Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2001 / 11 Tishrei, 5762
Lewis A. Fein
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- FEW cultural barometers more effectively measure the relative health of the economy than a television game show, that peculiar entertainment vehicle sandwiched between hours of soap operas and taboo commercials about foot odor or adult diapers. The shows themselves are little more than a distraction, at least when compared with the assortment of oddballs, miscreants and occasionally brilliant (myself included) individuals that pass as contestants. So, it is with some measure of fear and self-loathing that I recount my most recent experience as a potential game show contestant.
First, a disclaimer: auditioning for a game show is like applying for welfare or unemployment insurance, a wholly degrading experience - like voting for Ralph Nader or watching the latest installment of "Temptation Island" - that leaves one ashamed or embarrassed. For the potential contestants are not, to put it charitably, the nation's finest examples of excellence personified. Unless, of course, excellence is the union between obesity and malevolence (this description merely fits, pun intended, the woman before me) that captures some of society's less fortunate souls. Between gulps of soda and chomps of some chocolate and nut confection, the female contestant eagerly proclaims those eloquent words: "Oh! Oh! Over here! Me! I know the answer, dummy!"
Sadly, television studios - which, incidentally, neighbor some of Southern California's most questionable neighborhoods - now act as surrogate parents. Potential contestants drag their children to auditions, luring them with Happy Meals and autographed photos of some banal game show host. Yet the actual audition is momentary, as the line for contestant admission trails several city blocks. Combine the shortened attention span of today's child with the hyperactive properties of fast food, and this line becomes the entertainment industry's version of the Bataan Death March: an interminable processional of pain, misery and vengeance.
Once inside, an industry hack recites studio boilerplate about the prohibitions governing nepotism, cheating and tax liability. Thereafter, each potential contestant receives a written test, whereby the final results will further narrow the field of likely participants. As if the answers "Bill Clinton," "William Shakespeare" and "Bugs Bunny" confirm the erudition of the obese mother, whom I now know - again, the studio line is long and painfully devoid of silence - reads the Los Angeles Times weekly.
Among this narrowed field of candidates, the show's producers must critique the television appearance of each contestant. This process inevitably leaves viewers asking, How did that nincompoop - you know, the one who thinks George Washington's white horse was black - get on (insert the name of almost any program) that show? The nincompoop is a contestant precisely because of his ignorance. A game show's producers portray their host as a brilliant sage, kind of like Socrates with a drug (hemlock) problem. Every producer fears that some unruly contestant will actually win, thus disproving the host's advertised intelligence.
Finally, a few words about game shows in general: any program that supplants the rewards of hard work with the illusory appeal of instant riches, no doubt taxed at forty percent, is almost un-American. The promise of America is that free and open markets will reward the industrious and punish the slovenly. The very idea of American freedom is that luck is a minor variable, an important variable to be sure. But the large majority of Americans do not earn their keep because of luck, or their dexterity with various wheels or fortune. The American people work for their money, period.
In other words, the game show's producers think I have a face for