February 02, 2006

# 38

"Look, Dad! I wrote a story!"

- Andy Kaufman (February 2nd, 2006).

The world was an amazing place back in 2010. I was 1.2 metres taller and owned more llamas than I knew what to do with. But 2010 won't be remembered by the world for my overwhelming height and crafty woolen creations. It'll be remembered for...

It was billed as 'The Revolution of TV Participation' by free-to-air television. Networks that required an injection of funds to generate moving pictures had continued without veering from their steady diet of half-baked programming. Billions upon billions of dollars were spent on advertising: the advertisements showed us as much. No medium, apart from the form of television that demanded payment by those who wished to see something, was spared. No rock was left unturned. In fact, hermit crabs of every religious denomination and of every political leaning were evicted with the same degree of goal-inspired zeal as the homeless residents of Atlanta prior to the Olympic Games by Nike many years earlier. The advertisements showed us as much. To ensure the ultimate contest of human involvement, which the doubtful few had called 'spiritless endeavour,' was as successful as the amount spent on advertising was hopeful of achieving, the perception of everything appearing flawless triggered an attention to detail never before encountered.

Technology commanded an omniscient presence in the most inconspicuous form to that point: a camera-microphone-cola and snacks dispenser the size of a matchstick head, capable of transmitting crystal clear pictures and sound, was mounted on top of every contestant's television set; the only stipulation of the contest not determined by each contestant's actions. Well, that and the signed and character referenced statement that the revolutionary piece of technology would be returned in its original pristine state.

The unique guidelines for participation had been advertised for at least a month. I remember them as if they had been advertised for at least a month sometime not long ago, or perhaps tattooed on the soles of my feet: be present; be still; be awake; don't be an embarrassment to your country; don't be crude or vile; don't blaspheme; don't be a smart-ass; don't partake in illegal activity; don't sulk; don't pleasure yourself; remain clothed at all times.

Judging of the contest would also be a step forward in the list of firsts as four super computers joined by several dozen cords to the same power outlet via a four-way plug determined the solitary winner after seven-hundred and seventy-seven consecutive hours on the air.

I remember the show's compare saying after a brief introduction: "This is the first contest in the history of live television without the outcome already decided, ladies and gentlemen."

I also remember the show's sponsor, 777 Snack Foods, had invested in the show its annual marketing budget for the next forty years. The advertisements showed us as much. Information about the company's illegal trade in human organs for creating their Liver, Kidney and Spleen line of gourmet, high cholesterol, non-potato chip chips would surface years after the company's insolvency and the placement of television next to coffee, alcohol and tea on the expanding list of illegal drugs taxed by governments.

Key rings, shaped in the design of the show's logo and thrice repeated digit of the number seven in off-centred horizontal formation, were stuffed into large boxes and dispersed by convoys of semi-trailers to shopping malls around the country. The advertisements showed us as much.

T-shirts, of the show's logo, a caricature of the show's host's face bearing the thrice repeated digit of the number seven on his forehead, and a third design, which combined the show's logo, thrice repeated digit of the number seven and a global map of the world in one-dimensional form inaccurately depicting the United States of America in the centre, were dropped from army planes usually entrusted with dropping outdated supplies of pesticide-ridden assortments of grains inside farm-sized hessian sacks, or sandbags, with no explicable purpose, in remote parts of third-world countries. The advertisements showed us as much.

'How To' instructional DVDs, starring Calista Flockheart and David Schwimmer, with a soundtrack composed, arranged and dutifully performed by Vonda Sheppard, sealed at the sides with a pair of fluorescent blue lips inspired by Pink to comply with applicable merchandising laws of the time, were transported by every available armoured truck beyond the host city's limits and across borders to where their reception was predicted to be positive, although six of the eighteen studies conducted had shown conclusive evidence that a mass outbreak of dissatisfaction loomed if the once-in-a-lifetime donation of $10, payable quarterly in installments of $8 each, was enforced. The advertisements showed us this as well.

The advertisements showed that, not including the battalion of unborn human foetuses at the time, the estimated viewing audience was predicted at a staggering eight-hundred and twenty-six billion, give or take, easily the most impressive viewing audience of any television event since the first episode of Jackass aired. I distinctly remember the advertisements showing us as much.

"We're mildly hopeful," said Gunther Belt, one of the show's ninety-five executive producers, "of making a real killing with this thing. I mean, if it doesn't come across as something anyone without an ounce of measurable talent can win then we're monumentally fucked with the likelihood of the sequel ever materialising, aren't we?"

