Dazed and confused

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Lee Dresselhaus / L’Observateur / November 24, 1999

So. Who wants to be a millionaire? I do. And so do you. But this has become more than just a rhetoricalquestion. Now it has become one of those weirdly popular and pointlessAmerican institutions.

It’s a game show.

Yes it’s true. “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” hosted by the mysteriousRegis Philbin, is a game show. Why do I call him the mysterious RegisPhilbin? Because how this guy ever became successful in the entertainment industry is certainly a mystery, at least to me. I stronglysuspect there is a hostage involved in this whole thing somewhere. Ormaybe blackmail of some type. I’m not sure which, but it can’t be talentthat has led to his success, unless I’m missing something.

Any show hosted by that guy should be accompanied by a surgeon general’s warning that watching Regis Philbin without protective clothing, tinted goggles, and noise filters can cause heart palpitations, face twitching, low birth weight, and a weird little rash that will pop up from time to time in the strangest places.

As if it weren’t enough that he has a talk show (gak), now he has a game show.

And what a game show.

“Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” is one of the entertainment industry’s latest efforts at removing the last shreds of dignity from the American people. It seems that some people will do the darndest things to becomerich, and subjecting themselves to the public humiliation of a game show is one of them.

In this particular show contestants are asked a series of questions. Eachcorrect answer doubles the amount of money they win. The catch is thateach successive question become progressively more difficult. They startoff with questions like, “What’s you first name, Bill?”. The contestant isnaturally encouraged by this and answers correctly that his name is Bill.

The contestant is quite pleased with himself. Flash forward. Fourquestions later the contestant is being asked the cube root of 1,283.2, orthe name of that weird little guy who sells ginseng on the corner in Singapore.

He then is unceremoniously shuffled from the set with however much money he has won up to that point, his dreams of being a millionaire dashed by the irritating phrase, “IS THAT YOUR FINAL ANSWER?” To put things into perspective, however, I have to say that people make bigger fools of themselves every day for much less on game shows like “The Price Is Right,” or that most stunning of intellectual challenges, “Wheel Of Fortune.” Winning a refrigerator is always an great excuse tojump up and down screaming. Ever notice how big Vanna White’s head is,by the way? That thing should have its own gravity well. Just anobservation.

Anyway, game shows are designed to provide entertainment by preying on dignity. And to prove my point, check this out. There is a new show thatcame out hot on the heels of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” It’s called”Greed.” Yep. “Greed.”Well, at least this one is honest when it comes to representing what they do. They attract an audience, and subsequently contestants, by appealingto the greed in all of us. And if your greed overcomes your pride you, too,can make a boob of yourself in front of millions of people who want to see you be an idiot.

And now, the kicker. I understand that one of the networks is planning anew show. It will be sort of like the insipid MTV thing called “Real Life,”in which a camera is installed in a house where several post-adolescent misfits, male and female, live. And we get to see everything they do andhow they interact with each other. Like we care. Only this show will strand a dozen or so contestants on an island and the cameras will watch them. The last one left after everybody else goespsychotic or gets booted by the others, is the winner.

Like a lot of other people, I’ve often thought about being stranded on a desert island, and those thoughts usually involve being stranded with someone like Ginger and Mary Ann. Although with my luck, if I were to bestranded with two women it would be with Judge Judy and Martha Raye, Denture Wearer. Or I would be stranded alone for years and be a gibberinglunatic who just sits and plays with his toes by the time he was rescued.

I don’t think I would voluntarily subject myself to being stuck on an island with a dozen strangers on the off chance that I just might maybe win something. I would do it if the payday were a sure thing, mind you, but notas a gamble. I’m a realist, you know. But that game show, like so many others, is designed to suck the dignity from people like a slickly produced vampire. The promise of maybewinning a great deal of money produces willing victims.

I would never subject myself to that type of public humiliation. Unless Iwas sure I would win, of course.

And that’s my final answer.

Lee Dresselhaus is a regular columnist for L’Observateur

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