this monstrosity has been unavoidable in New York City; everywhere you go, it's impossible not to find yourself staring into the aging mug of Gene Simmons as he self-parodically flashes the "devil sign" with his fingers. It's enough to make you realize that the only reason you probably didn't find that so ridiculously funny back in the 70s is because -- well -- you were really fucking high.
If the unfortunate return of Gene Simmons were an isolated incident it would be easy to overlook, or at least blow off as the purely nostalgic lark of a former General in the Kiss Army (Ret.) who astonishingly went on to find employment that didn't require wearing a blue apron and a button that reads "How Can I Help You?" -- such as A&E Network Executive. As it turns out though, Mean Gene is just the latest in a string of people you probably never cared about in the first place, who've seen their careers miraculously resurrected by the cultural affliction known as reality TV.
Thanks mostly to cable channels like VH1 (the worst offender), Bravo and A&E, the nagging questions that've been haunting you day and night -- "How's Peter Brady's love life?" "What's Danny Bonaduce doing to make himself even less commercially palatable?" "How can Flavor Flav single-handedly destroy the legacy of Public Enemy?" -- can be answered as only an unscrupulous camera crew and a has-been in need of a paycheck can.
The problem though is the way it's being sold to you.
People who once had some small amount of cultural relevance -- deserved or not -- are now promoted as comforting kitsch; their images from long ago are given an ironic twist and repackaged for a new kind of audience which has supposedly understood from the start that these celebrities were always worthy of a certain amount of good-natured mockery -- even if the folks in the spotlight never understood it themselves. Their second-wind has turned them into my generation's version of lava lamps and lawn flamingos -- so uncool that they're cool.
Right now, no one's riding this wave higher than "The Hoff."
In case you're unfamiliar with The Hoff's humble beginnings, he used to be known as "David Hasselhoff," pathetically-awful actor, Messiah to the German people and a fucking laughing-stock to everyone else. He unknowingly worked damn hard to earn that kind of derision; he was a near-lethal combination of arrogant and untalented. The thing is, he still is. The only difference between the Hasselhoff that everyone teased mercilessly throughout the past two decades and the Hasselhoff of today -- besides the several million he's made off the rights to Baywatch -- is his willingness to cynically capitalize on his own absurd image. Make no mistake, there's a difference between learning not to take yourself too seriously (Shatnerization?), and callously milking the public's kitschy fascination with you. There isn't a chance in hell that The Hoff ever thought he was half the asshole the rest of us did for all those years.
I had honestly hoped that my generation -- the so-called too-cool-for-their-own-good slackers of Generation-X -- wouldn't follow the example set by the Boomers, who arrogantly believed that their childhood was so fucking special that everyone would willingly open wide for the nostalgia they constantly forced down our throats. Technically we're not -- what we're doing is worse. At least the Boomers sought to relive the good old days through the people and places that were beloved by them; in classic dickhead Gen-X fashion, we're digging up the corpse of our youth and kicking its skull off by inflicting idiots like Hasselhoff on television audiences, of which we're a part.
Larry Miller once did a really great bit during his stand-up routine where he said that getting re-married is like putting sour milk back in the refrigerator in the hope that it'll somehow be better later.
If The Hoff, Mean Gene and so many other second-wind celebrities were pretty much sour to begin with, why the hell do we expect them to go down any better now?
(Incidentally, Gene Simmons's real name is Chaim Witz; am I the only one who thinks that Chaim Witz's Family Jewels -- in addition to probably being a very real shop in New York City's diamond district -- would've been an infinitely funnier and more clever title?)