When J.D. Salinger died last week, there was the expected outpouring of commentary about his significance as a writer. Thousands of newspaper and online pieces - and who knows how many radio and television items - were devoted to explaining his impact.
TV isn't very good at this sort of thing - giving literature its due. I have memories of the days after the death of Northrop Frye and the utter inability of Canadian TV news to explain Frye's stature or to communicate his ideas about literature. One report, I recall, concluded with a mention that Frye was "reputed to have read everything that Shakespeare had written." As if that was some sort of astounding feat. A circus trick in the academic racket.
But, no matter what the medium, the influence of Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye was emphatically communicated - in particular, the singularity of its hero, Holden Caulfield, and his casting a cold eye on those he perceived as "phonies." By the way, the most pithy commentary was the headline on the satirical news site The Onion: "Bunch Of Phonies Mourn J.D. Salinger."
Salinger was, of course, as famous for his devotion to his privacy as he was for his writing. Perhaps he sensed it coming - a media-saturated word of instant and fleeting fame. A world in which nitwits, phonies and airheads are canvassed for their views on politics, diet, exercise, etiquette, fashion, terrorism, global warming and religion. His distaste for fame and all its attendant aggravations and temptations was as unerring as Holden's eye for hypocrisy.
Today, then, in honour of J.D. Salinger and Holden Caulfield's loathing of phonies: celebrities who should just shut up.
The rich and misunderstood late-night TV host goes on The Oprah Show offering explanations and seeking the balm of her forgiving nature. Was there anything more phony in these many weeks of the late-night wars? As Jimmy Kimmel said later that night, "Jay Leno went on Oprah because NBC gave him The Tonight Show back. So, please, keep him in your prayers." Leno presented himself as a victim. NBC screwed up. David Letterman was mean. Jimmy Kimmel "sucker-punched" him. Oprah wasn't really buying it. In fact, Oprah's tone and the look on her face expressed what most people watching were thinking: "Cry me a river, phony."
Emboldened by the significance of winning some Golden Globes, the Canadian-born director of Avatar sneered at those stars anxious to raise money for relief in Haiti, describing it as "liberal guilt." Simultaneously, he encouraged those in attendance to "give it up for yourselves." As if he and the assembled stars needed encouragement to believe that they are, you know, special people. He also seemed anxious to further the belief that in making Avatar he is the Dostoyevsky of Hollywood today. Jeez, what an ass, spouting phony-baloney self-aggrandizing blather. One dreads the Academy Awards now.
The "superproducer" of movies and countless TV series (the CSI shows, Cold Case, Without A Trace, among others) was kind enough to grant a Q&A interview to this paper recently. He dodged a question about the level of violence on his shows and whether the shows fetishize violence against women. He said, "I don't accept that criticism. " However, the fact is women are increasingly marginalized in the network TV racket. As Deadline Hollywood writer Nikki Finke reported the other day, "33 comedy pilots have been picked up by CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox. Only three are written by women. And 36 drama pilots have been picked up by CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox. Only six are written by women. This is being called 'the worst year in a decade' for female writers and show runners." One reason is surely the emphatically male point-of-view shows endlessly created by Bruckheimer, in which women are either dead or work for wise male bosses.
Somebody take away the self-adoring woman's Twitter thing. She has been busy dissing talk-show hosts and former co-stars through her Tweets. And then she mentions, "My new show starts to air in March on A&E. You can watch the fat melt away for yourself ... lol." Sad. Needy. Phony.
He's leaving the hit show Brothers & Sisters. According to reports, he felt that he was being "underused." ABC now plans to make Lowe the lead in his own series. He did this before, walking away from The West Wing when it became clear that it was an ensemble show and he wasn't the star. NBC made The Lion's Den, a banal legal drama, as a vehicle for him. Whatever happened to being an "actor," not a phony actor who needs to be the star?
He mouthed off on Hockey Night in Canada, unleashing an unfiltered attack on Vancouver Canucks player Alex Burrows - this during an interview with an National Hockey League official. The guy is entitled to an opinion, of course. But when doing an interview, keep the rant and opinion to yourself. That's journalism. MacLean's grandstanding was phony journalism.
On Feb. 1, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival (CBC, 9 p.m.) is being "hosted by business tycoon Kevin O'Leary." Seriously. O'Leary as in Dragons' Den, The Lang & O'Leary Exchange and ABC's Shark Tank. How much TV time does this guy want? Or does he want to be Canada's phony Donald Trump?
Clarification note: Writing about the late-night TV wars recently, I pointed to a piece in Vanity Fair, by Nell Scovell, which pointed out that of the 50 or so writers working for the David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien shows, none were women. Scovell's point was first made by Nancy Franklin in The New Yorker.