The Artificial Event: From The Late Late Show to MMOs

A good surprise is like a good joke. Scratch that. A good surprise is a good joke. At least, in the realm of simple laughs and gestures, and not the situation where your girlfriend tells you she’s pregnant and you feign your widest smile. No offense, loving girlfriend carrying your child. It’s just that, well, you need some time to warm up to the life-alteringness of that statement. So, not to say accidental pregnancy can’t be a good surprise; it’s just a lot heavier, and not as seemingly effortless or jocular.

A good joke, however, inherently functions on the idea that we want to laugh. And to laugh, we must in some way be surprised by the wit. We will even go as far as allowing the teller to create, perhaps even let us exist in, an artificial space. This is what happened to me last night, as I waited for The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Actually, in all honesty, I don’t actively wait for this show. (Sorry, Craig.) No, I’m generally channel surfing, noticing that late shows are starting to come on, then I quickly flip through, hoping to find this show. (You’re welcome, Craig.) However, I was surprised to find that Drew Carey was introducing the show, along with George Gray taking the place of Craig’s co-host, Geoff Peterson, a gay robot. This switch, beyond anything else, is quite fitting. Anyways, you can imagine my surprise at this moment, especially when this type of event doesn’t occur often.

The cold open had Drew Carey rattle through some decent pre-written jokes at an alarming speed, with an occasional nod to George. Then came the guests, which seemed tailored to Carey. Carl Reiner, the comedy legend and one of Carey’s idols, was given his due respect, oddly making gesture to the infrequent but necessary “serious” episodes The Late Late Show has aired before. Then Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize winner from Carey’s own Cleveland, who seemed more at ease on the set than Carey. And lastly, another self-admitted idol of Carey’s, Joan Jett. For the sake of this piece, I will resist the urge to digress into a rant about how former rockstars should stay dead, figuratively of course. But she was wearing leather pants, and her lyricism would’ve offended her Runaway self. Overall, though, the show left me with a smirk. I admit, Craig Ferguson would’ve had me laughing so much more, but I enjoyed the surprise, even the ingenuity when Carey explained that he and his former co-star were switching shows for April Fool’s Day.

Similarly, Ferguson’s goofiness did have me laughing the next morning during The Price is Right. The hosting was, by no means, good. Which may even help Carey convince CBS and viewers that even though he’s no Bob Barker, he’s an ample replacement. Despite my love for Carey, this, of course, isn’t true. But I digress. Likewise, those digressions were the glimmers in Ferguson’s performance. His occasional banter with Geoff and awkward reign over some unwieldy contestants proved Ferguson to be a better comedian than host.

So, what are we, the audience, left with after an “event” like this?  So much of these shows are prewritten, as Carey’s poor cold open proved. So much of television is, of course, a well. Our reality shows are so controlled by hosts and rules and grand amounts of editing, that they may even be the most prewritten of them all. But the existence of them may suggest our urge towards the unknown, the unwritten, the surprise.

The high-schooler in me wants to celebrate this idea with a capital Anarchist. And, to an extent, the poet in me has already begun to write the propaganda. But then the anti-Bukowski reflex kicks in, and I return to the happy medium where good art, though gesturing to the chaos of the world, must have constraints.

But we’re not talking about art; we’re discussing television. And I hope that my audience, the sheer thousands of you, have stuck with me and afforded my meandering exploration a bit of lenience. For, some things must meander to be interesting, or funny, or surprising. The setup, though rarely given credit, is almost as integral as the joke itself. And we allow the teller the artificial space, in which this telling can occur, as if to imply, like in a horror story, that we want to be momentarily fooled, shocked, surprised, etc.

This concept may not be all that new to you. You may seek it even, the shock. However, may I be the first to suggest that the act of seeking a surprise, even searching online for a joke, ultimately deadens it? However, I commend your search, as channel surfing is much akin to it. We are searching to not only be entertained, but to be surprised. Much like every day, television, in all its time-sucking glory, is a perpetuation of the similar, the usual. And even though this usual has more gunfights and promiscuous sex than our everyday usual, it’s still something we’ve gotten used to. The initially offending episodes of South Park now shock us less, and the blood spatter of CSI isn’t all that gripping. The grandest irony of all of this may be the phenomenon of currently watching a series while being nostalgic for earlier seasons. The poet in me jumps to blame this on bad writing. And while this is true from a character development standpoint, much of my impulse boils down to just getting used to another show.

