Candy-colored clown

The last movie Adriean and I saw in the theatre was Children of Men. It was January, well after the midterm elections, but the explicit Abu Ghraib imagery was still a shock. The ads for Quietus, the government-sponsored suicide drug, were great and reminded me of a similar scene from the ’70s dystopian classic, Soylent Green.

The whole experience got me thinking about how our popular culture offers clues to the changing zeitgeist. In hindsight, all that paranoid cinema from my youth rightly screams Watergate/Kennedy assassinations/Vietnam to us now, but I wonder if it felt so obvious at the time? That the Bush years have been a nightmare suddenly appears to be conventional wisdom. Welcome aboard the bandwagon, there’s room for everyone, but when exactly did the news become so widespread and accepted?

Before I go any further, get up from your computer and run, don’t walk, to watch The Parallax View — in particular the recruitment film shown to the would-be assassin Beatty about 3/4 of the way through the movie. Please, those of you more technically adept than I (and this is all of you), if you can embed or otherwise post that clip in one of your comments, it is not to be missed.

As far as tipping points go, I grant that Children of Men is not all that mainstream. But what about Esquire magazine? I get a cheap subscription and like the Dubious Achievement Awards, but the entire project speaks to a profound crisis in whatever concept of masculinity they want to sell. In February of 2002, Mel Gibson shadowboxed on the cover under the headline, “How to Be Tough.” In January 2007, the cover features a triple amputee Iraq veteran, Sgt. Bryan Anderson.

So we’ve “won,” right? We’re all slowly becoming realists now? Ms. Winfrey (my nemesis, but more on her later) chooses a Cormac McCarthy book for her Book Club. And he’s coming to sit on the couch! Please ask him about Child of God, Oprah. Make my day.

But then I get this in my e-mail:

ABC needs your help to make someone’s dream come true!

In the spirit of ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’, Donny Osmond hosts ABC’s newest gameshow, ‘The Great American Dream Vote’*, a new series that grants the wildest dreams of one lucky contestant!

Be in the audience as contestants from across America reveal a lifelong dream to you and explain why they think it needs to be fulfilled. Anything is possible. All they have to do is convince you, the audience, to vote for them. Be a part of the audience and help make someone’s dream come true!

I’ve got nothing against game shows.

I can’t necessarily pronounce words properly when I am on them [Editor’s note: phyrric is indeed pronounced “PIR-ik,” which doesn’t make Alex Trebek any less of a jerkhead], but the concept of getting something for nothing warms my heart.

Or, more accurately, receiving goods and services for demonstrating an otherwise unmarketable facility for retrieving facts from my rapidly deteriorating memory gestures towards a sense of justice I often find lacking in our world.

Combine this with an alert and supportive agent (Reader, I married her**) and you’ve got yourself a ready-made contestant.

But what is the game we are being asked to play here? Who can be most abject? Who has the most pathetic tale of woe? What is the payoff here? On the surface, sure, we can all squeeze out a tear when the family with nineteen adopted kids fall to their knees in the street in front of a chorus of flag-waving neighbors as their brand new McMansion is unveiled. But isn’t there a “there but for the grace of God go I” element to this kind of voyeuristic altruism? Have years of Bush economic policy made people feel that a game show is our new social safety net? Is ABC suddenly a faith-based charity? I mean, they did get Donny Osmond and all, but don’t they realize that the modern-day saint they have under contract only works afternoons and is never more popular than during her “give-away” weeks where every audience member goes home with everything from Burberry sweaters to a brand new car?

Miraculous saviors have always been welcome, but the Deus ex machina of capitalism combined with an entitled sense of ambition seems peculiar to our times. “I deserve it because I want it and wanting things is my dream and nobody can take that away from me” is the mantra of every winning locker room or red carpet interview. Prosperity religion preaches the same idea from the pulpits of many megachurches. I don’t read college applications, but I know enough people who do to offer that academia, the supposed bastion of some pretense of meritocracy, is not immune to this kind of circular logic as well.

Perhaps Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Ashcroft/Gonzales/Rove-speak hasn’t quite been discredited thoroughly enough after all. The reality-based community has made some strides, but the fallacy of wanting something to be true simply because it would be profitable and require less thought seems to be alive and well among us.

And what is the difference between The Secret in hardback and DVD? Do I need to read the book and buy the disc or can I just want it badly enough and the law of attraction will draw it towards me?

Keith Talent, in the Martin Amis novel London Fields, is described as lying in his bed at night, “furiously wanting goods and services.” But at least Keith knows what he has to do to get them: he’s a cheat; he steals what he wants. And Keith, bless him, is wide awake — there’s the rub.

As for me, I’m still waiting for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” to call…

* The Great American Dream Vote was cancelled after two episodes due to poor ratings.

** Re: The White Album disc 2, track 12 — this post was going to be overly personal and topical but I just couldn’t do it after what happened to Tim’s left hand.

23 responses to “Candy-colored clown”

  1. lisa t. says:

    Here you go, Ruben:

    Though I haven’t seen The Parallax View (just put it on my netflix cue), but your post reminded me of one of Farrell’s writings from earlier this year.

    A question: if we’re not “playing the game,” then we’re “realists” who can see that we’re bound to slow (or quick) self-destruction?

  2. lisa t. says:

    ooh, i hate it when i’ve got a syntactical mistake that i can’t fix. please ignore the “but” above.

  3. Tim Wager says:

    My left hand’s just fine, Ruben, thanks for your concern. And Lisa, you know I have a problem ignoring buts, so why do you even ask?

