Friday, March 20, 2009

Hollywood Reality

I am addicted to the reality television shows starring over-the-hill celebrities. Celebrity Rehab. Celebrity Apprentice. Any show could use the "celebrity" prefix in its title and I would immediately become a devoted viewer. Animal Planet could air Celebrity Dogwash and I would be there.

I wish they had a series like these back in the old days of Hollywood. I can see it now. It's 1938. RKO short subject director Hal Yates crams together a bunch of old actors and sports figures into a small home in San Fernando Valley. The series, called Celebrity Bungalow, features Billy Bevan, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bobby Jones, Theda Bara, Charles Ray, Bebe Daniels, and Mickey Walker.

I am not as fond of the no-name, do-nothing people who are featured in other reality shows. These alleged "reality stars" remind me of the grotesque characters who romped around in Keystone comedies. Walter Kerr described the early slapstick comedians as "pre-moral." These reality stars are post-moral. Tom Calderone, the president of VH1, deserves the Mack Sennett Golden Pie Award for his extraordinarily egregious reality shows, which bring together unruly low-class people to get drunk, slap each other, punch each other, fall down, and become involved in insanely silly flings. Slapstick performers had an anything-for-a-laugh spirit that made them do lots of wild and crazy things. Reality stars are exhibitionists who are willing to do anything to get attention. They adopt outrageous personas to be bigger-than-life. They give themselves catchy nicknames. The other day, I saw a self-professed golddigger on a reality show. She was a living cartoon, as exaggerated and flashy as the golddiggers that populated slapstick comedies. These shows have pie fights, chases, and dudes dressing in drag. Reality Television, the New Slapstick.

Come to think of it, a slapstick comedian like Billy Bevan probably had too much dignity to do a reality show.

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