It recently came to my attention that we had changed TV satellite signal providers. Having been a DirecTV household for many years, in the course of one afternoon when I was elsewhere located and otherwise occupied, there was apparently a moment in which operatives had installed a Dishnetwork disc onto the roof, our erstwhile receiver boxes had been unceremoniously relegated to a position of low status by the dumpster, having been replaced by a thing I was told is a “dual receiver,” liberating space in my lair, but most jarringly, my remote, my REMOTE! – had been usurped by one that was – there is no kind or polite way to put this – different. As in not the same. Not the one my fingers knew, not the one my thumb called friend.
How had such a thing come to pass in my house? Am I not the head of not only it, but a stunning array of respectful descendants, an entire clan, nay nation-quality TRIBE of distinguished and noted individuals of ancient and historic lineage? Am I not addressed and deferred to daily, hourly, continuously, with flowery honorifics of such exquisite and elaborate language that old dead Fahad himself spins green with envy?
Who, WHO, I demanded in my most fearsome and imperious tone, emerging from my lair and assuming my most intimidating and regal pose at the top of the stairs, WHO? I will know the name of the benighted and soon to be ill-fated entity that has dared to do this thing!
A few descendants became present at the foot of the stairs, looking appropriately terrified. But not guilty. The knave could not be among their number. A few more hesitantly joined them, eyes satisfyingly saucer-like with fear. But still no guilt.
Believing I had probably assembled about the best crowd that was likely at this hour of the morning, I decided to go to Step Two, and find out whom they were protecting.
Unusually tall people seldom have either need or inclination to “draw ourselves up to full height,” and while I pride myself on good posture, and certainly do not ever humch myself over in what would be a both futile and ridiculous attempt to make myself look any less tall, it is extremely rare that I will make a deliberate and conscious musculo-skeletal effort to add additional fear factor to my person. But I did so now. This was Step Two.
“WHO?” I thundered. Another thing I do not often do, being blessed with what I have been told is a naturally stentorian tone, a basso-profundo that can be unnerving to the faint-hearted and the very young, as a consequence, I have made it my custom to try to speak softly. But though there may be only a handful of occasions, even in a life as improbably long as my own, when a man has need to thunder, finding that his beloved Remote has been summarily replaced by another unfamiliar, not the same, DIFFERENT device, is one of them, and so thunder I did. They were covering for somebody, and I would not have it.
There was something like a sound from the now visibly trembling assembly cowering in the foyerette. It sounded to me like someone trying to say “um,” but their mouth was too dry.
“SPEAK UP! WHO?” I thundered again.
A very small descendant cleared his very small throat.
“Um, most honored and cherished and respected ancestor, I thank you for my existence, and hope you will, in your kindness, permit me to say that our most honored and cherished and respected Mother Ancestor, to whom I am grateful for her love and thoughfulness, without which I would not exist, said that – ” he piped, but was interrupted by a breeze of silk and the scent of roses and sandalwood and oud and maybe jasmine, I have never figured out exactly what, but it is a fragrance that has enchanted me, and been my privilege to enjoy for more years than most mens’ lives last, and – well never mind that, but there was the peal of her laugh, “More channels, less money,” and the next thing I knew, my arms held sunshine and all the sky, and as I was wearing my distance vision glasses, I could see that the fear-rounded eyes at the bottom of the stairs were twinkling, and someone whispered something like at their age, so sweet, and someone else gave him a soft reproving kick and hissed and we are damn privileged that it is so, hyena brain, and then there was flagrant, blatant, unabashed giggling on the part of my descendants, whom I dismissed. “And we can pause live TV!” Madame explained. I mumbled something about the remote. “Oh, is it different?” Madame seldom touches any remote, except to turn the set on or off, and occasionally change channels. “Well, there’s a booklet.”
What there is, it turns out, is a thick manual. An FM. Which, I suppose, I shall have to read. I will be obliged to RTFM as they say, in order to be able to perform the feat of Pausing Live TV, which is apparently something that the rest of the world has been doing for some time now. Madame is most eager to watch with glowing pride as I wreak this miracle of modernity. She, of course, is as disinclined to “booklet” reading as she is to operating remotes, except as previously noted, but is nevertheless confident that I will be the most proficient and remarkable Pauser of Live TV in all the land.
I reach for my reading glasses and pick up the hefty FM. I note the size of the print and change to the industrial strength reading glasses, and after perusing it for a short time, I find that I have become very skilled at channel-changing, an activity which quickly demonstrates to me that Madame was correct, as usual. There are indeed more channels.
There is one in particular that I have never seen before. It is called the Style Network, and I am immediately fascinated by it. I decide to leave it there for a while, as I alternately RTFM and check the news on the internets, which usually runs a month or so ahead of CNN anyway, news-wise.