    Butt seriously folks, TV *is* the new reality, just like Baudrillard says. If it does not appear on the set or YouTube, it just didn’t happen.

    Maybe we’ve reached the tipping point, as you suggest here, Ruben, but I think it will take a new show along the lines of, say, “Who wants to waterboard a suspected terrorist?” to get people to understand how twisted our current administration is. Or, even more perverse, a new wrinkle on “Fear Factor,” straight out of Orwell, in which congestants, er, contestants (damned punning is confectious!) vie with each other to withstand various tortures. Prizes will include therapy and plastic surgery to repair the scars.

  4. Lane says:

    Wow! the Candy-Colored Clown! Get my tank of nitrous, call Isabellla, Kyle and Dennis! And most importantly BEN!

    . . . ummm . . . this is a Blue Velvet joke . . . does anybody get that?

    overly personal indeed.

  5. okay, #4 confirms my sense that Lisa seriously misdiagnosed Ruben’s east coast parallel. i’ve always thought that Ruben’s densely packed, associative, cryptically allusive posts remind me most of Lane’s paintings (and a couple of his posts). You sort of need a key. (Is there a followup post: “A Key to Candy-Colored Clown”?) Or at least some linkage. Even so, I enjoyed this (and enjoy deciphering Lane’s paintings too). Ruben is the West Coast Lane.


  6. see. i’m so nice to readers that i even inserted some links so people could see what the hell i was talking about.

  7. Dave says:

    Ruben is the West Coast Lane.

    That’s exactly what I thought when I read this post.

  8. i think people need to give this post a little more love than it’s received so far.

  9. Stephanie Wells says:

    Okay, I have been on hiatus for a variety of personal reasons, but I have to come back momentarily because I agree with Bryan. I actually loved this post even though I didn’t understand all of it. The references are not always concrete enough for me, but when I am “inside” enough to get them, they’re always hilarious (and who edited Alex Trebek down to a “jerkhead”? I’d love to know). I really like the way so many threads are woven back together in the end, and even more, I would love to read a post about Adriean sometime!!!!

  10. Lane says:

    “It’s a strange world”

  11. are we supposed to google that?

  12. Lane says:

    no, this is all so stupid. I hope Ruben has seen Blue Velvet like 17 times like I have, for some reason, (it’s really only worth seeing maybe . . . twice)

    The Candy-Colored Clown is a song by Roy Orbison. In Blue Velvet, Dean Stockwell does this lip sync thing to it. It’s amazing, wierd, threatening, funny, queer, just . . . “out there”

    Laura Dern’s “tag line” to Kyle McClauglain in the film is “It’s a strange world” It’s funny.

    I thought Ruben might get the reference.

  13. Ruben Mancillas says:

    The title of the song in question is “In Dreams”, written and performed by Roy Orbison.

    The opening lyric is A candy colored clown they call the sandman tiptoes to my room every night just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper, ‘Go to sleep, everything is alright’.

    And yes, of course, it was a reference to the brilliant scene that Lane and Lisa T. mention above. I used to drink PBR exclusively and not (just) because it was so cheap.

    My other working title (and I got the idea from Scott) was “Bet your bottom dollar” from that Annie song.

    The only other choice that I considered didn’t work lyrically but I do promise to eventually give Stevie the entire post that she deserves.

    Not to get all Copernican with my coasts but wouldn’t Lane be the East Coast Ruben?

    Now who is going to post that Parallax View clip? It rivals Dean Stockwell singing into a lightbulb, I promise.

  14. Tim Wager says:

    Don’t forget the best line of all from Blue Velvet: “He put his disease in me.”

    I’ve seen The Parallax View, but I have to say it was a long while ago. Must to rent.

  15. #12 — it’s not stupid, lane, it’s just proving my point that you two seem to be in some sort of mutual orbit. i admit, i am on the outs because i saw blue velvet only once fifteen years ago. and that’s just one of the references. my larger point — and it was intended to be both humorous and appreciative — is that the two of you have very similar thought patterns and ways of expressing points through dense webs of connections. i like that, don’t get me wrong. i’m just mildly amused that there are two of you out there doing it.

  16. Lane says:

    HAPPY APRIL 6TH! (just kidding)

    Oh Bryan, there are legions of Ruben/Lane thinkers out there. Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Oregon, California. These states were populated by people running from these dense webs of connection.

    If China is the world’s oldest civilzation, built on Manchurian schemes designed to favor a family at the expense of the many, then California is it’s new world answer. A nation state built on the promise of indivdual happiness where all the wrongs of the past can be dealt with.

    We are blessed to live within it’s reach.

    And no Ruben, I Am The West Coast Lane.

  17. Lane says:

    I meant its

  18. Dave says:

    I Am The West Coast Lane.

    A voice speaking from the burning bush.

  19. Tim Wager says:

    Ruben, is this the scene from The Parallax View you meant? Dang.

  20. wow. dang indeed.

  21. Ruben Mancillas says:

    That would be the one.

    Thanks for getting it up there.

  22. Stephanie Wells says:

    I just watched that scene and it makes me feel like the guy in the Manchurian Candidate.

  23. Lane says:

    Well . . . isn’t that clip a little too sincere? I mean it’s nice and all, for what it is, but . . .

    “It rivals Dean Stockwell singing into a lightbulb, I promise.”


    Alan J. Pakula is no David Lynch. And we can all thank god for that.

    He does however compare favorably with Sydney Lumet.

    “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

    Has anyone seen “Network” recently?