Thursday, February 01, 2007

America's Sweetheart through Filter of Virulent Sickness


So I get my first full day off of work in a couple of weeks--a Monday, no less--and right on cue a serious bout of the flu gobsmacks me with hurricane force. I spend nearly all of the day (and a good chunk of the next) in a comatose, shuddering trance, doing my best to hit my own personal Petri Dish 101 (degrees, that is: for the record, I reached a mere balmy 100).

As anyone who's been in such a state can doubtless relate, one generally expends minimal effort when eking out sick-day entertainment: You turn on the TV, collapse in a heap in the ol' Barcalounger, and let that sense of sickbed surrealism carry you through your moments of semi-consciousness. It should therefore come as no surprise that the already-screwy 2007 Miss America Pageant, rebroadcast repeatedly over the course of Monday and Tuesday, soared to Dali-esque heights of weird via that magic mucous carpet ride. The repeated rebroadcasts, and the fact that Rita and I caught it in out-of-sync pieces over a day-and-a-half, morphed the pageant into some Cheetos-and-frilly-white-trash-lace version of Memento.

Miss America may still be, as the organization crows repeatedly, America's greatest source of scholarship money for young women, but it's far from the Big Event that it used to be when I was a kid. The pageant used to be eagerly aired live on the major networks in the seventies and eighties, but today Miss America hangs out in the run-down cable trailer park that is the CMT Network. And in the interest of maintaining a brief two-hour run time, the telecast trimmed away a lot of the usual pageant fat: the presentation was bereft of musical guests, the contestant Q and A was truncated even by the crepe-paper-thin standards of the Miss America Q and A, and the always-thrilling talent competition was confined to the Top Five Contestants as opposed to the Top Ten of years past.

Them's the more cogent, coherent thoughts that snapped around in my head while watching. Most of the time, my skull felt like the inside of an aircraft hangar filled with Yoplait Yogurt. Isolated moments bobbed above my influenza-fueled haze like apples in a barrel of metallic blue model paint:

*The dimples of host Mario Lopez, which (to quote my ever-loquacious wife) were "big enough to drive a Cadillac through."

*Miss Mississippi, whose massive predatory mouth and glassy bright eyes had me hallucinating that she was gonna distend her jaw and swallow a rodent, whole.

*Miss Georgia's talent routine, which started out with her flailing and stomping spastically to a busy techno track. Then the sound of...tapping...came up. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Miss America audience enjoyed a hearty snifter of techno-tap dancing. It was either a moment of subversive performance art brilliance, or one of the most delectably lousy talent displays that the show's ever excreted. Kinda like the Miss America Talent Competition equivalent of The Apple.

The crown was ultimately taken by Miss Oklahoma, a vacant blonde who nattered on about faith and sang with a reedy church choir voice that made Kathie Lee Gifford sound like Aretha Franklin. And instead of serenading her out with that venerable old theme song, Mario ceded that honor to the late Bert Parks, whose voice echoed eerily over the Hall's cavernous sound system. The bedheaded loon dominating my consciousness kept hoping that someone would be shameless enough to CGI in Parks strutting about and spectrally crooning into his long-retired microphone. Maybe next year--If I'm violently ill, barely cognizant, and sporting lips so cracked and split that I'd nail an audition as an extra in Ben Hur's big Leper Colony Scene then, I'll sure as hell be back for more.

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