David Copperfield’s a Piker Compared with These Illusionists

There are concessions one makes once one opts to accept particular lifestyle changes — such changes including, for example, living in suburbia and having children. One concession that’s been giving me agita (hey, nice use of one of the new words, eh?) is the realization that the opening act in my Sunday night television viewing (leading into the HBO suite of The Sopranos, Carnivale, and K Street) is... American’s Funniest Home Videos. Now, I could claim that this choice is a result of Pam and my having been members of the show’s studio audience during our first trip to Los Angeles — but, naturally, I’d be lying through my teeth. Though I must say, for the record, that Bob Saget (the show’s host at the time) is a hell of a lot funnier in person than the plasticity of his on-screen demeanor would indicate; the second the cameras turned on... well, something unfortunate happened.

No, the show remains on our weekly agenda for one reason, and one reason only: The kids love it.

Now a very large part of my adult psyche rebels vehemently against this nadir of Hollywood “entertainment.” But then another part says, “You know, as ridiculously insipid as this is, it’s... well... funny.” As Patton Oswalt put it in his glorification of the entertainment vehicle that is Cops, there’s just something irresistible about white trash that you can’t help but laugh at.

Last night, though, we turned on the television to find that our usual fare had been preempted. And preempted by something that made me feel just a tad better about spending my Sundays with what’s-his-name, the new host of AFV (as our seven-year-old calls it). Yes, last night was the broadcast of the Dick Clark fabrication, the American Music Awards.

If ever there were an example of the absolute lowest to which the entertainment industry could sink, this was it. An awards show for which the winners were determined exclusively by... well, popularity. Ummm... isn’t that the same thing as record sales? I suppose the crowd that watches this is the same group that thinks the industry actually gives a shred of credibility to the People’s Choice Awards. News flash, to anyone who might, through some honest mistake, find themselves actually watching one of these shows: These awards shows are a joke. Nobody in the industry thinks otherwise; celebrities appear on these things only because the nature of their jobs requires them to pay lip service, to make an appearance for appearance’s sake.

Oh, they make an effort at actually providing entertainment. Jimmy Kimmel, the host of last night’s crapfest, is a talented comedian, and it became clear early on that he wasn’t taking it seriously. Britney Spears opened the event, showing very clearly that she’s decided to abandon the “tween” demographic in favor of... well, mine. (Okay, so I can’t help but find her not-quite-innocent act enticing, but I’m at least intelligent enough to know that it’s a carefully orchestrated ploy. Well, usually, anyway; I didn’t hear a note she was singing. Oh, shut up.)

But the best moment of the evening (well, at least as far as I saw, which was no more than the first twenty minutes) came before the event started, when the red-carpet hostess (who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup) asked attendee Dennis Franz who he favored in one category or another. He promptly broke character and said, rather frankly, “I don’t know why the hell I’m here.” I nearly broke out laughing; finally, here was somebody who’d say honestly what those of us with half a brain knew all along. The stars are here because they have to be; no, there’s nothing appealing about this — it’s strictly business.

I remember Pam’s cousin once telling us what really went into a Tonight Show appearance: You come up with three different stories, and Jay (or his representatives) decide which will be the funniest, and then they come up with a ham-handed sequé so that he can bring it up. It’s all fake — any rapport between host and guest is, at best, exaggerated.

All so the folks at home can maintain their little fantasies about the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle. As with Britain and their royals, I suppose we’ve got to maintain our own native nobility.


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