Monday, February 28, 2011

The Original Reality Show

Last night brought the single episode of the season for one of television's most enduring reality shows ... The Academy Awards.  Now in it's 83rd year, with an almost entirely new cast each season, this show somehow never fails to attract attention, despite the abundance of reality show rivals.  Is the Best Actor somehow more prestigious then the Iron Chef or the American Idol?  Does the Best Actress outshine the Biggest Loser or the pick of The Bachelor?

Fifty years ago, historian and all-around smart guy Daniel Boorstin wrote about pseudo-events in his 1961 book, The Image.  Pseudo-events are events arranged to give the impression of being news.  The Oscars ceremony is probably the grand-daddy of these, with lavish sets, elegant couture, film clips and other references to the art actually being honored (lest we forget), all staged to inflate the importance of movies and the movie industry.

What about books?  Maybe such a ceremony is what's needed to raise the profile of literature, and to elevate books to the status of entertainment, instead of mere art.  Wouldn't that be something?

After pausing on the red carpet to gush to the media about their tweed jackets with elbow patches, and their jean/sweatshirt ensembles, the year's top authors, editors and publishers file into the Library of Congress for their big night.  Flashes sparkle as Margaret Atwood, Ian Frasier, Patti Smith, Salman Rushdie and many others saunter into the hall.

Dazzling in their sweats and bathrobe, co-hosts Dave Eggers and Barbara Kingsolver exchange witty banter while introducing the succession of award presenters.  Legend Philip Roth is escorted onto the stage to present the award for Best Using of Gerunds (and to flirt shamelessly with Kingsolver, whom he repeatedly addresses as Anne Frank.)

Tension mounts as the posthumous achievement award goes to Stieg Larsson.  Finally, no less a figure than J. K. Rowling, the Steven Spielberg of literature, takes the stage to award the prize for Best Work of Fiction to ... H.R. 2: Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.

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