The target audience of the Style Network appears to be young, affluent American women and girls. The shows tend to be about “ambushing” women and committing upon them acts called a “makeover.” The makeover always has three elements: hair, makeup, and clothing. Sometimes the young women look, to my eyes, considerably worse after the makeover. But they all express the view that they look much better. Many claim the experience will have changed their lives. Another element common to all the makeovers is that the ladies are obliged to put on crippling high heeled shoes, whether they had previously been engaging in this particularly grisly form of self-harm or not.
There was also a variation of the Ambush Makeover called The Look for Less. This show differs from Ambush Makeover in that the acts committed on the young lady are consensual. She has apparently approached the show people, outlining her need to obtain a high fashion Look for Less in order to impress friends and family at some special event.
My heart went out to the hostess. Although she cannot be more than twenty-something, already she has had quite a bit of cosmetic surgery. She looks like she might have been a very pretty young girl before these surgeries, though since all young girls are beautiful, this is something of a subjective and relative notion. The poor thing has had false cheekbones inserted into her face, and decorates the resulting protrusions with an immoderate amount of rouge. She has also had that popular lip fattening operation, in the style of the popular actress the descendants refer to as “FishLips” though her actual name, Angelina, is very pretty, I think, and like the hostess of the Look for Less, one has the impression that she too might have been pretty had she refrained from having these surgical operations. Anyway, the Look for Less hostess, whose name is Yoanna, now has a look that is somewhat reminiscent of the Lady Clowns in the old style circus shows, as well as several members of the popular Jackson family, who are frequently employed as unintentional clowns on the new style circus shows. And a very high pitched voice. This, I learned, is one of the show’s defining features. This show contains more squealing than any of the others, which is saying a lot.
The hostess, the “Special Guest Stylist to the Stars,” as well as the seeker of the Look for Less are all required to have very high pitched voices, and substitute squeaking and squealing sounds for words quite frequently. They appear to understand each other, so I realize that it is a modern dialect, and is also being understood by millions of young ladies.
Anyway, the show goes like this: The hostess, Yoanna, shows two photos of fashion models wearing designer outfits to the Special Guest Stylist to the Stars and the Seeker of the Look, they choose which one will be most appropriate for the Seeker’s Special Event, then Yoanna gives the Special Guest Stylist to the Stars $150 and informs her that they have an hour to achieve The Look for Less. Special Guest Stylist to the Stars and the Seeker run off hand in hand down the length of an upscale mall, squealing. They run into a store, as Special Guest Stylist to the Stars explains that this or that component of the Look should be searched for first, as it will be the most difficult or cost the most. The announcer informs us, in a high pitched voice, that time is running out, and we are shown scenes from the upcoming segments, where Special Guest Stylist to the Stars and/or Yoanna express great anxiety and dismay that the Look may not be successfully duplicated before time and/or money run out.
A worried Yoanna sometimes offers to help, sometimes reminds the duo that they only have fifteen minutes (they do spend some of their time meeting Yoanna for these mini-conferences before dashing off again, teetering on their crippling high heeled shoes, and squealing.)
The shoppers hurriedly flip through the racks, breathlessly squealing infobits for the benefit of Seeker and viewers alike, that this or that does not quite achieve the Look because it is too something or not enough something else, but miraculously, with seconds to spare, all the garments necessary for the Look are obtained for under $150 and the Seeker emerges wearing them, looking, as one might imagine, nothing remotely like the model at the fashion show in the picture, but radiant with happiness because she feels that she has the Look.
Please pardon a bit of pontificating here, but it is hardly a recent phenomenon that couture houses design their clothing for ladies who are six feet tall and weigh a hundred pounds, and this is, in fact, the approximate size of the fashion models who pose in the clothes on the “catwalk.”
All the “Womens Liberation” that has allegedly taken place in the west has not changed this fact, nor has it changed the fact that very few ladies who are not fashion models are six feet tall and weigh one hundred pounds.
Thus, it does not matter whether one is rich enough to purchase the original designer Look itself, or whether one copies it for less, with or without the aid of Yoanna and the Special Guest Stylist to the Stars, the Look is not going to be the same on a lady who is of more nearly “average” proportions, and it is hoped that these these Seekers of the Look will, as their mothers before them, come into a more enlightened bloom and liberate themselves to discover and celebrate their own Look, one that they design for themselves, to flatter their own faces and figures, and leave the Looks in the glossy catwalk photos to Kate Moss and ilk.
And continuing in that same vein of hopes, it is also hoped that Yoanna will, upon her own bloom into the fullness of her adult womanhood and accompanying improved judgment and refinement of taste, return to the surgeon and ask him to restore her own cheekbones, which will look better on her face than anything in the false cheekbone catalog, and I am told by a descendant that poor FishLips and all who follow her in that unwholesome lip fattening custom must do so every few months, so Yoanna will require no surgical repair to return her mouth to its natural shape.
After watching two or three episodes of The Look for Less, I felt a distinct discomfort in my ears from all the squealing, and was relieved to see that the next show would be about weddings.
