The TV “personality” and writer
Jon Stewart published a book a couple of years ago in which the
best bit imagined how Larry King might interview Hitler if the
German dictator were to come back today and were, as they say,
“media savvy” —
KING: Why did you
And so on. The whole interview is a comic
gem. But there are a lot of funny guys around these days, and most
of them can get blurbs from famous people telling how funny they
are. Another week, another comic genius debuts. So what? I haven’t
got time to read them all. I can say with complete confidence that
I would never have read this very clever pastiche, or been in a
position to recommend it to others, if my attention had not been
caught by the title of the volume in which it appears: Naked
Pictures of Famous People.
HITLER: Whooo boy. The $64,000 question. I don’t
know . . . I wasn’t a happy kid. I mean, I’m not trying to make
excuses, but you go through high school with one testicle and
the nickname Shitler . . . I’m sorry, they can bleep that, right?
KING: It’s fine.
HITLER: After a while you get sick of it. One
day you just snap. It started out as the typical “Someday you
guys will be sorry,” and then...I don’t know. It just got away
KING: Did you ever see the despicable nature
of your actions? Was there any remorse?
HITLER: Oh sure, but denial is a powerful thing
. . . I always thought I could stop any time I wanted. “If I could
just get Czechoslovakia, that’ll be the end of it. I’ll be happy
then.” And I’d get it and think, well geez, Poland’s just up the
road a piece and . . . you know the rest. I think admitting to
myself that there was a problem was the toughest part . . .
Of course, being a highbrow type, I knew that
this was a joke. On the cover Stewart put a sepia-toned print
of a lanky, Lincolnesque figure of a naked man in a beard and
a stovepipe hat who is covering up his manhood with blurry hands.
His eyes are blacked out with one of those rectangular strips
that they used to put on the photos in Police Gazette and
similar publications. It’s another comic masterpiece—an obvious
satire on the excesses of celebrity culture and not a promise
that there will be any other naked pictures of famous people
in the book. At any rate, there are none, and you could only protest
about the fact at the risk of identifying yourself as a thick-o
who didn’t see the joke.
Stewart, meanwhile, was making a similar point
to the one he makes in the Hitler interview about contemporary
culture and (presumably) selling a lot more books into
the bargain. It’s obviously a win-win situation, as Hitler might
have put it. But his little joke, like most jokes at the expense
of the contemporary popular and media culture, lacks a little
of the uproariousness it might otherwise have occasioned because
of the popular and media culture’s seemingly inexhaustible capacity
to make satire come to life in sober earnest. Take, for instance,
the latest example of a naked picture of a (sort-of) famous person.
Darva Conger, the “bride” in the Fox Show “Who Wants to Marry
a Millionaire?” decided to cash in on her brief moment of fame
by posing naked for Playboy. Here are some bits from her
Larry King interview:
KING: Darva, why did
you do it?
As Stewart recognized in his Hitler interview,
the celebrity culture and the therapeutic culture are essentially
the same: confession is the central ritual to both, and making a
public confession—how “stupid” Darva now thinks it that she appeared
on that awful show!—is often all that it takes to make a passing
notoriety into celebrity.
DARVA CONGER: It was a financial decision based
on the employment straits I was in right then. It was a credible
offer. They offered me an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s
work, and I had no problem doing it, and I remember receiving
some very good advice from certain people that I should do it.
KING: Darva, doesn’t this look, frankly, like
just a blatant chance to take advantage of a situation?
CONGER: Well, that begs the question, why not
take advantage of the situation? The situation certainly took
advantage of me. The media, entertainment, made so much money
off me, and while I’m sitting there in my house with no job, I
thought it was a pretty good opportunity for me, quite frankly
. . .
KING: What are you going to do now?
CONGER: You know, I’m stewing over a few offers.
I do have a few offers in television and media. There are some
correspondent-type and hosting position that people are in talks
with me over. I’m giving them careful thought, careful consideration,
but I am taking things definitely step by step. I have learned
in this town that until the deal is signed and sealed, you can’t
give it too much credence.
KING: OK. Therefore, this could be the start
of someone who said here that she didn’t want to be very public,
the start of an extraordinarily public career. Supposing you take
one of these television offer. You want to be on the scene for
CONGER: It could conceivably evolve into that,
however, what I have been constantly defending myself against
is comments taken out of context. I wanted my private life back.
I wanted away from the publicity all associated with being on
that “Multimillionaire” show. I was mortified by that. I was offended
by it. I had done such an incredibly stupid thing. Of course I
didn’t want any publicity associated with that. Of course I wanted
my privacy related to that back, and this . . . in this context,
I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t want to be making the
rounds of the talk shows every night. I don’t want to be harassed
by the media. I don’t want the tabloids chasing me around, and
no one wants that. But for me to say that I’m entertaining credible
offers, that perhaps showcase a skill that I wasn’t aware that
I had, a speaking skill, and combining my nursing background,
I have no problem saying I would be interested in doing something
like that . . .
And the really great thing about being
a celebrity, as Darva can testify, is not the money or even the
sense of self-importance that goes with it so much as it is a
celebrity’s limitless indulgence to do as he pleases under cover,
comically enough, of “privacy.” Here, for example, is what Darva
told Larry when he asked her how she could reconcile posing in
the buff for Playboy with her professions of Christian
faith. Wouldn’t her Christian friends all be “aghast”?
CONGER: As good Christians,
I’m sure they would be concerned, I’m sure they’ll be praying,
I’m [sure] they’ll remember “Judge not lest you be judged.” And
the difference between them and I is we all do things that are
against our faith and our beliefs, and every sin is the same in
the eyes of God. The only difference between them and I is that
what I do is dissected in the public eye.
Well, between her and God and a few million
curiosity seekers. I myself perused Darva’s “pictorial” in the August
number of Playboy, for purposes of research only, and was
struck by how much she looked like the relatively anonymous “playmates”
with whom she shares that magazine’s pages. Playboy has obviously
gone to considerable trouble with the airbrush, and with makeup
and so forth, to make her look as much like them as possible—just
as they are made to look as much like each other as possible. The
only obvious difference between Darva and her sisters is that she
obviously has not had breast implants and they, judging by the nearly
right angle at which their breasts almost invariably project, just
as obviously have.
KING: But why then do something against your
belief? If it is against the belief to do this, let’s say to show
yourself in public, as that’s against the Christian concept, why
CONGER: Why? At this point in time in my life,
it’s a decision I’ve made, and I believe it’s in my best interests.
It’s a private decision. It’s between me and God . . .
It has always been a mystery to me why
some people find this pneumatic, identi-kit feminine form erotic,
though apparently lots of people do. But even more remarkable
is the question of why, having paid good money for a peek at a
named woman—just because, that is, it is she and not some other—it
should be supposed that people want her to look as much like the
anonymous ones as possible. Perhaps they do. Perhaps that, too,
has something to do with the celebrity culture. The whole point
of looking at naked pictures of famous people, or for that matter
of listening to their tawdry confessions, is to reduce them, famous
as they are, to the same condition of basic humanity as the rest
of us. “Unaccommodated man” (or woman) is, as King Lear long ago
pointed out, “no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as
thou art.” How odd and shameful (if shame were possible anymore)
that we take such comfort in the contemplation of what was once
Copyright © 2000 The New Criterion.
All rights reserved.
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