Monday, April 14, 2008

This Post Has Been Slow Cooked in Hot Water in a Plastic Bag in a Vacuum for Tenderness and Pretension

So, here we are again. I’m going to talk about current television, which in the near future will make this post seem about as current and relevant as a briefcase sized cell phone in an ‘80’s movie, but there are things that have to be said. Or not, really, but you can always find something else to keep you entertained while you wait for the dryer to finish running so you can get dressed and go outside.

It would have seemed impossible to me that I would find Top Chef as compelling as I do, but I have to admit that it gets me right in the wheelhouse. Project Runway (I say with a bit more shame) is equally irresistible.

While I care a good deal less about clothes than I do about food, and in fact avoid buying and looking for things to wear as if it might kill me, there’s something almost redemptive about giving people the opportunity to win something based on actual talent. Anyone with half a brain (and it might actually be required that you have exactly that quantity) could manage performing a sack race on a beach, sexual acts on a has been celebrity (yes, I’m looking at Flavor Flav and Bret Michaels), or eating insects, all for a chance at a pile of cash or a giant novelty check.

Ask someone to make a ball-gown out of trash?

How about making hors d’oeuvres from what you find in a snack machine?

Prepare dishes for a lavish banquet with a budget of $200/$300/$500?

These are actually tasks requiring some thought, ability and talent.

While I never would have thought that watching people make and eat food and spout off about it would make for good visual entertainment, it actually does in a strange way, and we both sit here and have intense opinions about it. I would have thought it would have played out more like the experience of watching a slide show (the real kind without clip-art and without sound) of a symphonic concert, but strangely, it works.

I worry that it builds an appreciation for the aspects of food and eating which have little to do with the actual joy of food, and merely makes us respect foolishness involving complicated titles, and preposterous forms of “presentation”, but I am hooked absolutely.

The personal drama, the storylines of mutual loathing and irritability seem to be a fundamental part of Top Chef in a way which they are not on Runway. I don’t know exactly why this is, perhaps people who are all about the schmattes* have a greater sense that taste is always at least a little bit subjective, and if I don’t love what you do… eh, whatever. Competitive, but aggression is definitely of the passive, slightly (very) bitchy type.

In the midst of this ramble, coming to the actual point any minute now.

A lesson in life to take for yourselves is this: If you ever use the phrase “…the [my name] [positive characteristic]…” be assured that you lack that quality thoroughly. Witness Richard Blais on the most recent episode of Top Chef, who had been doing a veritable shuck-and-jibe soft shoe for Tom Colicchio, mentioning in his post-mortem interview that “…I guess the Richard Blais charm just wasn’t working on him…” Talented he may be (although hearing anyone squawk away with obsessive love or negativity about sous-vide’ing things gives me a little bit of a headache, and the thought of pretty much any kind of meat being cooked in a plastic bag in warm water just really doesn’t do the trick for me, in all honesty), but he’s never struck me as being charming in any particular way.

The final thought is this: Spike, how many goddamn stupid looking hats did you bring with you? What the heck is up with that misshapen woven rattan baseball cap? When you go by “Spike”, you’ve pretty much got your gimmick covered. You really don’t need to be The Guy Who Always Wears Ridiculous Haberdashery. I can’t imagine what it must be like to leave your house on a trip, and have to seriously contemplate exactly how many fedoras you need to bring with you to get through a week at the beach. I understand that someone can easily be nudged through their own insecurity to look for an identity in some outward physical manifestation: “I’m the guy who carries a basketball everywhere!” “I’m the guy who wears lots of rings!” “I’m yet another wildly unique emo kid dressed entirely in black!” “I’m the girl who always has her pet rat with her!”**

In this case it just happens to be "I'm the guy who's always wearing a wacky-ass hat!"

These are things we abandon when we grow past a certain age, okay? Even if you’re balding with an ursine ferocity***, it’s still all going to be fine. Put the hat down, and back away.

*Looking at Yiddish phrases, two things struck me as remarkable: first, the number of Yiddish words that have become OED accepted in English use (I never knew that “maven” came from Yiddish, for example), and secondly that “shlimazl” is the second most difficult word, out of the most difficult non-English words to translate. It’s one of those things that you understand, but can’t exactly express in a clean phrase. Oh, also that “schlong” came from Yiddish too… just wanted to keep it clean and classy in here.****

**This last, chilling option is from a real-life example that I can recall from my own tender high school years, and a particular person who was the most metal girl left, in a period where it was no longer such a big thing, and had a rat that rode around in her shirt, and drank out of her mouth when the opportunity presented itself. I thought she had the whole identity thing ankled even without the addition of a rat in the shirt, but to each their own. Wherever she is, I hope things are going well.

***Come to think of it, baldness up top would make the scraggly beard make more sense…

****So, how much would you hypothetical readers love it if I could figure out how to do HTML jumps back and forth to and from the asterisks? SO WOULD I!! I just haven't gotten that high tech yet. Me and my suitcase cellphone will have to place some calls to People In The Know.

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