Well, actually the Motel 6 was a Best Western War Bonnet Inn, but that makes the title of this essay too long. In any case, that’s where I was the night a pet theory of mine was severely wounded if not shot through the heart. See, it was my belief that listening to radio as opposed to watching TV helped me develop as a writer. No steady diet of pictures for me, I thought, thank you very much. I mostly supply my own because a visual media demands too much attention and seriously distracts from the on-board entertainment center that came with my brain at birth. For me, TV is largely radio with a visual proxy for one’s imagination thrown in. Oh, I turn TVs on – turn ‘em on all over the house – only, I keep doing stuff while I half listen and fill in the visuals from my own paper thin skull. But being on the road one night brought me face-to-face with a motel bed and a TV and nothing else between Minnesota and Idaho. So there was American Idol, a show you don’t necessarily have to watch. I mean, it’s about music and talking, right? (Like, “Now and then there’s a fool such as I”… Sully!) Turns out there’s lotsa drama, sex, violence, and subtle sabotage going on that you can’t always infer from a sound track. Take this particular night in Montana. There’s Joshua, who Ryan Seacrest tells us is sick with something like bubonic plague, fresh in from ER where he threw up 63 times…
Ryan: “How are you feeling, Joshua?”
Joshua (zombie voice): “Like I’m gonna fall off a ladder…”
Ryan (standing in platform shoes): “I know the feeling.”
Camera pans across tres cool trio: Randy Jackson nods amiably behind glittering dark glasses and flashes his piano-key smile. Jennifer Lopez in a tight mini crosses her left leg over her right, causing a small earth tremor along the Continental Divide as millions of America’s males in the TV audience tilt their heads left. Steven Tyler sits ramrod straight but swaying as if searching for gravity, his dark glasses glittering like miniature versions of Randy’s. Oh, wait. He’s not wearing glasses.
Joshua of the bubonic plague snuggles down the bench where all the finalists sit, driving contestant Jessica in the other direction with a series of gluteal contractions not unlike an inch-worm trying to sprint. She is momentarily saved from catching whatever Joshua has when Ryan calls him forward to account in the voting. But, alas, now Ryan calls her name as well, and Joshua offers her his hand. As they come forward, he drags her into his embrace. Ryan relates more details about the virulent flu that has brought Joshua to death’s door, then tells him he is “safe.” Joshua exhales with huge relief over Jessica, who begins to sway like Steven. When Ryan tells Jessica she is also saved, Joshua smothers her with hugs and kisses.
Camera pans to Randy, still nodding, flashing ivory smile. Jennifer uncrosses left leg, crosses right. Earth tremor along New Madrid fault line as millions of America’s males now tilt heads right. Suddenly Steven is the only person in the studio not swaying and this causes him to open his eyes all the way to a squint. Tremor subsides. Audience steadies. Steven resumes swaying, closes gumdrop eyes.
Ryan announces sneak preview of Jennifer’s new music video. Lights dim. And there she is, legs completely uncrossed, undulating out of skimpy clothes. It appears she will run out of clothes before running out of music, but male dancers surround her with ballet moves sort of like Swan Lake on Viagra. Video ends with Jennifer still dressed. Music wins — no FCC fines. Cut to commercial for Coke.
Live return focuses on benches, where Jessica has now turned into Typhoid Mary. Bubonic plague Joshua is puckering up to spread more good will. Other contestants perform a never-before-seen version of “the wave” to avoid them both. Ryan stands 10 feet away as Jessica drops dead. Cut to tasteless Charmin commercial of bears with toilet paper stuck to mangy fur butts.
When we return, the least physically endowed female — who sings exactly 2.9 times better than nearest rival — is being voted off. Inversely, male cutesy hunk whose chainsaw voice achieves almost a full octave on a good night is revealed to have garnered the most votes. Piercing screams from 10-year-old females fill studio, causing Randy to cringe, his eyes exploding into spotlights while his smile fades as though he is connected to a rationed power grid. Jennifer tries to cross both legs at same time, causing major neck dislocations across America. In Wyoming Yellowstone dome blows. Steven unperturbed. Appears to be humming Gregorian chant. Over on benches, Joshua goes for group hug. Three more contestants drop dead —
OK. Maybe I’m exaggerating just a tad. You see how my subconscious works. The techs of my imagination in charge of visuals aren’t used to this much stimulation. They’re used to winging it. Which is the whole point. I don’t want to dumb them down, smother their creativity, or put them out of work with TVs prepackaged orchestrations. But that’s not what just happened. On this particular night and at this particular dosage of canned visual media my circuits are working the same way they work in real life from prima fascia evidence. This is a useful discovery for a writer. It turns out the ON-OFF switch isn’t just on the Idiot Tube remote, it’s in my mind. I don’t have to watch like a spoon-fed infant or Igor the Zombie lying on a coffin couch with a six-pack of beer and half the refrigerator. I can interact satirically or with nuanced perceptions to play out all the “What if’s” of what I’m seeing, same as I do in everyday reality. Thank you, Motel 6. Thank you Ryan, Randy, Jennifer and Steven (…cool guy, Steven). Dunno if I’ll be back with full attention – I still like to move around the house multitasking when TVs are on – but I am nothing if not adaptable. So I’m fine-tuning the concept of being a spectator. I am an interactive spectator. Hey, maybe I should tape THAT – the running commentary on whatever I’m “watching.” Wouldn’t have to be just sarcasm, could add a touch of poignancy here, a little poetry there, and meaningful social/historical context…and let’s not forget romantic idealism, and – are you getting this? This could blossom into a new reality TV show. Imagine GUEST interactive spectators in my living room! Like, like…hey, Steven, what are you doing next — uh-oh. Got to shut down those rogue neurons in my papier-mâché brain before they go viral. Shakespeare Sully’s imagination has left the building.
Thomas “Sully” Sullivan