Aren’t We Having Fun Yet?
Anyone who saw Britney Spears’ appearance last month on "Good Morning America" witnessed an event so big it out-hyped the apocalypse. Performing "Till the World Ends," the pop princess lip-synched her auto-tune smorgasbord in front of exploding bombs and back-up dancers, while screaming, adoring fans worshipped their idol, who’s back at number one. Twenty-two writers are credited on Britney’s "Femme Fatale" collection of sixteen songs, and everyone pulled out the stops for the big premiere. Everyone, that is, but the star.
It’s showbiz, Bitch.
Spears, in a too-tight leather-corset number, looked as if someone dragged her out of bed, choreographed some last-minute "moves" (which consisted of half-ass hand maneuvers and hip-swiveling), then forgot to tell her to smile, or pretend to care. Not that it mattered; the fans were snapping photos and talking and texting to a pre-recorded soundtrack, to keep the world informed of what they weren’t witnessing themselves.
Remember when performers were fun? It was only a few years ago that the country witnessed Spears’ zombie-esque lip-synch of "Gimme More" on the Video Music Awards, and not a whole lot has changed in regards to the star’s entertainment skills. What’s changed is that we, the audience, have forgotten that it matters.
Lady GaGa is so busy importuning us with importance that she’s lost her sense of humor. The woman who invited us to celebrate our "Little Monster" individuality got so flabbergasted at the "retarded" Madonna comparisons that she went a whole new route -- her last single, "Judas," enflamed the Catholic Church with its heresy lyrics, and the video features the star donning crucifixes, kissing a man wearing a thorn of crowns, and dancing in her underwear. She calls it her "best yet" (Surprise!), but it’s not working like a prayer. "Judas" betrayed GaGa’s popularity by slipping out of the Billboard Top Ten within a week of its release.
Remember when Aerosmith made good music? Remember when Paula Abdul tried to? Remember when performers made comebacks based on their music ability, and not the best Reality TV Show they could score? Remember when "The Voice" was Whitney Houston? Remember when Whitney Houston wasn’t a reality TV show?
It all got so depressing I hit trendy Industry Bar with friends. After two Twinks shoved me aside to get quicker access to the inaccessible bartender, I strolled over to the lounge area to find the couches taken up by cute guys sitting next to each other with their heads buried in their iPhones. I shouldn’t be critical of the men; I’d be on Grindr too if I were stuck in a crowded gay bar on a Saturday night with a bunch of drunk, testosterone-fueled, hot men who are only there for sex. It’s tough to meet available guys in a place like that.
Remember when going out was fun? Turns out 1984 didn’t age as well as we’d all hoped. The famous East Village nightclub party had its last blast on April 29th and I called an old friend to join me for the festivities. We hit the dance floor to Wham, Pet Shop Boys, Michael Jackson, Blondie, the Go-Go’s, and Madonna. I know for a fact they played those artists because my friend spent his entire time on the dance floor punching in the playlist on his iPhone, so everyone else could know the dance songs that he wasn’t dancing to. We had an amazing time -- I know this for a fact because he said so the next day on his Status Update and Places app.
Remember when TV shows were fun? Remember when TV had real shows? You know it’s a bad sign when people tune out "Desperate Housewives" because it’s not nearly as bitchy and backstabbing and graphic as any of the "Real" Housewives. It all got so depressing I decided to go back and start watching daily soaps; oh, wait, -- never mind. It’s as if Sydney Lumet realized his "Network" classic was no longer fiction and just rolled over and called it a life.
Between hearing about Kate’s "common" background and everyone who was snubbed, the Royal Wedding almost made the real housewives’ stories comical. People find me cynical for not getting thrilled about the Big Event, and I find them laughable. Apparently, they don’t remember the wedding of Charles and Diana and how that turned out. Or that I’m allowed the privilege to watch the marriage of the most privileged family in the world, but I’m not allowed the privilege of having one myself.
Remember when people believed the news? Or when we believed the people who made it up believed it? Sarah Palin thanked the President (Bush) for Osama’s death, while half the Christian country said they wouldn’t believe Bin Laden was dead until they saw that gruesome photo -- if, indeed, he ever existed at all. Then there’s that select few who are furious he wasn’t captured alive and extradited to the United States where he could be judged in an honest, American fashion -- those "Dancing with the Stars" producers will pursue anyone for ratings.
Everything’s so serious these days that it often seems like we’ve forgotten how to have fun. I’m starting to understand why the "New Yorker" humor writers don’t even try.
Remember how much fun it wasn’t? There’s an older woman I know in Florida who loves to reminisce about the good old Miami days. Her stories are wonderful; married to a successful businessman, she hit every nightclub and saw every notable performer (from Garland to Sinatra), and lived in a dizzying world of steamy days and cocktail nights. She jokes now that the only thing that’s improved in Miami is the invention of air-conditioning, and it’s a laugh-getter. Funny thing, fun; it deludes us into re-writing history for a more satisfying ending.
I never doubt her stories and I love to hear them. I also know they’re selective. My friend will tell you about the movie-star glamour nightclub that that she used to visit, how everyone dressed with class and danced the night away in style. As an afterthought she’ll mention that blacks weren’t admitted (I’m guessing a large percentage of the population didn’t have nearly as much fun there as she did). When she tells you how much friendlier her neighbors used to be, she skips the un-neighborly part where she, a Jew, would never have been allowed to live in the restricted community twenty years ago.
When she calls Liza Minnelli a drunken hag, and a symbol of our decaying times, she forgets that Liza’s mom had problems of her own, but that people didn’t discuss "dirty laundry -- or pills," or seek help like they do today; sometimes the kind of help that enables them to outlive their parents’ unkind genes. No sooner will she lament that adults can’t be affectionate with children anymore, for fear of getting arrested, than she’ll remind you of the children she knew who were abused by their parents, and how no one discussed such things. Or that she often hid her religion for fear of being ousted from social circles.
She even has a funny story of an uncle who used to drive around the city blind-drunk, with her children in the back seat. No one stopped him or questioned him because the streets were quieter back then and he had connections. Luckily, he was alone in the car when he drove off a serene Miami road and flipped over. It probably wouldn’t be a very funny story if any of her children had been killed.
Remember when smoking cigarettes was fun? It’s not anymore, but who’s complaining? I’m half-convinced that thirty years from now there will be images of people with cancerous Smart Phones hooked to their brains, along with the anti-cell-phone slogan "Can You Kill Me Now?" spread across the devices. Just as there are always new outlets to make our lives more interesting, more enjoyable, more fun, there’s always a killjoy pouncing on what had once been infinitely entertaining.
There are so many things I miss from childhood, and so much pleasure I’ve seen drift away. But I wouldn’t exchange class for exclusion no matter how cool the club or people are. I don’t like the 24/7 news cycle of spin and fabrication, nor do I eagerly wish for a return of mothers voting the way their husbands told them to -- after they earned the right to vote. And does anyone really want to go back to having three channels on TV? I’d like for all future movie stars to have the magic of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, but I’d also hope they wouldn’t be afraid to leave abusive husbands or live for everyone’s pleasure but their own.
Music, thank heavens, is still fun, and for every Britney blip there’s an Adele or Florence coming around the corner to knock some sense into live performing. You can also skip the pop princess’s concerts altogether and do something much more enjoyable; listen to her new record. Those sixteen production numbers on "Femme Fatale" are echoes and synthesizers and teases and taunts and addictive bliss. The producers, with the help of Britney, are the real performers on "Femme Fatale," and they’re having a blast.