Friday, March 30, 2007

Which came first, art or the egg?

Okay, so tonight I glanced around at the TV monitors in my gym, just to take a little inventory, see if I could pick up any pattern. The evening gym population is pretty much young single professionals with a few middle-agers sprinkled around. The usual basketball fans, ESPN, a few CNN-watchers--mostly those without headphones looking at the bylines, always the Law and Orderers, one or 2 on MTV, I Love New York on VH1, the E channel—but amazing how many of these people are tuned into the Food Channel. I mean, it used to be daytime mothers and housewives who watched Julia Child and that English guy. Okay, I admit I was addicted to Project Runway for a month or so and had a small crush on Sam in the last Top Chef season until I figured out how ridiculous it was to be watching a reality show based on the completely untelevisable of the five senses. I mean, we can judge fashion—we can see the rooms the designers are putting together on the latest series, we can judge hair competitions and bathing suits—but food? Like watching a color challenge on a black and white television. Maybe someone figured out a wired-up American brain actually had most activity during commercials for edibles. Snacks and TV have long been marriage material. I just don’t get this… like Silent Music Videos. Whatever.

What does get me is the remarkable set of teeth on literally every single one of the contestants. Are these people remade for television? Styled? Has it been noticed by marketing experts that Americans cannot bear to watch any TV Talking heads with human teeth and thus each one is given a set of perfect white porcelain veneers? Or are they just actors—are they pretending to be design students or ‘foodies’(God, I detest that word). A friend of mine knew one of the Top Chef contestants. But does that make her real? These people have jobs, but we all know nearly all of the restaurant personnel in Manhattan are acting like waiters and waitresses, waiting not on customers, but for their big break.

Which brings me to the next issue: if you want to see talent in this town, we used to say, look to your waiters and bartenders, not to the mostly boring and worn-out song and dance acts you see on stage. Serving you your cheesecake and expresso is the next Lou Reed or Patti Smith. Maybe. Maybe Not. Because they can no longer afford to be bohemian couch-crashers on the Lower East Side and you have to practically earn a banker’s salary just to afford to share a couch in a small room in New York City. So some of them wait tables in upscale restaurants and earn more than any young musician earns in Manhattan which sort of edges them out of the category of starving artist and maybe diminishes their true creative capacity. Let’s face it, the extremely well fed in this town, and those with the perfect white teeth, are not exactly going to be motivated to create cutting edge art. What they are creating, or acting out, or thinking about, is Food Channel art. There is even Food Channel sex, now—that hunky Australian who picks up women in the grocery store and goes home with them…speaks the suggestive language of pounding and rolling and pressing… is that not the current version of the locomotive in the tunnel? Come to think of it, he has great teeth, too. So do all the pretty-great looking girls he picks up, like they are freshly air-brushed and waiting with plenty of gas in their cars and I’ll bet they have clean bathrooms in their suburban little homes. Or sets. I get mixed up. But the Take Home Chef needs huge perfect teeth to eat that great food he cooks up. And to laugh on-camera. And to offset his Rod Stewart haircut. Rod Stewart undoubtedly has perfect teeth now, too, even though he’s English and the English have a tradition of pride in bad teeth. But he lives in America now. Hollywood. He watches the food channel and smiles, shows teeth that look as though they have never ‘lived’, never worked, never suffered, chattered or gnashed around under duress or sleepless nights. Never opened a Heineken.

Even the Extreme Makeover people who, incidentally, don’t look that bad at all to me. Maybe a little too real for TV, at least at the beginning. But no Quasimodos. And most of them look not much younger or better afterwards---except they do get the teeth. But afterward—at the welcome-home party—their families cry and smile and hug and are extremely poised for regular people in front of cameras. They are well-dressed and their teeth look great. Am I missing an episode? Or are American teeth getting fatter too? Whiter?

So I am wondering—I really, really need some dental assistance. Should I audition for Top Chef? I’d never make the cuts…Extreme Makeover? I don’t really like the haircuts. Should I take my issues to Tyra or Dr. Phil? Last Comic Standing? It’s all pretty pathetic, and I’m pretty sure they are actors because I telephoned Bravo and asked if there would be a Harlem version of Desperate Real-Life Housewives and would I get the teeth now or later and they hung up on me.

One thing for sure, on the television channels most watched at health clubs, there is not going to be much art. In fact there is not going to be too much art on any TVs because real artists, from what I can see, have bad teeth. For real artists, Art comes before dentistry, art comes before food. Americans don’t like bad teeth, don’t want art on TV. And they are right. So give up, PBS. I admire what you do, I certainly raised my kids on Sesame Street, I appreciate the Masterpiece Theatre efforts, but Art doesn’t belong on television. The Food Channel and Bravo have shown us—not matter how hot the chef, no matter who wins, all television is missing the fifth and now most important sense in our overweight US culture: Taste. And if, in our cyber future, there is enhanced full-sensory HD television…I’m sure we’ll all be too fat to move from over-channel-eating.

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