So, back to THE EVENT. Season Premier, Season Finale, Season’s best episode everyone will be talking about, etc. Fittingly, How I Met Your Mother ended its 9 year run yesterday, and despite my utter hatred of the development and plot of the last two seasons, I’m suddenly more inclined to evaluate its end by way of it being an event. The Nine-Years-In-The-Making Event. And not just of an event, but an artificial event. Even upon terming it that, I’m inclined to point out the redundancy of the phrase. Events, by definition and practice, are artificial, made-up, contrived. But, in all the bright lights, romanticization, and deep voiceovers, I think we forget this.

These events, though they exist in droves, are presented to us as fleeting moments of history, almost akin to the fleeting moments in our lives. Just the rhetoric alone (ie: “Don’t miss the season finale”) implies this. This would be laughable if not for our connection to characters like Kevin Arnold or Ted Mosby or Jesse Pinkman or Ross and Rachel or Jim and Pam. How many tears have we shed for such artifice? I don’t blame us. We have suspended our disbeliefs, wanted the surprise, acted like we haven’t predicted what will happen at the end. And so, like a sports broadcast, we don’t even fathom setting our DVRs for such an event, as the viewing would then be false.

Okay, I may be sensationalizing a bit. I watched the end of Breaking Bad on Netflix far after the finale, as with The Wonder Years and The Office. And, though I caught the finale of How I Met Your Mother and Friends, I hadn’t watched either consistently leading up to them. But I knew the showings were an event, as they were televised as such, and that, perhaps, people would be talking about them the following day. Part of me didn’t want to miss this. They were, in so many ways, fleeting.

This logic is, of course, ridiculous. But reading the furious HIMYM comments on Facebook later that night suggested otherwise. I was part of something. My hatred was another’s. And those posting a day or two later, those DVRers late to the party, well their opinions seemed almost void.

This is not only odd to admit, but a bit juvenile, like the high school capitalism manifesting itself all over again. However, it does remind of our internalization of how media is delivered. News programs pride themselves not on being wholly accurate but being the first to report an event. Sports broadcasters are rarely called out on their frequent inaccuracies in predictions. And the term “derivative” is tossed around so negatively via hipster that one cannot help but suppress the urge to discuss the finale of Breaking Bad 6 months after it aired.

Essentially, we enjoy the event because we are a part of it. And, well, others aren’t. This phenomenon may seem entirely logical when contextualized by something more national, more all-encompassing like, say, The Super Bowl (my mother would argue me on this) or holidays or, hell, tax day. It is a hearty celebration of cultural solidarity. However, try explaining to a non-video game enthusiast (I’m not necessarily pointing to the previously mentioned pregnant girlfriend) why you’re paying $60 for the new Assassin’s Creed, when it will be $30 in a few months.

Taking this exploration into nerdom further, I believe THE EVENT functions like that of dailies or events in MMOs, or even festivals in, dare I say it, real life! The crowds roll in because, again, an event is fleeting. It is a break in normalcy that we seem to seek. And not only seek it, but are also compelled by it. The artificial compression of a moment or time period causes us to break normalcy, as we feel urged to capitalize on something that will no longer exist. I’m thinking about not only the hordes during Black Friday, but say, the monthly routine I organize myself into in order to exploit SWTOR’s Bounty Missions.

I’m too skeptical to suggest this compulsion be linked to something more biologic, like an innate urge to consume before a resource is gone. Perhaps the shopping and festivals and MMO events function like this, as money or resources are involved. But then we’re still left with the season finales, and sporting events, and all the tears. The sporting “event” is slightly easily to stomach, as it is a LIVE broadcast. However, it still functions under the artifice of an event. The Bowl isn’t that Super unless we deem it such. But it does insight the fear that we may be missing out on something important, not only by way of our own personal connections, but a mutual connection (sometimes across a nation) with a band of characters or teams or, hell, even each other. There’s just something to be said about a finale’s credits rolling, and feeling a combination of emptiness, happiness (upon being entertained), and the knowledge that you are at least sharing this strata of emotions with others, all at the same time.

