to be in amerika

June 9, 2009

I watched two award shows this past weekend and the second one was the broadcast of the Tony Awards last night and during the broadcast of the Tony Awards last night I was kind of feeling like I wanted to shoot myself in the head, which I say as a figure of speech, of course, since really I only felt like I wanted to cut off my ears and poke out my eyes with something sharp, sorry, I just don’t like musical theater or theater in general actually, some Beckett I guess but that’s just the theater that people who don’t like theater claim to like when talking about theater, right, the way people who don’t like jazz will still say Coltrane is a genius or own a copy of Kind of Blue or whatever, but I don’t like theater and my dislike for theater is not casual, I hate theater with a passion that verges on the melodramatic, I hate theater theatrically, I do,

my brother in oklahoma
my brother in ‘oklahoma’

but then in this absurd plot twist my younger brother loves theater and especially musical theater and in fact loves them so much that he’s studying theater acting at theater acting school right now and that’s not all because really we’re a theater family, actually, because also my father has fond memories of performing in several high school musicals in the seventies, one of which is the place where he met my mother, my mother and father were in a school production of Oklahoma together and that’s where they met, on the stage or behind it or somewhere around it, which of course means that musical theater is almost directly responsible for my conception and life and maybe that’s the reason why I hate it so much, like my hatred of theater is a grudge I bear against God and Nature for all the suffering of human existence, although it could also just be that I hate speak-singing and unsubtle lyrics and big facial expressions and gestures, whatever, either way,

geoffrey rush in ‘exit the king’

and so as a family we were watching the Tony Awards last night and I was feeling like dying, figure of speech again, I’m such a drama queen, and during the commercial break, I was using the remote control to scroll through the channel guide, not actually changing the channels because that would have elicited stage left shouts of “Go back!” and “We’re going to miss something!” but just scrolling around to sort of remind myself of all the other choices available on television, the hundreds of things that I could have possibly been watching besides this, cartoons and cable news and Cash Cab, all the possibilities of the medium, but then the commercials were over and the show was back on, god, “Clear off the guide, I can’t see!” my father yelled from the cheap seats, god, and the show was back on and after every commercial break it just kept coming back, like a cold that wouldn’t go away, where was Doogie Howser when I needed him, and it just kept coming back and there was singing and dancing and miming and prancing and then Geoffrey Rush won Best Actor in a Play for Exit The King, and in his acceptance speech he said, “I want to thank Manhattan audiences for proving that French existential absurdist tragicomedy rocks,” and what that speech made me think of was not Ionesco or Beckett or the cultural elite patting themselves on the back about how they “rock” but the other awards show I watched this weekend,

howie mandel in ‘deal or no deal’

because I watched two award shows this weekend and the second one was the broadcast of the Tony Awards but the first one was the 2009 Game Show Awards on the Game Show Network, which was hosted by noted germaphobe and bald guy Howie Mandel, who is also the host of one of the most existential absurdist tragicomic game shows in the history of television, Deal Or No Deal, a game which involves people standing on a stage and opening mysterious boxes by proxy and then bargaining about the unknown contents of the boxes with a shadowy and aggressive figure looming above them whose voice we never hear, a game in which skill and knowledge and background are irrelevant, a game in which the story is the opposite of some fairy tale like Slumdog and the lesson that’s learned from every episode is that life is completely random and meaningless but hey here’s a prize to make you feel better, god, it’s so depressing, I think Peter Brook directed the pilot from a treatment by Pirandello,

and so the 2009 Game Show Awards themselves were truly existential and absurdist and tragicomic and this was partially or mostly because, in a very meta gesture, the ceremony was composed of a string of miniature game shows, which was maybe a clever premise except the problem was that all the people who produce successful game shows were in the audience instead of actually running the show, so that the ceremony was really like one big technical difficulty, it made the minor glitches at the Tonys seem insignificant, the decapitation of Bret Michaels notwithstanding, and the games themselves were simply ridiculous, like to give one example (as seen above) there was a game in which famous (?) Jeopardy contestant Ken Jennings had a trivia contest with Charo in which all the questions were very specific details about Charo’s life but Charo still didn’t know some of the answers to the questions or couldn’t express them in something approaching the English language and that was one of the more normal games really, I wish I had a clip to show you of the most tragic part, a game called “Name It and Claim It” in which Howie Mandel, amid myriad technical difficulties, spent like literally 5 minutes trying to get a pair of brain-dead contestants to spell out the words “Motor Scooter,” but I don’t have a clip because nobody really covered or clipped the show or seemingly even watched it besides me and this guy,

