Posts Tagged ‘tv’

television: kennedy center honors 2013

30 December 2013
The Kennedy Center Honors are where power briefly pays homage to talent, especially unpolitical, upbeat, pretty talent. Britain has its Queen’s Birthday and New Year honors, Finland has its Independence Day medals and gala, and this what we have. Every year in early December five veterans of the performing arts are garlanded with rainbow striped ribbon and made to sit at the Kennedy Center next to the President watching a variety show about themselves. They don’t get to make an acceptance speech, but can mug and mime from their seats. The 20-minute segment for each laureate consists of an introductory speech by another celebrity; a short documentary film with mellow voiceovers like, “He grew up poor in Chicago,” and “She was chasing the American dream”; and live performances by others of the laureate’s signature works, or if this is impractical, testimonials. Recurring categories include:
  • The national treasure who never left our screens: Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Bruce Springsteen
  • The formerly famous performer of the narrowcast arts who is now nearly forgotten: Sondheim muse Barbara Cook, opera singer Martina Arroyo, Natalia Makarova, exponents of bebop and free jazz
  • The funny person you wish could give an acceptance speech: Neil Simon
  • The person who seems heavily sedated, watching it all from a high altitude, and really ought not to give an acceptance speech: Brian Wilson
  • The adopted American: Sir Paul McCartney, Mikhail Baryshnikov (“He grew up poor in Riga”)
It is a show of performers performing emotion: “I’m so honored by this honor!” “I’m so honored to be here honoring you!” “I’m so moved by your homage!” “America loves you!” “I love America!” “Overcome!” “Humbled!” The politicians act too, laughing at jokes, singing along: “I too am a human being who likes a good show.” Most of the time emotional exchange at this scale is comically rote: Meryl Streep scrunching up her face and inclining her head and making praying-hands gestures. But sometimes you get a moment: Arroyo looked genuinely shocked this year as four of her former students came out to sing.


before the fall

1 January 2007

Signs of the apocalypse, stateside trip edition:

    • The success of the For Dummies series, which now have entire sections of their own in bookstores. Do readers really think are dummies? Do they really want to own these ugly, condescending books? I am particularly frightened by House Flipping for Dummies, but cheered to think that at least in the current climate nobody is likely to publish Explosives for Dummies.
    • Armed & Famous, a TV show that merges the Cops reality-law enforcement genre with the genre of shows about celebrities doing things outside their limited competence. I look forward to seeing Celebrity Rocket Scientist, Celebrity Border Guard, Embedded Celebrity Troops and Celebrity in Congress next year. Bill Maher, who used to run Celebrity Political Pundit, must take some of the blame for this.
    • An Idols-meets-Apprentice reality show in which the viewing audience votes to decide who will star in a new Broadway musical. Whatever happened to artistic vision? Must we decide everything by televised plebiscite? Next thing we’ll be electing the President by … Oh. Wait.

Mind you, theater is already audience driven to an extent most audiences are probably not aware of. Last fall on the department’s study trip to the Shakespeare Centre in Stratford we were used as a focus group for several plays, and we also learned that there are staff who attend performances specifically to listen to the audience and pass overheard feedback to the directors and actors – who do make changes based on it.