The apocalypse will be televised


“Not with a bang but with a whimper” was T. S. Eliot’s revisionist idea of the world’s end in The Hollow Men. He was almost right. Not with a whimper, but with a million whimpers, each more feeble and bathetic than the last, is the way we seem to be slouching toward oblivion.

Whimper du jour: a pitch for a new reality show … starring Levi Johnson … making a run for mayor of Wasilla. From Variety:

Johnston will run for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska — yes, the same job that propelled Sarah Palin to governor of that state (and later, the vice presidential nomination) — in a new reality project being pitched by Stone and Co.

“Loving Levi: The Road to the Mayor’s Office” will center on Johnston’s newfound fame as the baby daddy to Palin’s grandson, Tripp.

Johnston will trade on that notoriety to make his run for Wasilla City Hall—when he’s not pursuing a career in Hollywood, of course.

Stone and Co. are already shooting the show’s pilot and have started pitching the show to networks.

For a perfect storm of nihilistic absurdity and banality, a convergence of politics, tabloid journalism and reality television seems hard to beat. Johnston, meanwhile, seems an ideal poster boy for a culture of meaninglessness. A young man whose sole achievement to date is knocking up a girl whose mother has become a poster girl for something else, Johnston saw a meal ticket in caddishness and has been tucking in with both fists. That his photograph was ever published on a magazine cover is damning enough, never mind that it sold any.

Johnston appears eager to brand himself in any way he can, whether it’s appearing in a music video and attending the Teen Choice Awards with some female singer or starring in a reality TV series. Apparently several networks have pitched concepts for a reality show co-starring Johnston and Bristol Palin, but Palin, to her possible credit, has declined such offers. (Let’s not be too quick to credit anyone with anything here. Just in case, like me, you were lucky enough to have missed it, Johnston and Palin were apparently engaged again like last week, but it’s off again.)

Perhaps the key point here is that the idea of Johnston running for office wasn’t something he pitched to the entertainment industry, or even his own idea at all. It was something the entertainment industry pitched to him:

Johnston admitted that he wasn’t thrilled at first about the mayoral campaign concept, which was pitched to him by Stone’s Scott Stone and David Weintraub.

“But the more I think about it and look into it, I think there’s a possibility we can make it happen,” Johnston said of his political prospects. “It’s something that I want to do.”

Like many “reality” show premises, then, Johnson’s bid for public office has nothing to do with the non-televised world in which those of us who aspire to be human try to live. It is only “reality” in the trivial sense that if the premise is as successful as the producers would hope, Johnston will actually be the mayor of Wasilla. (By way of context, the Variety piece helpfully points out that Wasilla’s current mayor won in 2008 with 466 votes—less than 100 from his nearest competitor, who received 373. If only the ratings are in a similar range.)

Johnston believes this show may reveal him as a complex, inscrutable soul whose depths and aspirations a breathless American public has barely begun to plumb:

“It’s hard to figure me out … You’ve got to follow me around. I’m very different. I lead a crazy life. But it will basically be both worlds, my life in Hollywood and back home, the real country boy that I am.”

Johnston said he knows his reputation “is love and hate right now… but we’re trying to flip that around.” This show, he added, will “send a message to America about who I really am and what I want to do with my life.”

Coincidentally, that’s just the sort of revelation the producers want to deliver too:

Stone and Co. promise a “no-holds-barred” look at Johnston’s attempts at raising son Tripp with Bristol Palin, as well as “looking for love and taking care of business for his fellow Wasillians.

“He will give us a real inside look into who he is as a father, a skilled hunter, an avid dirt biker and his journey down the road of small-town politics ... right after he gets his high school diploma,” the company said in its description of the show.

The entertainment industry and politics can both be pretty corrosive forces, and their intersection is seldom a pretty place to be. Still, one occasionally encounters new peaks and new lows. I’ll think of a peak some other time.

Sometimes, though not always, hitting a new low can be a wake-up call that shocks people to their senses. If it does, we call it hitting rock bottom; if it doesn’t, it’s just one more whimper on the slide into oblivion.

Awhile back I blogged that audience indifference to the recent glut of sequels, remakes and franchise adaptations may have been the wake-up call Hollywood needed regarding their dearth of originality. Could “Loving Levi” provoke enough disgust and apathy to amount to a wake-up call for the networks? It would be pretty to think so.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, none of this is happening in a hurry. The next Wasilla mayoral election isn’t slated until 2012.

When, of course, the world is scheduled to end.

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