Suffice it to say, CBS, rather television, knows how to capitalize on this amalgamation of emotions.  So does the NFL and video game companies and, yes, Kohl’s. But what’s odd, then, is why I felt almost giddy when getting to witness something like Drew Carey and Craig Ferguson switching shows. It’s something that’s not supposed to happen. It’s rare. I feel, dare I say, special in getting to witness the event. It’s like when two great musicians come together for a benefit, or when two great comedians improvise on stage. I like that nervousness abounds. It reminds me that I’m sitting in on something that will never happen again. I am in the know. I can talk about the in a social setting. I can use the phrase, “Oh, you didn’t see that?” So, despite my better judgment, I’m enraptured by THE EVENT, and by what the event can afford me.

I cannot singularly land on one explanation beyond noting a combination of narcissism and self-consciousness. It is like high school. It’s as if we’re viewing our small selves with a grand microscope that only Facebook can supply. It’s like Garden State’s awkwardness when Sam admits to Largeman: “You know what I do when I feel completely unoriginal? I make a noise or do something no one has ever done before, and then I can feel unique again.” This statement, though being true, is only true in the most infinitesimal sense. Sam is still left with the unoriginality of living. As well as Largeman, who can barely muster such an event. So, perhaps, these artificial events work like this. Perhaps the best April Fool’s jokes are made for those that just want to be fooled.

Photo credits: CBS, Garden State (respectively)

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  1. I meant to mention at the beginning of this post that I had intended to post it on April 2nd. You know, like the day after April Fool's Day. That would help to give more context. So many apologies for my laziness. I promise, it was written. I just never got around to editing it.

  2. Wow. That's a lot to respond to, to think about. I think you're on to something bigger here, that you allude to with mentions of Facebook and the day to day lives of individuals trying to break a habit. I think our culture today might be more inundated in this mindset than ever before, where we constantly go online and try to absorb new information as a means to break the cycle of things that otherwise appear so grating, so mind-numbing to most. It is, for all intents and purposes, why we even have this blog to begin with. And I also think it is deeply seated in some sense that, as time passes, we need to be constantly striving to accomplish something -- the event, in a way, represents the pinnacle of such a desire, where all our efforts can culminate in a production for which we then can look back with, as you rightfully identify, a sense of nostalgia.

    I think that a lot of video games cling on to this mentality now as evidenced in their increasing compulsion to sell "Collector Edition" this and "Limited Release" that. Tax day and Disneyland mark the high points along with my favorite, Comic-Con, down to the less obvious like the "daily/weekly/every Monday-Wednesday-Thursday" webcomic of blog post, the NEWS that we must be reading constantly to stay abreast of the new surprises and horrors that await us.

    I am left a bit curious as to why you immediately connect the notion of an event to comedy, to humor, to a joke. I think we look to be surprised in any way, as long as we can feel something -- the more, the better. I haven't made it to the ending of Breaking Bad, but...just utter the words Red Wedding to any true Game of Thrones fan and you're likely to get a response. Even last week, in a passing dinner conversation with Ryan, the mere mention of Purnsley, a character from Boardwalk Empire, was enough to spark off a series of considerations as to how his "event" of the most recent season categorized the entire show as a whole. Are those always at the beginning, the end, the midpoint? Are they always successful? Does anyone like those episodes of Walking Dead as much as everything strewn about, the mindlessly wandering middle chapters to a show that has become nearly as mindless and thoughtless as its constant background antagonists (let's be honest, I don't hate TWD, but I do like analogizing the show to its titular characters)? But so little of that centers around a joke, unless we're talking about the most morbid of sorts -- is that the joke we pine after, the dark and the most gut-busting, in some form of balance?

