When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon-Scented Garbage

I was watching TLC the other night and saw several commercials for “Craft Wars”.  For those of you who have enough of a life to have avoided seeing the commercials or TLC itself, allow me to describe what this craft competition show will apparently be about.

“Hi Tori! By the way, I’m a big fan of your work. Oh…Okay, well anyway, this piece is my interpretation of a happy jack-o-lantern. It will make a great door hanging or as seasonal decoration. The crooked grin gives it a touch of whimsy!” (Image from blog.craftzine.com)

Three contestants are given crafting supplies including all the hot-glue sticks and glitter they could ever hope for.  Then, the host says “Your time starts…NOW!”  The crafter-contestants, who by their very existence make me feel like a superior life form, all scramble across the set to get to the bins of crap that they’ll be making “crafts” out of.  This is essentially the same format that’s used on shows like “Top Chef”, “Design Star”, “Chopped”, “The White Room Challenge” and countless others.  As if watching these scrap-booking, swatch-pasting zealots isn’t bad enough in and of itself, the whole thing is hosted by massive has-been mega-talent, Tori Spelling!  The description above was gleaned from my having viewed a 30 second commercial several times, while I was busy watching some other inane offering on TLC.

It’s truly effortless to sit here and complain about what passes for entertainment these days.  I mean, they make it so easy.  So I sat down to write my rants about just that, but then a deeper thought occurred to me.  With the recent celebration of Father’s Day, I was reminded of what my Dad used to say;

“Turn off that damn idiot box and go cut the grass, dammit!”

Oh wait, wrong Dad quote.  He also used to say;

“If you’ve got a problem with it, then come up with something better or shut the hell up!”

Good point, Dad (My Dad didn’t actually curse that much, but I sure as shit do).  I put on my thinking cap and came up with some programming  ideas of my own.  I’m going to email these ideas to TLC, NatGeo, HGTV, Bravo and A&E.  They’ll be welcome to use any and all of my ideas without having to pay me a dime, but I do want the title “Creative Consultant” and a link to my blog in the opening and closing credits.  Here we go:

The Rolls Royce of Eternal Rest – this baby is a serious upgrade.(Image from Jawdrops.com)

America’s Next Top Mortician – Three morticians are given a challenging stiff to prepare for a viewing and funeral.  They will each have a fixed number of hours to fully prepare the corpse for interment.  Some of the challenges will include pushy, unrealistic family members who want Aunt Bessie to look “more life-like”, ill-fitting clothes for the deceased, and convincing the family they should pay for the up-graded casket.  Finally, what final-rest competition would be complete without the hearse-obstacle course?

Janitors Got Talent – Everyone knows at least one janitor who insists on singing or telling jokes while pushing brooms and emptying trash cans.  Here’s a chance for janitors to shine like freshly scrubbed porcelain!  Each contestant will have to demonstrate their unique talent while brushing toilets, running a floor buffer and refilling the soap dispensers in the women’s bathroom.

Cryo-Bank Tellers  24/7 – This gritty, up-close slice of reality will follow the challenges of round-the-clock employees at a St. Louis sperm bank as they deal with the crazy demands of such a bizarre work environment.  Hand held cameras will follow them throughout the facility with copious amounts of digitized blurring of clients faces, specimen jars and more!  At least once every episode, one of the tellers will lament “The sign on the door said ‘Unoccupied’, Geez I hate when that happens!”  Hilarity meets revulsion when new staff members are pranked and directed to put their lunches in the wrong refrigerator!

Bus Wars – Broad Street Local – Parking Wars meets Cash Cab as Philadelphia’s public transportation passengers are asked impossibly difficult trivia questions.  Contestants are frustrated, angered and embarrassed to realize they can’t possibly win any money.  Tempers flare when the contestants realize that the host/driver has ignored their stops while waiting for one of them to answer the question!

