One of my most highly read Celebrity Semiotic articles — “The Family Tragedy of American Chopper” — dealt with a father’s destruction of his sons on a reality television show. One of those misbegotten sons, Paul, Jr., is going back on television with his tormentor.
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When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the government response was slow and inadequate — as we well know by now. The ensuing celebrity response was amazing. Photographs of Brad Pitt helping out really touched me. There’s something about when a celebrity really messes up in the eye of the public and then shortly thereafter does a tremendous act of charity that makes me wonder why said celebrity did it.
Now the suffering in Haiti is in the midst of the celebrity cause.
If you’ve ever appeared before a live audience — or if you’ve created something that was presented to a live audience for you — you are well aware of the symbiotic power between performer and audience and you have learned to immediately recognize the subtle clues an audience provides to tell you if they’re with you or not. Getting them with you is hard; keeping them with you is harder.
[Author’s Note: This poem also appears in my play, The Weeping Water Cafe.]
A face, tender as a porcelain doll,
cracks under the white hot mirror of
feeble at first,
then shouts into my living room.
and a wrinkled pea rolls off my fork.
Something about exploding fuel like erasers
and a lost cause
and bruised bodies
and They’re All Dead.
I can’t swallow my mashed potatoes.
They are called heroes.
Invisible chests are adorned
with the metals from exploded tanks
and their memories are bathed in the
salty tear from a child’s eye.
The apple cobbler doesn’t look so good any more.
The news comes in fast…
A blue sock hiding a charred bone washes ashore —
a bottle holding a plea for help
from another unknown brother in horror.
They didn’t know what hit ’em.
The paste, called gravy, hardens over my
mostly white meat.
Replayed before the bloodshot eye of ground pirates,
the white pencils explode carefully planned
and then some more.
And so the heroes are back in the clouds
where they belong.
And the potatoes,
and still unswallowed,
into seven chalky headstones.