Real Kings: Vanity Fair, Swamp People & Chumlee
I just signed myself up for a subscription to Vanity Fair magazine. Well, um, I only just got my first issue of Vanity Fair. I actually signed up for the subscription during what feels like the Bush administration when you figure how long it’s literally taken to start receiving something as retro-old-school as a paper-based “magazine.” At any rate, it’s finally here.
Now, the main reason I did this was because it was cheap – and I mean dirt cheap – and because it is Vanity Fair. What better media collection exists for covering the flotsam that masquerades as mattering in the world at large? Talk about being located smack dab in the center of my wheelhouse. Anyway, after paging through my new glossy, richly endowed (and appropriately hefty) bible I currently find myself slightly depressed; saddened by the comparison of my own monochromatic exploits against those featured for my review. The prose, the vivid text, the resplendent photos – everything combines to leave a reader in awe of those chronicled and let down at their own exclusion from the party. Oh to mingle within the wonderful world of Conde Nast where celebs and world leaders trade quips and tips, dine with rapture and repose in opulence. It really sucks when other people are just better at living life than me.
So imagine my confusion when I flicked on the tube and a commercial for Swamp People kept me to feeling the very same way.
You may not know much about Swamp People. Hell, I didn’t know much about Swamp People. But I learned it quick. Swamp People is an extremely popular show airing on the History Channel that follows various folks from Louisiana through their annual 30-day long alligator hunt every year. History is on Season Three already (and drawing nearly five million viewers!) of a show following around a bizarre collection of oddballs, some of whom appear more at home in denim coveralls (and little else) than a dentist office. Quite literally, the entire show is spent talking about gators, chasing down gators, hunting gators, killing gators, skinning gators and then getting more gators. That it’s all done within the strictures of a government mandated 30-day annual hunt (plus an ever decreasing number of “tags”) provides the drama required to encourage tune-in. But what caught my eye was their latest ad – and it’s something.
The commercial is set to a haunting tune called “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby,” sung by Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, and Gillian Welch. Referred to brilliantly by a website talkbacker as genuine Appalachian Cajun Gospel, the song is a note-perfect background to a series of color adjusted (and strangely beatific) images of some of the “real-est” people you might ever have the (mis)fortune to come across. Their faces float by, buoyed by the melody and intercut with the violent thrashing of gators during the hunt. The commercial is transcendent at making the people – and the activities – from the show seem important, kind of beautiful, and that they matter. A lot.
How similar is this to the world presented by VF editor, Graydon Carter. There in his pages of shine and lustre I get the lives and people of note, displayed in all their importance and grit. It lays nothing low (except that which it derides) and routinely lifts even the most innocuously meaningless to ethereal levels. Rachel Maddow’s greatest fear is “becoming dickish,” Sonia Jones is shaking the foundations of true yogic values and James Franco is inspired....always. Don’t know who they are? Well, if your life mattered like theirs does, you would. The ad for Swamp People says exactly the same - faces I don’t know, doing things I could care less about but presenting them with such cadence, reverence and beauty that my attention is demanded while my devotion is suggested (seriously). Simple swamp people they may be, but to dismiss their contribution to humanity would clearly be a crime.
At this point the easy thing to do is dump on Vanity Fair for enshrining the trivial through skill with word and image. But so do the wizards behind Swamp People. And so too do the all the reality shows competing head to head to head for our ever-fracturing hearts and minds. Why ever else would we stop for even a nanosecond to consider the lives of some scary cheek-chewers dedicating 1/12 of their annual existence to the trapping and execution of alligators? Can it be that that the worm has turned and the rest of us are finally using the tools of celebrity employed against us for all these many years? I bet Vanity Fair would kill for numbers like Swamp People. (Seriously, Graydon Carter might actually run Tina Brown down – in a Bentley of course, but still) .
No matter. It’s still a hard thing to consider. The machinery of fame and importance has been adopted by even the most lowly of masses, which suggests that the jig is up. As they say, when everyone’s a king, there’s no one left to pawn. Which reminds me...... There’s a Pawn Stars marathon on in twenty minutes that I absolutely must PVR. God help me but I do so love Chumlee.