This is reality. Today is Martin Luther King Day. And instead of thinking of Dr. King's great speeches and his important moments in American history, I am thinking about Mr. Pants On The Ground.
There used to be a time when celebrity status was virtually untouchable to the vast majority of society. Being famous was once a cool club made of bigger-than-life icons. Being as talented as Marlon Brando or as beautiful as Marilyn Monroe was once an "unreality" for us, and for the most part, an impossible dream. Today's Reality TV, paradoxically by definition, blurs the lines of unreality and reality. In fact, the industry of Reality TV is to control the "unreality" of that once impossible dream. In this great democracy of the information and digital age, its great consequence is the growing separation between fame and actual accomplishment. Fame not only comes to bear less and less relationship to actual accomplishment but actual accomplishment itself becomes an impediment to fame. Andy Warhol was a prophet. Now everyone can be a celebrity. Everyone has the same opportunity to enjoy, in a term I am now coining: "Flash fame."
Tabloid magazines used to faithfully follow movie-stars for their scandalous scoops, until the phenomenon of Reality TV blew up their "stars" and raised sensationalism to a higher level. It turns out, movie-stars are actually boring because they have careers to protect and have everything to lose. While Reality stars having nothing to lose and they know -- at least the smart ones do -- that their careers are short and encompassed within the quick expiration date of a flash fame. The crazier you are, the more Youtube hits you'll get.
AMERICAN IDOL gets its cake and eat it too. It is this nation's biggest and most-watched talent search. Simultaneously, it is also this nation's biggest and most-watched freak show and is our greatest criminal against victims of flash fame. There are three types of people in this world:
A) Those who only watch the audition phase of AMERICAN IDOL because they are exclusively interested in seeing others make fool of themselves.
B) Those who only watch the contest phase of AMERICAN IDOL because they are exclusively interested in seeing the best and most talented rise to the top.
C) Those who watch all of AMERICAN IDOL from beginning to end.
For the record, I fall into the "C" category. Like reading a great Russian novel, we follow these characters from their humble beginnings to their triumphant climax with a little bit of scandal and tragedy in between. I love AMERICAN IDOL and have never missed an episode since Kelly Clarkson was first crowned. The end of every season, I am glued to my TV, staring at the Kodak Theatre stage waiting to see who will be named our next Idol in the same way Catholics watch the Papal conclave. I've also seen the parade of freaks come and go. From cringe worthy hall-of-flash famers William Hung to the tragedy to Paula Goodspeed's suicide.
This new season of AMERICAN IDOL brings forth another tragedy: General Larry Platt and his performance of his original song, "Pants On The Ground".
Platt's audition on IDOL is, in and of itself, not the great tragedy. It is quite hilarious in a surreal, what-the-fuck way with its repitition of Beckett-like epic proportions as we wait for the song's ending, which of course never comes until Simon Cowell had to put a stop to it. The audition went viral instantly and the world had the pleasure of wrapping its brain around "Pants On The Ground" in the way Parisians must have had when they first read a Tristan Tzara poem. Welcome to flash fame, Larry.
But it was his performance on this morning's episode of THE VIEW that is the great tragedy:
What was pure about Platt's AMERICAN IDOL performance -- how it caught us off guard and how he seemingly was in on the joke cause he knew he was too old to make the contest but signed up anyways -- is now completely lost and perverted on THE VIEW. There is Larry Platt, dancing around like a clown to the morbid pleasures of several hundred middle-aged women in the audience clapping to his rythmn. What exactly is the audience celebrating? His singing talent? His dance moves? Are they making fun of him and not realizing it? After the performance, in the same seriousness a Rolling Stone journalist would ask Bob Dylan what inspired him to write "Blowin' In The Wind", Sherri Shepherd asks Platt what inspired him to write "Pants On The Ground". Platt's responds, "Walking one day...I saw a guy with a baby bottle in his mouth...his pants on the ground...sucking the baby milk in the baby bottle. That's what gave me the inspiration." Then Sherri turns to Jason, Larry's nephew sitting in the audience and asked him to share his thoughts on the situation. "I'm just really proud of my uncle," Jason claims, "He's finally getting the word out...that he wanted to do for all these years." Snickers from the audience. Jason continues, "He's getting his word across. I'm just happy for my uncle. He's been a good inspiration to me."
Inspiration for what you may ask? And what is the word he is trying to get across? In just a few brief seconds later, we learn that Larry Platt has been a Civil Rights activist since he was 16 and has marched with Martin Luther King several times. There's even a photo of Platt and King together at the same march. But the great tragedy of Larry Platt is not that people will remember him for all that he worked for in the Civil Rights Movement (hell, that's not even what got him on THE VIEW). Larry Platt's legacy and lasting image will always be -- on Martin Luther King Day -- dancing on THE VIEW to a silly song of little social importance called "Pants On The Ground". When people think of the "inspiration" that his nephew speaks of, it is not the inspiration he had to sacrifice for a cause he believed in. It will be the inspiration to make yourself a fool on IDOL so that it would lead to a flash fame moment that comprises of Brett Favre singing your song in a locker room and Elizabeth Hasselbeck reaching her hand out to you on stage to help you off your ass.
The reality of it is enough to break your heart.
Mike Le is a writer/producer living in Los Angeles. He is also the creator of the webcomic DON'T FORGET TO VALIDATE YOUR PARKING.
You can follow Mike Le on Twitter: @DFTVYP