You turbo-charge this thing, put a chain guard on it and go to work. (Image from social.kidspot.com.au)

American Baby-Nose Pickers – Poor little Tyler and Brittany can’t do it themselves with their little bitty fingers!  Whether they use the squeeze ball, a Q-Tip or their own massive adult fingers, Moms and even Dads just can’t rest until that little hanger is out of their babies’ honkers.  The contestants will have to face tough challenges like booger-eating older siblings and the nausea of onlookers.  Tension builds as we close in on the final weigh-in!

My Biggest Fat Gypsy Rose Lee Loser – Theatrical directors and personal trainers team up to direct a community theater production of “Gypsy”, starring the morbidly obese who compete to lose the most weight while dancing and singing the hit numbers from 1959’s Broadway smash!  Wardrobe issues and self-esteem are on a collision course in this emotional competition!  Contestants are pushed to the brink when they have to keep their appetites and salivary glands in check while singing the lyric “..have an egg roll, Mr. Goldstone..”

That’s all I’ve got for now.  I’m going to go ahead and send the link for this blog to all those networks.  Keep your eyes peeled in the months to come, I think I’ve got a few winners here.  Listen up network execs, as promised, these ideas are there for the taking, and all I ask is the “Creative Consultant” tag and a plug for my blog.  Be warned though, my next batch won’t come so cheap!

Claes Oldenburg and Me – Misunderstood Artists

Recently, while driving South on Broad Street in Philadelphia, my dear friend and I spotted one of Claes Oldenburg’s impressive, whimsical sculptures.  While the subject of his piece was fairly obvious, my friend thought it looked like something else.

It’s no secret that the works of artists are frequently misinterpreted by the common rabble.  Even someone as vastly cultured as myself can look at a Rothko painting and exclaim that it looks like a big block of color with another block of color in it too.

This might be about man's inhumanity to man, or maybe it's about the artist's love of delicious strawberry shortcake...or maybe not.. (Rothko white over red - Image from etc.cmu.edu/projects/atl/rothko.htm)

I might look at a Robert Motherwell painting and see nothing more than a big black rectangle.  (On a side note, I’d like to take a brief moment to thank my parents for footing the bill for that undergrad degree which included quite a few art history courses – without their support, I might have gone through life thinking that Robert Motherwell was a British soccer player).

This is a painting by Robert Motherwell, or maybe it's a lithograph. I don't need to tell you what this is about - it's obvious. (Image by elogedelart.canalblog.com/archives/2009/06/20/14146298.html)

Oldenburg though, is not someone whose work is usually subject to such blatant misinterpretation.  He’s renowned for taking everyday objects and looking at them differently.  His sculptures include subjects such as a giant clothespin (Also in Philadelphia), a soft fabric version of a toilet and as we saw on Broad Street, a giant paintbrush with a healthy dollop of red paint on the pavement beneath it.  The tip of the paintbrush is way up in the air, a celebratory salute to Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts .  Technically, the sculpture is on a section of Cherry Street which is closed to traffic, but it juts out onto Broad Street (For the record, it’s Broad Street, putting sculptures on it and adding a few extra signs doesn’t change the name to the Avenue of the Arts – sorry).

My friend, like most people, had no idea about this whole Avenue of the Arts nonsense.  When I pointed out the giant paintbrush, she took one glance and said it looked more like an elf’s foot.  Almost immediately, we began to speculate about the state of the rest of the elf.  We settled on him being awkwardly splayed out dead on Cherry Street, in full rigor mortis, a giant cartoon butcher knife stuck in his chest and a chalk outline around his profile.  The elf in my mind would bear something of a resemblance to Sonic the Hedgehog, but more elfin and dead.  The street would be cordoned off with crime scene tape as throngs of morbid curious onlookers milled around just up-wind.

You can see where we let our imaginations get the better of us. The giant, dead elf just out of sight on Cherry Street - it looked a little more convincing from the other direction (Photo by the author)

While I don’t think that artists in general enjoy having their hard work misunderstood by stooges like us, I like to believe that Mr. Oldenburg would humor us a little bit.  Although, now that I’m a massively successful blogger working in words rather than oil or marble, I believe I’ve earned the right to identify with the frustration of the misunderstood artist.

Take comfort Claes, at least someone saw your work.  If there was a “like” button for your paintbrush, I’d hit it.