This show, and its genre-mates, for I was to learn that there does in fact exist an entire genre of Wedding TV, is actually quite educational, at least for those of us who are not so familiar with American wedding customs.
Again, I must pontificate. Westerners, specifically Americans, frequently criticize the east for the undeniably deplorable and unquestionably indefensible custom of families going into debt, often a debt they will not be able to pay and will therefore be passed on to the next generation, in order to put on an elaborate wedding whose purpose has more to do with impressing the larger community with their “generosity” than with what should be a celebration of family, of love, an occasion for the families of bride and groom, and those who love them.
On one of the shows, a wedding planner stated that the average wedding in the US costs $20,000. According to the US Census’ figures, about half of the population of the US enjoys an annual income above $35,000.
If that wedding planner’s statement was accurate, either those Americans who decry the east for going into debt to pay for expensive weddings are opening themselves to charges of hypocrisy, or Wedding TV only spotlights very rich people, because most of the weddings featured cost far more than twenty thousand, and about half of them run into the hundreds of thousands.
Yet to my admittedly persnickety old eyes, they appear to get very little for their money. Perhaps the splendor does not translate well to the small screen, but one would think that for such immense sums, there would be such an abundance of it that it would translate even to the screen of a cell phone, but unless one counts the already-present glitz of a few posh hotel salons, what is provided by the small army of caterers and planners and florists and cake artists seems singularly lacking in splendor. I will make a near-exception, I suppose, for the cake artists, I have seen at least one cake deserving of that adjective, maybe two.
I cannot help but wonder what they would think of our humble weddings, humble in that no one goes into debt, nor is there any intention, as so often stated by the members of the TV weddings, to impress anybody, or do anything that “no one will be able to top,” but almost everything is done by family and friends, so our total expenditure for “fees” hovers steadily at zero. I say “almost” since I am not the family expert on these matters, by any means, and I may be overlooking something, but the food, the flowers, decorations, music, “venue,” and even the wedding garments are provided by family members and close friends. And seldom have I seen such splendor.
When not aiding those seeking the Look, or ambushing strangers on the street found to not be in possession of the Look, or educating earth residents on the strange marriage customs of Americans who, having achieved the Look, have been rewarded with what we may hope is love, (though if it is based on the bride or groom having the Look, chances are not good) the Style Network is sort of like an extended dance mix of the traditional White Trash TV fare that can be seen on traditional network TV.
I find this particular genre of programming to be exquisitely entertaining: Breaking News! Eva Longoria involved in car accident! And just WAIT till you hear WHICH famous A-lister was seen at Quizno’s – WITHOUT MAKEUP! We’ve got the latest developments, and only we have the photos, right here on Entertaining Insider’s Current People’s Edition!
Various ologists have compared modern-day “celebrities” to the deities of ancient pantheons, and while some pantheons are so ancient that not even I am able to accurately recall any must-see cuneiforms that can be said to be homologous to the shows hosted by Pat O’Brien and Mary Hart, there are good arguments to be made that the adulation and emulation lavished on the “A-listers” has more in common with actual religious sentiment than the theologically correct overpious sentiments professed by many Westerners regarding Jesus and his mother.
Though clerics have for generations inspired little but rolling eyes and yawns in their exhortations to young Christian ladies to adopt a “Mary-like” style of dress, if Britney or Angelina or Nicole so much as attends an industry function wearing a particular style of gown, young Seekers of the Look from New England to Seattle will demand that every store from Wal-Mart to Saks allow them to pay some homage and dollars to it.
And while clerics and parents alike have largely given up any expectation of modern young men or women being anything approaching “Christ-like” in their deeds and behavior, adoption agency execs everywhere have been grinning like Cheshire cats and high-fiving each other ever since Brad Pitt signed himself over to the fatherhood of Fishl – um, Angelina’s adopted babies.
All this is understandable if one considers that the purpose of anthropomorphized deities and their friends in the first place was to make them more “accessible” to humans. While there are and have always been those who are perfectly comfortable with abstract concepts, the fact is that the majority of people want, even need, a more familiar hook upon which to hang such weighty notions. They can only sit and contemplate the nature of One-ness or Infinity for so long before wanting to know all about the romantic scandals of Zeus and Isis and King David, and what they were wearing when the scandal went down, and just what all the other principal players had to say about it.
This was as true of the ancients as it is of today’s most intrepid Seekers of the Look, so before we let the scorn curl our lips beyond the ability of even Nick Arrojo to relax them, we would do well to stop and reflect on all the occasions in ancient times when the current gods were toppled, in favor of the new and improved gods. Not the overnight sensation topplings favored by kings and warlords and invaders, but the gradual erosion and re-beachings that occurred over time, with near-evolutionary slowness.
So the next time someone asks if Britney or Angelina could be the new Madonna, it just might behoove you to hold back the sneer, and purse those lips instead, while looking very, very thoughtful…