Tuesday: NBC's "Who Wants To Be A Hilton?"
One day several years ago I decided to do the Clark State Forest trail, a twenty-mile loop around the perimeter of the area. But when I got there it turned out that the trail, though listed in the current DNR guide, had not existed for several years. The helpful rangerette suggested the Knobstone Trail, a mere ten miles away. My alternative was driving back home, so I bought a trail map from her and drove to Henryville.
It was early, but the day was already sweltering. The trail, naturally, is a straight line, not a loop, so I'd have to double back. My options were north to the next trailhead (12 miles one way) or south (5 miles). I came to do twenty, so north it was. Now, for someone who has to cross three states just to glimpse a mountain, the knobs can be pretty impressive. They can rise abruptly out of low-lying farmland and can be pretty steep. But as it turned out most of my chosen path ran through bottom land between ridges. Which turned out to be worse. (I don't mind climbing, and my knees were younger in those days.) It was stifling down there, without a breath of wind, but the real treat was that the place was lined with spider webs for a solid six miles. Take a step, get a spider web in the face. Brush it off, take two more, get another. I was breaking the trail with my staff the whole way, and I had my wide-brimmed hat on, but I was still constantly covered in dead things, and sometimes in fairly large and fairly active live ones. I began getting slap happy about mile two. (I did the full 24, in case you're wondering.)
Well, that experience had nothing on watching "Who Wants To Be A Hilton?" It was just sitting there coyly in the middle of the teevee schedule, and I thought, what the hell? It should have occurred to me that you cannot perform the Heimlich maneuver on yourself.
I knew I was in deep shit from the opening theme song, with a godawful cut-rate Tony Bennett singing words he apparently made up on the spot. Then the narrator comes on to explain the concept in a clipped American accent. Swear to God. It's the only thing that could possibly be worse than using a British upper-class accent to signify capital-c Class: a British accent without the British. The set-up is, the contestants are divided into two teams, named "Madison" and "Park", which work together to compete in some enterprise which spells High Culture to the Low Culture boobs watching the show. I was sorry to learn I'd missed the program where they had to eat and drink, though I was relieved to see soon after that none of them had taken the lessons so seriously as to cease holding a glass, or a coffee cup for that matter, the way one picks up a softball. This week's endeavor was that favorite of the nouveau riche, the charity auction scam. But first, it was off to watch some polo. Polo.
Okay, you're way ahead of me. I suppose every so-called reality show is like this, like watching a group of junior high students who have suddenly been thrust into adult bodies without any noticeable increase in intelligence, wisdom, or awareness of the larger world outside. And it's so damned manipulative I'm not going to bother mentioning that these people behaved at the polo match (where they got to meet David Lee Roth, just so we all know this is The Toppermost) like they were at a monster truck rally, or that they've been carefully screened for the appropriate mix of psychoses, megalomania, and irritating voices. The wonder, to me, was that the teevee audience apparently eats this stuff on a regular basis.
It goes without saying that anyone who actually would Want To Be A Hilton has no interest in being cultured, or they'd want to Be Something Else. This tends to militate against the show's concept. Yes, these people are, in varying degrees, clueless and boorish, but so are the people they're aspiring to be. There may be some comedy value in listening to people say, "I need you to understand where I'm coming from," or ooh and ahh over some gaudy bauble (purple alligator-skin watch, sequined Union Jack dress), but if so I can pop over to the local mall, where the parade of soul-dead, brain-dead, compulsive consumers is thankfully leavened with real people who don't ask you, "Are you lovin' this?" There is, simply, nothing redeeming in watching a group of people gawk at a stretch Humvee before, inevitably, Paris Hilton and her sister, NotJenna, slink out like extras in a music video.
About our hostess Kathy Hilton, trophy wife, former actress, and self-debasing poultry, the less said the better. I wish she'd take the advice. She told the gang, as they left in the Hummer to "network" at some nightclub, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do." She scolded one member of the losing team for hanging back by saying, "The back seat is never where the driver sits." Sadly, I was already aware by that time that he didn't have the wit to say, "So, is that why you have a driver?"
Someone once said of the Eighties that where, in the Fifties, the smart set aspired to be witty and urbane, by the blighted Reagan Decade they aspired to own real estate. I never imagined that by the Naughts they'd aspire to own real estate and be stupid. I realize there's no way anyone with real culture would sink to these depths, but that's the only way this tripe could be made entertaining. And my dream is that sometime before this contagion of reality programs is replaced by whatever is worse there'll be a show where one of those snippy makeover twits is put in a room full of scholars who make fun of his intellect. Fair's fair. Besides, I know it'll get at least one viewer.