Tuesday, November 28, 2006
It was the great American novelist and terrorizer of 12th grade English classes F. Scott Fitzgerald who is reported to have said "There are no second acts in American life."
It sounds like he's saying we as a people don't tolerate failure; once you are identified as a thing (by your profession, your marriage, a certain personality quirk, the pattern of moles on your face in the shape of the constellation Canis Major, whatever) you must persist in that thing. We simply lack the collective cultural attention span to assimilate any sort of course-correction. Deviation means disregard. You know, after the schadenfreude has sold enough Us Weeklys. We don't want to see you again until you're bloated, blind from diabetes and maybe shacked up with a Burmese tranny. But even then it's only to check in. We don't really want to know anything about you other than that you're paying a sufficient price for derailing the perceptions we had become accustomed to.
As a Failed Writer I know that what he was really trying to do was convince us there are no "second acts" so he woudln't have to write any more "second acts" to his novels. Every writer knows the "second act" is the hardest part. I think he must have read The Great Gatsby at some point and realized what a horribly boring piece of work it all was. Unfortunately his forward-thinking plan of a simple introduction-and-then-straight-to-resolution literary restructuring never caught on. At least not until television.
In the non-writerly sense, we know that plenty of people have "second acts." Any celebrity of long standing has had to go through at least one very public re-invention in order to keep themselves current and relevant. Madonna does it almost weekly. First she was a party girl, then... well, a whore, then she was British, then she was a Jew, then she started wearing leotards in public and now she's Angelina Jolie. Then there are people like Cher who simply have their entire bodies reconstructed from scratch every seven to ten years. Talk about re-invention. You don't know this, but Cher 8.0 can run up to seventy miles per hour. We have the technology.
When it comes to celebrities, we're a generous people. We like to be amused by all the twisting and weight changes and general consternation as they pretzel themselves to accomodate the needs of their own lives as we watch with prurient, malicious detachment.
Did you know that Kramer dude used to have all black friends? It's totally true! Not on the show, mind you, no, but in real life!
Also, Tom Cruise? Totally in love! With a girl! He's so in love that at his wedding he will kiss her for like three minutes straight (yes, I said straight!) so that people will become uncomfortable with their hetero display of affection and beg them to stop. Seriously, three minutes. Start timing right now, count up to 180 and imagine watching two people make out for that long. Maybe someone should have explained to Tom that "beard" is a figure of speech and you needn't actually attach her to your face.
The thing about second acts is that they are possible, but the transitions can be painful. Take, for instance, Britney Spears. She's finally molted her Federline skin, but instead of taking a step away from skeevy faux-manishness, she found the only person on the whole planet more of a skeevy faux-man than K-Fed, Paris Hilton. They're now quite inseperable.
The pairing has brought about predictable results. What do you get when you hang out with Paris Hilton? You get your vagina photographed and spread out all over the internet by amoral exploitative types. Like me.
The following link is decidedly NOT SAFE FOR WORK. Ogle the hoo-ha if you are so inclined.
I publicize this not because I think unintended genital photography is funny--OK, not only because of that--but as an object lesson. Skanky is as skanky does. One minute you're at home smoking with your kids, the next you're a free woman, hanging out with Paris Hilton and not bothering with the underpants.
As second acts go, this is no John Travolta-in-Pulp Fiction type of triumph. Not by a longshot. If you want to re-introduce yourself to the American public, there are better ways of doing it than getting out of cars coochie-first. What Travolta did was sit at home unemployed for fifteen years self-auditing with his e-meter and not looking at gay porn until a hot director called him up out of the blue and put him in his movie.
Take heed, Britney. Someone's bound to have seen Crossroads and want to take a chance. Take heed.
This post on the Narcissus Scale: 5.1