but anyway, getting to the point, my favorite part of the ceremony, or at least my favorite part of the half hour of the ceremony that I actually really watched, was the award for Favorite Celebrity Team On A Game Show, which, yes, is an actual award at an actual award show, I know, and the nominees were the Brady Kids (Greg, Bobby, Cindy) on Trivial Pursuit: America Plays, the cast of The Office (Phyllis, Meredith, Creed, Kevin) on Celebrity Family Feud, and Penn and Teller with Carrot Top on Don’t Forget The Lyrics, and so the clips of the shows were played and there was a dramatic pause and the winners were…The Brady Kids on Trivial Pursuit: America Plays and everybody clapped and the Bradys took the stage to accept the award and their acceptance speeches were brief and completely ridiculous because what do you say to accept that award, you know, you can’t cry, you can’t say you’ve been dreaming of it all your life, there aren’t really a long list of people who made it possible for you to get to this place, like even thanking God seems wrong in some way, like God would be offended for being thanked for such an insignificant and stupid award, and so their acceptance speeches were like:

Bobby: “I don’t think it’s right for me to get this award, since I got zero answers correct on the show, but anyway I’m honored and thank you very much.”
Greg: “One of the things that makes this so special is that game show fans voted for it, so thank you.”
Cindy: “I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank Bob Barker for urging people to spay and neuter their pets!”

and then after they won the award, it was time for another game show, of course, a Very Brady game show, and so upbeat music played and lights flashed and members of the audience ran onto the stage smiling in brightly colored t-shirts and this was the other thing interesting thing about the 2009 Game Show Awards, that in the audience with the people nominated for awards and their spouses and et cetera was another audience, an audience of contestants, just regular people in brightly colored t-shirts ready to play games and hoping to get a chance to win prizes and mixed in with the producers and creators and stars of the shows they watched at home, all of them together in the theater watching the ceremony, and as the preparations went on for the Brady game, in which teams of contestants would recreate scenes from popular Brady Bunch episodes in a relay race,  I thought of Oklahoma, not Oklahoma, the musical where my parents met and acted and fell in love and in which the seeds of my existence were sown, no,

I thought of the Theater of Oklahoma, the theater described in the final fragment of Kafka’s Amerika, the place that our existential absurdist tragicomic hero Karl finds at the end of his horrible journey through this country and how the fragment starts when Karl, down on his luck after suffering so much at the hands of so many Americans, sees this poster which announces that the Theater of Oklahoma is hiring new employees and that in the Theater of Oklahoma, there are jobs for everyone, that everyone is welcome,

The poster offered Karl one great enticement.  ‘Everyone is welcome,’ it said.  Everyone–in other words, Karl too.  Everything he had done was forgotten, no one would reproach him anymore.  And he could sign up for work that was not shameful and could be advertised openly!  And they promised just as openly that he would be taken on.  He certainly could ask for no better; he just wanted to start off at last in some respectable career, and perhaps this was it.  For even if all of the boasting on the poster was a lie, and even if the great Theater of Oklahoma was merely a little strolling circus, it wanted to hire people, and that was good enough.  Karl did not read the poster a second time, but glanced through it to find the sentence: ‘Everyone is welcome.’

