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.