Sunday, April 14, 2013

Missing George

Realizing the absurdity of this statement - and unless this is your trip to this particular section of the virtual words you know the regularity with which absurdity abounds in these parts - I am constrained to confess that I was reminded again this week just how much I miss George Carlin.  

In the interest of full disclosure I am constrained similarly to admit that I did not know Mr. Carlin.  In fact I never saw him perform live.  The closest he and I ever came to one another was when we assumed our respective positions on either end of the cathode ray tube and I watched him do his thing on HBO or some such place.  Upon his death, he was referred to ceaselessly as a "comic genius".  Respectfully, that sobriquet does not do him justice.  It suggests - to my mind anyway - that he was being celebrated because of his skill in that particular field.  Truth be told, Mr. Carlin was a genius whose preferred vocation was stand-up comedy.  His genius was not dependent upon him being funny.  

Years ago, during one of his appearances on the radio with Don Imus, he shared with Imus one of the tenets that he strove to honor when he performed, which was directing his jokes at those not typically the target of humor.  He went after the established and the entrenched.  To this day, I recall him telling Imus that he was not much impressed by those comedians who made their living by telling jokes about - and at the expense of - those who Mr. Carlin deemed to be "defenseless".  He preferred focusing his intellect and his wit on those who he knew possessed the resources and the station in society to engage him if they chose to do so.  I reckon at his core he was a fan of a fair fight.  He refused to engage an easy target.  

For a number of years - much to my delight - the television program American Idol existed merely as a rumor in my day-to-day.  To my recollection, up until the Spring of 2011 I had never seen an episode of it.  I  do not live in a hole so I knew then - as I do now - of Simon Cowell and crew.  I simply exercised my right to vote by not watching the show at all.  

At some point a couple of seasons back - for reasons that escape me - something about American Idol captured the attention of the Missus.  Given that she works full-time and that as far as she knows I do likewise and we spend scant little time together during the week, when we are in the same place at night we tend to watch television together.  I have become quite adept over the years at switching back and forth between a particular program and a Yankees game or a Rangers game without either of us missing out on too much of the good stuff.  I have mad remote control skills.  Should the need ever arise to update my CV I shall find a spot near the top of it to insert that.  Most likely after my name and immediately before my Admission to the Bar of the United States Supreme Court.  Nothing is set in stone on this point though. 

When American Idol started up again this winter, the Missus resumed watching it.  Early on - when they show footage culled from what seems like an endless process of moving around the United States and allowing people to audition by the boatload - they introduced America to a young man named Lazaro Arbos.  

Truth be told, to my unsophisticated ear the most extraordinary thing about this young man is not the quality of his singing voice.  Rather it is the fact that he was apparently born with an almost crippling stutter, which has in fact worsened as he has gotten older - he is twenty-two.  It so impacts his ability to talk that when they  met him at whichever stop he auditioned he confessed that he worked as an ice cream scooper because it was the only job he could get where he did not have to do "smart people stuff" like talk.  Yet when he sings, the stutter disappears altogether.  

His story is compelling enough that as his performances worsened week in and week out and he was subjected to deserving yet withering criticism, whoever it is who actually votes for the contestants on this show (Margaret has sworn to me on the kids' lives that she has not gone through that rabbit hole) continued to vote him through to the next round.  Until this past week.  Deservedly he was eliminated. 

Yet he did not deserve to be treated as he was.  First, on Wednesday night after appropriately criticizing him for his performance while the youngster was standing before him and calling his performance the worst in the history of the show, Randy Jackson tore into him again following the next contestant's performance.  He took not one - but two - pot shots at the kid, referring to the train wreck that Arbos had been while talking to the next contestant.  Conspicuous by his absence - and his inability to defend himself or otherwise respond - was Arbos.  

The following night, as Arbos gamely awaited his fate the show aired his performance clips from the night before accompanied by Jackson's "worst performance ever" line.  They interspersed them with comments from Jimmy Iovine, who has added the role of "mentor" on American Idol to the three gazillion other gigs he presently has.    As someone who has loved Springsteen's music for the entirety of my music-listening life and who is familiar with Iovine's long-standing relationship with Springsteen, I would not question for a moment his music bona fides and his scathing criticism of the previous night's performance was (based upon what Margaret and I had watched Wednesday night) eminently fair.  

Yet in those same taped comments that aired on Thursday night he too refused to pass up the chance to take a gratuitous pot shot at a defenseless target.  Lazaro Arbos was one of six contestants remaining at the time of his elimination.  Knowing that fact did not stop Iovine from chirping (in his recorded segment), "I would have voted him tenth this week" and then responding (upon being reminded by a voice off-camera that only six kids were left in the competition) with a shit-eating grin, "I know".  He still had that same grin on his face Thursday night when the camera panned to him seated in the audience about one hundred feet from where the young man with the terminal stutter he had just hammered sat frozen - on live television - watching the remarks for the first time.   

It never ceases to amaze me the depths to which we the people shall descend to belittle and to besmirch one another for sport.  It takes neither courage nor creativity to pick on someone whose position is inferior to your own.  A shame that taking the high road never occurred to either Jackson - who is remarkably tone-deaf to the fact that having "Only Judge to Serve on Every Season of American Idol" as a highlight of his CV is only slightly less embarrassing than "TV Remote Control God" is on mine - or Iovine.  Both should know better.  Apparently neither does. 

Worse yet,  perhaps both do and what happened the other night was that neither gave enough of a fuck about the twenty-two-year-old amateur performer whose balls they kicked up through the roof of his mouth on worldwide television to pass on the chance to hit him once he was already down.  To borrow a line from my all-time favorite Second Chair Sam Weinberg - all they did was beat up on a weaker kid.  That is all they did.  They belittled a young man for sport.  An all-time punk move.    

Samuel Johnson once observed that, "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who does him absolutely no good."   The further we get from that baseline standard of behavior the smaller and smaller we ourselves become....

....and the more and more I miss George Carlin. 


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