Slate.com has a great article on the mysterious appeal of the one, the only, the syrupy Garrison Keillor. As some of you may not know, Keillor’s the host of Prairie Home Companion. Think of this show, in case you’ve never heard it, as the American version of The Vinyl Cafe – very home spun, very Middle American, a mythological place of Americana best described in terms of those ideas we’ve all had about the simpler days when morality was sacrosanct and people didn’t do bad things to each other. In other words, the City on a Hill myth come squarely to life (some would say this idea about pre-industrial America is about as real as a P.T. Barnum presentation, which is to say, tragically and insidiously not). But unlike Vinyl Cafe, which is worldly enough and realistic enough to be appreciated for what it is, Prairie Home Companion exists in a weird, metaphysical place in the mind where how we’ve learned about The Simple Folk Out West involves daily bakeoffs, children scraping knees on the road and flowers (wasn’t that in a Simpsons episode?).
Depending on your point of view, the show’s either the greatest radio experience since the days of ma and pa sittin’ around the fire with banjos playin’, or the lamest experience in radio you’ve ever heard. There’s very little middle ground with this show.
Well, as we all know, Prairie Home Companion the movie debuted last weekend with throngs of Baby Boomers and their older brethren heading to the cinema for the first time in many moons to watch the “hilarious” antics of Robert Altman’s star-studded cast on stage.
Honestly, I resent this show. I can’t help but dislike it, not because I’m a self-satisfied urbanite who looks down his nose at the idea of the show. I’m not confined to a space in this world that assumes these places don’t exist – they do, in some fashion.
I suppose what bugs me is that the show is an inauthentic experience, but more to the point, it’s simple-minded hokdum that only reinforces ridiculous ideas about America that most people can’t stand or believe anymore. The overarching theme is the idea of American Innocence; time forgot Lake Wobegon in Prarie Home Companion and the people, seemingly, forgot the world too.
I suppose, in a time of incredibly high speed living, shows like these mean something to those folks who just want to be entertained with simple stuff. Fair enough. But what turns a lot of people off in our generation from this show is the fact it lacks, at least on the surface, any kind of self-knowing irony or awareness. As the article states far more eloquently, and I’ll say with far more gruffness, do people really believe Garrison Keillor’s speaking from the storytelling heart, or is it all just propagating a bunch of easy answers?
In any case, here’s what my fantasy involves with this show one day:
NEW YORKER: Ever heard of James Joyce? Of course you have. Probably even read one of his books (I read Ulysses in the summer before Queen’s, tried Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man). But read this article – wait until you get a load of his grandson, Stephen James Joyce. He’s kind of like a member of the British Royal Family: he’s descended from greatness, he’s largely resting on personal and institutional hubris now, and he’s got way too much money that’s not his.