Thursday, September 21, 2006

The American Dream

America's Next Top Model
8-9 p.m., Wednesdays, CW

Andy Warhol: A Documentary
9-11 p.m., Wednesday - Thursday, Sept 20-21, PBS

LAST NIGHT WAS QUITE HORRIBLE. I had to choose between the season premiere of America's Next Top Model and that new Andy Warhol documentary.

So I did the only thing deemed reasonable at the time: I channel surfed every ten minutes, switching between CW and PBS during intervals.

But I don't think Warhol would have minded, really. In fact, I think he would've been an obsessed devotee of ANTM, and especially captivated by the Diva herself, Tyra Banks.

One of the things that makes ANTM so entertaining is Tyra's love for, well, Tyra. In the opening of Season 7, there is solid evidence that Tyra, ex-model extraordinaire, has shifted up a notch. Did anyone check out the contestants' divine shindig?

Perhaps the most hilarious moment of last night's episode was the Tyra self-portraits adorning not only the living room walls (Warhol-esque mechanically replicated, multi-colored quad images of La Banks), but intricately displayed over each girl's bedroom space. What is the last thing you see before going to bed? TYRA!!! The first thing you see in the morning, upon waking up? Also TYRA!!!

Maybe I am overestimating Tyra Banks' intelligence here, but the ubiquituous images that surround the house can only result in positively startling developments for the show. It is only by comparison and contrast would the girls be driven - more than ever before - to nab the top prize. If ANTM is an extension of the Tyra Banks universe (did anyone check out the first half, where the girls revealed sob stories not too different from the Tyra Banks show?) and the girls are merely small moons orbiting her universe, then wouldn't it be the ultimate dream if one of the girls were to become the next TYRA?

THE FIRST TWO HOUR-SEGMENT of Ric Burns' sprawling documentary of Andy Warhol's life and work was long, at times even a bit tedious, but ultimately, time worth spent. I have to admit - one of the reasons I found the doc to be so enjoyable was because it was masturabatory. It was masturbatory in the sense that all these academic talking heads loved Warhol for the same reasons that I loved Warhol. But like masturbation, it gets kind of tiresome at some point, and I felt a bit numb towards the last half hour.

I will, however, say this: the doc is not a complete wank-fest. The filmmakers have accumulated a great deal of meticulous information about Warhol, from his childhood to his first sexual encounter. These bits and pieces are quite intriguing (even if some may seem superfluous). For a man so embellished in public, pop culture, Andy Warhol was an intensely private man (for an example, he kept his churchgoing habits closed off from all but his closest family and friends until his death). His contradictions only further embellish cryptic persona, and for me, an Andy Warhol obsessor, I take what I can get.

One of the more fascinating segments in that two hour duration revolved around Warhol's dirt poor upbringing, which I instinctively drew as a connection that was very close to his life's dedication to immortalizing pop culture artifacts.

Maybe this sounds politically incorrect of me, but I feel as if the word "poor" is used too often by the struggling-but-not-too-desperate lower middle class. As a result, the simple but somber definition of the word has since been cheapened; its initial power, lost.

And so I say this with utmost sincerity that I was paradoxically surprised - and unsurprised - when it was revealed that Warhol's first generation Slovakian immigrant nuclear family unit didn't come close to the lower middle bracket; they were truly ghetto. It was somehow cathartic to find out that Warhol's mom was scrubbing people's floors for a living. Things suddenly made more sense. His persona, his love for pop culture, became so much more clear and rational, in light of these facts.

At the core heart of Warhol's work, the thing that made Warhol so unforgettably Warholian was that amidst all that irrelevancy and superficiality prevalent upon the pop culture surface, he reminded us that there is something ultimately more deeper, personal, and penetrating at play here than we ourselves would like to think. Pop culture has - and still do - foster dreams for consumers ... just about any kind that you can think of. And nothing can be more alluring to a kid in the Pittsburgh slums than the idea of potentially obtaining that Dream some time, some how.

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