    I would close by pointing out my bad habit with "event" consumption, especially with books and shows, often finds itself marred by my inability -- my lack of desire -- to reach that teleological endpoint that ultimately defines the content I have immersed myself in. It's why I have yet to finish Kavalier and Clay; why I still have two episodes sitting unfinished for Caprica and a half season remaining on the woefully short two season lifespan of Young Justice. Reading to completion books like Ready Player One might make that compulsion even worse, as it represents the epitome to me of a book that, once finished, I can't return to with the same sense of wonder and discovery. I do seek it elsewhere, but I fear balancing it against my sense of disappointment regarding some of this content. Is it all driven by nostalgia? I think that's as good a starting place as any.

  3. I forgot to include this quote from a passage in Anthony Bourdain's first chapter of Kitchen Confidential ("Food is Good"):

    'Vichyssoise,' came the reply, a word that to this day – even though it's now a tired old warhorse of a menu selection and one I've prepared thousands of times-still has a magical ring to it. I remember everything about the experience: the way our waiter ladled it from a silver tureen into my bowl, the crunch of tiny chopped chives he spooned on as garnish, the rich, creamy taste of leek and potato, the pleasurable shock, the surprise that it was cold.

    A blend, as it were, of the nostalgic and the sudden self-awareness that comes with hindsight -- here, identity formation becomes the impetus for continued surprise and discovery. It is, after all, what separates us from the idiots.

  4. Joey, I definitely think you're spot on when speaking to how video game developers create the event in limited edition shit, which, I think we have to admit, we can be suckers for.

    And yes, I tend to agree with the surge in artificial events having something to do with a desired escape from the monotony of the everyday, and with the advent of online access, those things are more prevalent. I want to point out as well that with this increase in online access (technology is in our pockets, that some online profiles are more developed than real personalities, etc) has created a stage for every person to aggrandize themselves. In that light, Facebook (or Myspace, because we're that old) chain letters or quizzes or Fill-In-The-Blanks-About-Me or Nat'l Make an Artistic Post Days are events in themselves. In this regard, the mundane is likewise being turned into an Artificial Event. Perhaps, yes, we are TRULY escaping the mundane by turning it into the grand.

    Lastly, humor. I'm not sure why I chose to attach the concept of the joke to that of an event. Honestly, it was the first thing that came to mind, and made sense. I believe that impulse came from the fact that the event derives its importance from being fleeting. The "true" event is not only fleeting, but isn't accessible to everyone. In that light, no, as joke can be repeated for any listener. However, a joke, the humor behind a joke IS fleeting. You cannot go back to a joke and re-hear it with the same combination of enthusiasm or nativity. And even if you meet the joke with a heightened enthusiasm, you become disappointed, as the joke wasn't as funny as the first time. This is why we wish to share jokes with people. Contact high! So, I suppose The Event isn't limited to how we derive pleasure from humor (as any emotion likely triggers our association with The Event). BUT a joke is an honest attempt at recreating something funny. It often eliminates the unnecessary details in order to carve out exactly what is humorous. In that regard, our retelling of other emotions may only exist in watching a movie or reading a story. There is more participation that exists in a joke. We don't tell sad stories nearly as often, as it does not necessarily engage the listener. We want a reaction. All sad stories get is sympathy.

    1. And yes, I completely agree with the Bourdain quote: "...Identity formation becomes the impetus for continued surprise and discovery." In that regard, The Event is something that is something more biologically ingrained. At least, if you look at the development of personality as a means to show others your own worth to the community. The Event, here, must be fleeting. Otherwise, anyone can experience it.

      Likewise, I have a quote for you. Perhaps it doesn't quite hit the impetus for identity, but it does sort of define what makes a good event good. And also, perhaps, that this event is akin to a high (as this quote is taken from Denis Johnson's short story "Car Crash While Hitchhiking")

      “Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn't know yet that her husband was dead. We knew. That's what gave her such power over us. The doctor took her into a room with a desk at the end of the hall, and from under the closed door a slab of brilliance radiated as if, by some stupendous process, diamonds were being incinerated in there. What a pair of lungs! She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I've gone looking for that feeling everywhere.”

  5. Also, almost a year later, I've stumbled across this:

    or this:

    which was written about a month ago. FoMO is apparently a psychological, maybe not disorder, but situation. I think that's what we were circling, especially in regards to how companies market products.