I remember it as if it were yesterday.

Months of planning were over. Problems had been smoothed over, ignored, extinguished, debugged, eradicated, exterminated, assassinated and even deloused. I distincly remember the mega bucks that went into the whole operation. The advertisements showed us as much.

I remember the inaugural American Idle contest settling into the starting blocks.

I remember looking at the television set and hearing a balding man in elk moccasins saying, "Five, four, three," as his fingers completed the countdown to a fist.

"Hello there, ladies and gentlemen in TV Land," the foolhardy compare bellowed through a set of denchures unlikely to make its way through a block of blue vein cheese. I remember he paused dramatically before looking deep into the camera's soul and continuing: "I'm your host, Chuck 'Charles in Charge' Wavely. This is the first contest in the history of live television without the outcome already decided, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you've all watched your DVDs and carefully prepared your strategies, for this li'l journey of yours into super stardom is about to commence. Are you ready?"

I'll never forget how much I needed to pee at that exact moment.

"All righty then! Fritz, sound the hooter!" Chuck said.

And then it happened...Fritz sounded the hooter and the very first American Idle was in full swing. I remember the picture-in-picture-in-picture-in-picture part of my television set lighting up like an epileptic Christmas tree after almost a year of inactivity. People were being eliminated from the contest at the rate of memory cells in the presence of Absinth. It was like that game of Atari whose name I can never remember: explosion after explosion after explosion with more and more destruction to your ant hill mounds supposedly acting as your only line of defence.

Pow, pow, pyew, pyew, rat-a-tat-a-tat...It was carnage of the most horrific kind. The advertisements showed us as much.

I remember sitting so still that I forgot to breathe for about two minutes. Before I realised I was slipping into a self-induced coma, the camera-microphone-cola and snacks dispenser the size of a matchstick head had materialised from within a boxing glove the size of a door, which then smashed me squarely from the bridge of my nose down to my shins. The last thing I remember before I passed out was the phrase, "Drink Coke, loser!"

Once I was back among the conscious, I cracked open a uranium can of Coke, sipped its acidic contents and watched the television set, which had changed every one of its fifty-eight million colours to one: red. I had to face the truth. I was no longer in the running for American Idle.

It stopped bothering me after a day or two and I went about my daily life for a few weeks before tuning in again out of sheer curiosity. To my amazement, three people were still in the running for the title. I was so excited by the latest developments that I swore to marry the first person who came knocking on my door.

Three minutes later, the Iranian bloke who delivered my authentic German Bratwurst-sauerkraut combo meal and I were engaged to be married. I called him Dave because I couldn't pronounce his real name. The advertisements showed us as much.

We enjoyed watching the final few days of the inaugural - and only - American Idle because it brought us closer together. Spiritually and emotionally, Dave and I couldn't have been more united than in the two seconds prior to the announcement of the winner. The advertisements, which were duly R-rated, showed us as much.

I remember the instant the entire world, consisting primarily of the United States of America, turned on its head. I couldn't forget it if I tried. The advertisements showed me as much for three straight days. It was when the nine-year-old Somalian girl was crowned American Idle Champion. Her story was tragic. The advertisements showed us as much. She'd been placed in front of the tube by her new foster parents, who had told her not to move under any circumstance until they returned from their vacation in the Bermuda Triangle.

And the young Somalian girl didn't move. Not even after the network ran a story, sponsored by ABC Soft Drinks, a division of 777 Snack Foods, about the circumstances which had led to the death of the young Somalian girl's foster parents, did the young Somalian girl move.

She was so committed to outstaying everyone in that damned contest that people thought she was mocking everyone else. The other two contestants who had made it into the final three, Darryl Drexler of Bummphuck Ridge, Idaho, and Clarence Wilted-Bottom of Seven-Toe Springs, Nebraska, were instrumental in instigating a smear campaign based on hearsay and proof by Etch-a-sketch. The advertisements showed us as much.

Anyway, the rest is ancient history, as the timeless saying goes, and there's no way I could ever go back to being a part of any of it. The second I try to relive the good old days of participating in American Idle, I have an uncontrollable urge to pee. No, Siree. Now that I've got reacquainted with my mate backgammon and my other mate slinky, not even the promise of capital punishment is enough to make me be a part of the evil television again.

"This is the first contest in the history of live television without the outcome already decided, ladies and gentlemen."

I'll never forget that.

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