There are a great many traditions. Some are fun—like costumes and trick-or-treating; some are bitter—like tearing clothes and covering mirrors; and a few are surprisingly important—like standing when hearing the National Anthem—and singing along. I was reminded of this recently, at the end of “The Comedy Central Roast of Roseanne Barr”, when the Roastee, Roseanne, sang the last few bars of the anthem: “…o’er the laa-a-a-nd of the frre-e-e-e-e, and the hooome of the bra-a-a-a-ave!” with the voice of an angel—the complete opposite of her ‘comedic character’ performance at the start of baseball game, way back when, wherein she screeched and scratched herself and spit—just like some old baseball player before the days of the tight-shot on the players at the sidelines and bullpens.
Some people got it. But the ones who didn’t get it, as always, ended up fodder for the media-made scandal over ‘Roseanne’s insulting of the whole country’. Roseanne issued a statement afterwards, when told of the witless people who didn’t get, or like, her comedy, saying “I was doing a routine, it was all in fun.” But the media always ignores anything that actually settles a ruckus—they work too hard to create them to let any common-sense-spouter come along and ruin their fun. So, fin de siècle, Roseanne closed what may have been her final appearance on a stand-up comedy program by singing the song with perfect pitch and a surprisingly sweet tone. Back when the whole thing was a media firestorm (Roseanne, back when she was big, was BIG!) I remember sympathizing with her—she was obviously mugging her way through the stadium routine—and only the stupidest, most myopic cretin could have honestly seen it as an affront to the only nation that could have given rise to a ‘Roseanne’-type celebrity.
People seem to like accusing their enemies of lack of patriotism or loyalty—or, better yet, of immorality and blasphemy. But that’s just on the TV. In real life, if I don’t get along with someone all that well, I can recognize it as personal outlooks clashing, or mismatched personalities. No one in my neighborhood ever gets accused of treason or evil—and you never hear about anyone famous being accused of it either—until they get famous enough to become targets of all the embittered activists and scandalized ‘Mothers Against [enter cause here]’.
I can feel the pull of its gravity myself. When someone like Paul Ryan gets me all riled up, I get that urge. I wanna go get this guy! I wanna shout to the rooftops, “Can’t you see he’s an evil, lying, classist?!” Or when someone really gets under my skin, like Adele, I want to send her fan-mail. I’ve never talked to the woman in my life, but suddenly I want to communicate with her. Thankfully, I don’t follow through on those urges because I remind myself that I’m just drawn to the flame of attention. No one who ever gets a good dose of it fails to regret it, yet it lives on in all of us—we wanna be paid attention to. We have no reason, no great message to share—we just want everyone to look, look at me, look over here.
In our celebrity-oriented society, there are some new traditions. There’s the tradition of winning a talent show on TV, most notably American Idol, then getting a recording contract and then touring to promote the new CD—then going on the talk shows (morning and evening) to plug the new CD and to debut before the TV audience as a fully-vetted mini-celebrity. After that, there are forks in the road—movies, reality shows, big-time touring—these ‘winners’ have as many opportunities as they have the stamina and the talent for. But the first part, the enthronement process, if you will, is a familiar process by now—almost a tradition.
The talk-show circuit is its own tradition—no longer the plugging-directly-into-the-pulse-of-the-nation, as with the old, network-TV era of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”, et.al.—but a more standardized program format there never was. Traditionally, Letterman, Leno, Conan, Ellen, Stewart, Colbert, Kimmel, Fallon, or Craig will do five-to-ten minutes of stand-up monologue based on the day’s news and the latest gossip and politics. Then we see the host do a bit: audience interaction, pre-taped clips of ‘funny’, Top Ten, Today’s Word, Back in Black, whatever. Then the lead celebrity is brought on. Film-pluggers and new TV-series stars always have a ‘clip’ to watch, and then host and guest discuss the film, or book, or Gold Medal—whatever. And that is the traditional way for an American to go to sleep at night, to dream of expensive products and exciting shows they will acquire and attend tomorrow.
There’s another new tradition. But it will wait. I plan to come back to this topic—not only to examine other, newer traditions but also to examine the changing nature of what is a ‘tradition’. Later….