Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Cheese Ham Shatner Stands Alone

The blog post title is a reference to the old nursery rhyme, but more immediately to a profile of William Shatner I read in The Washington Post while I was in graduate school, years ago. The occasion was his hosting of a Miss USA pageant, a job he got in part because he'd played a pageant host in some Sandra Bullock vehicle which I've never seen. This cross-over from virtual life to real life (and this was when Priceline was just getting big and before Denny Crane and Boston Legal and all that) prompted the author of the profile to declare--if I can remember it correctly; I can't find the article online--that Shatner was operating in a plane far beyond us all. Famous? More than just about anybody on the planet. Cheesy? Oh no--Wayne Newton is cheesy. A ham? Please--Tom Arnold is a ham. But Shatner...Shatner has transcended hammy parody, or cheesy nostalgia. He stands sovereign over the glory and wreckage of a post-irony world.

I'm put in mind of all this by a long Shatner profile in The New York Times from a few weeks back. I only just got around to reading it last night, and I absorbed it, fascinated by both the man and my own geeky fascination with him. Who is to say how it all happened? The Shatner phenomenon is the result of a perfect storm of the massification of popular culture, the technologically-enabled collapse of the distinction between art and entertainment and commerce and commentary, a generation or two of Americans both perpetually distracted yet delighted-with-minutia...and, of course, the key ingredient: an impossibly hard-working, hard-driving, shameless yet prideful man who was willing to take any job and tell any joke, and underneath whose constant, good-natured hustling, sometimes, a genuinely talented actor shines forth. Whole dissertations will be written on this man, I tell you. Mostly in English departments, granted, but still: whole dissertations.

My favorite Shatner moment, because so delightfully captures the commodified science-fiction milieu which provides the slight yet solid foundation of his fame, is this one. So obviously scripted down to the last gesture...and yet, you just can't quite make yourself believe that is.


Jacob T. Levy said...

Oh my god. How have I never seen this before???

It's *amazing.* The expressions on the faces-- Lucas and Ford especially, but also Spielberg, Fisher, even Hamill who doesn't even *have* facial expressions anymore-- are half the fun. There's a kind of stunned WTF disbelief at the beginning that gives way to a kind of "OK, OK, you win, you're awesome" enthusiasm by the end. And the contrast between Lucas and Ford on one hand-- both so damned earnest in their ways, both always taking themselves very seriously-- and Shatner on the other could hardly be more stark. And the Shatner spoken-word style evokes moments past of greatness and absurdity and that special Shatner combination of the two.

I love this clip!

Shatner's a McGill alum, of course.

RAF, have you seen Fanboys? Probably; I was years late to it, just saw it last month. But if you haven't, you must.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Dude, I know Shatner is a McGill alumn, and I've even heard tales about how the administration has supposedly squashed student-led efforts to give Shatner some sort of award, or name a building after him. First bicycles, now this! You're obviously trapped in a fascist environment there, Jacob. Stay strong.

Fanboys, huh? I just Googled it. Reviews don't look good, but sounds fun. If you're speaking up for it, I'm moving it to the top of my list.

Jacob T. Levy said...

It's not great art or anything, but I'll give you a double-your-money-back guarantee that you'll enjoy it. And after you see it you'll understand why this clip made me think of it.

Yes, the widespread sentiment to name the student center building after him was rejected by officialdom, since the naming of buildings is reserved for those making donations. That's OK, I guess. Donations are good. But in the meantime, like almost everyone else, I happily call the building Shatner. It's only the official maps that fail to acknowledge the name.

(I get absolute delight out of the fact that McGill's gym building that houses the pool is named after this guy.)

manaen said...

T. J. Hooker forever !

Camassia said...

OK, the stormtrooper chorus line was when I officially lost my !@#$. I am now wiping away tears. Now I wonder if I can ever watch them in a Star Wars movie again with a straight face...