and in the Brady game, the first leg of the relay race was a sack race, which was apparently in some famous episode of The Brady Bunch, and the second leg involved the contestants digging through a large inflatable pool filled with apple sauce to find pork chops, which was apparently in some famous episode of The Brady Bunch, and the final leg involved the Brady Kids throwing footballs at giant reproductions of the face of Marsha from The Brady Bunch, which as we all know was in the most famous episode of The Brady Bunch, all of them throwing these footballs at this giant reproduction of Marsha’s face to try to trigger a soundbite of her saying “Oh, my nose!” and to score points to help their teams win, always the goal is to win, and the thing is, we don’t know what Kafka meant by that last fragment of Amerika, in which Karl gets a job with the Theater of Oklahoma and which ends with him on a train heading through the American wilderness on his way to his new life, we don’t know what it means, and there are two kinds of theater according some old ancient Greek guy, there are tragedies and comedies and the difference depends on the ending, tragedies have sad endings and comedies have happy endings,

and some people say that the ending to Amerika is a sad ending, that the Theater is a trap, too good to be true, and they point out how Karl is forced to erase his identity and take the name “Negro” and they reference how the Theater of Oklahoma apparently owns its employees, that “they all belong to the Theater of Oklahoma,” like slaves, but others say that it’s a happy ending, apparently Max Brod said Kafka told him that the ending was happy, that within the Theater, Karl would find a place for himself, would find freedom and love and all the things he’d been searching for, the American Dream, and I don’t know what the ending means or whether it’s happy or sad or something else entirely, an “existential absurdist tragicomedy,” but I prefer a happy ending, personally, so that’s how I read it, and at the end of the Game Show Awards, Howie Mandel said, “Remember, game shows are better than life, because in life you don’t get parting gifts,” which is an okay line I guess but of course stupid, since even though life is really, really hard sometimes, it’s still much better than a stupid television show in which you might win some home appliances or a small cash prize, since the question is not whether to deal or not deal, it’s to be or not be, and the answer is yes, okay, to be, because a verb is a thing you do and a person is a thing you are, I think I saw that on a commercial once, and at the end of the Game Show Awards, which had a happy ending, thank goodness, an audience member was awarded all the prizes that had been awarded to individual winners in all the games throughout the show, he was awarded a car and a cruise and a brand new living room set, among other things, and at the end of the Game Show Awards, the audience member stood there on the stage with everybody, the producers and the creators and the stars and the other contestants, lights shining all around and upbeat music playing, and he stood there on the stage with everybody and he was smiling and everybody was smiling and clapping and all of them just so happy, all of them celebrating the win, and at the end of the Game Show Awards, everybody on the stage and in the audience was smiling and clapping and winning and then somebody pressed a button and suddenly confetti was falling from the ceiling of the theater, it was falling over everybody like brightly colored snow, and then the screen went black and the show was over.


5 Responses to “to be in amerika”

  1. Mar Says:

    Is it weird to be inspired by how Howie Mandel is so high-functioning even though he’s obviously constantly on the edge of a nervous break-down? Doesn’t his deep neurosis (and our knowledge of his neurosis) automatically render anything he hosts waaay more macabre than it already was (and, you’re right, Deal or No Deal [“Binary Systems: The Game Show!”] is already deeply unsettling?) Anyway, this was a good post.

  2. songsaboutbuildingsandfood Says:

    No, you’re right, it is kind of inspiring, especially since it’s something other people seem to be so conscious of. The opening sketch of the Game Show Awards was this surreal dream sequence in which Bob Barker, dressed in biblical-ish robes with a shepherd’s crook, I think, came to visit Howie to give him advice and like literally the first joke made wasn’t about game shows or award shows or something but about his phobia (Bob: “You know there aren’t any germs in dreams, Howie.” Howie: “I can’t be sure!” LAUGH)

  3. Mar Says:

    Oh man. I think Howie Mandel deserves to feel safe in his dreams, if only because of Bobby’s World.

  4. Andrew_TSKS Says:

    Wow, dude, I knew you liked writing run-on sentences but you totally just out-Faulknered yourself there. Too bad your Kafka quote had to come along and fuck it all up, with its periods and such.

  5. songsaboutbuildingsandfood Says:

    Fuck, I didn’t even think of that. Maybe I’ll replace it with a picture of like the wheel from Wheel of Fortune or something.

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