Got Shakes? -October, 2002


The local hot dog stand near my house has a great big sign in front of it announcing to the world, "WE HAVE SHAKES!" This puzzled me--- I don't know-- I wouldn't like to go to any restaurant where the staff had the shakes-- or any other embarrassing nervous disorder.
      I was treated to lunch at this establishment, thankfully without any trembling on the part of the proprietor. As I munched upon my 1/3 lb burger (bovine based, by the way-- I have not yet succumbed to the veggie burger propaganda) I got a look about the place. The joint was furnished in the style of what I call 'post-modern pseudo 50's ad nauseam'- (posters of classic cars, wall art of nubile carhops, plus the obligatory Marilyn Monroe stuff). On display here was one of the more pungent demonstrations of totally misguided creativity. It comes in the form of the 'reworked masterpiece'- where some either desperately poor or mentally deranged painter makes parody of a famous painting by substituting the original subjects in the painting with 'Hollywood legends' like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe. The example before me was a remake of one of Renoir's works-- 'Luncheon of the Boating Party'--- the original is an impressionist masterpiece- a soft focus scene of great color and rich texture-- depicting the beauty and gaiety of good friends spending a summer afternoon together in the south of France. The weasely lithograph that assaulted me from the wall depicted the same scene, but substituted John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Judy Garland in the principal subjects' positions, with other Hollywood personalities scattered about. It was called 'Luncheon of the Party Boat', and I started to get the shakes just looking at it.
        After a few minutes spent examining this criminal 'chromo' (due only to an overdose of morbid curiosity-- and soggy French fries), I made a startling conclusion. All of the principals depicted in this insult died from the same cause-- stupidity. Wayne and Bogart chain smoked into lung cancer, Garland, Presley and Monroe all over medicated themselves (I don't buy the conspiracy theories) and James Dean should have used his brake pedal a little more often. I began to think about the other sham art that includes these same personalities-- and how popular it is with the BAD TASTE crowd. It is almost as though a growing segment of our population is honoring-- even lionizing -- bad judgment. Maybe I'm being a little harsh with Bogart and John Wayne, (lots of people rotted their lungs that way back then), but the rest of them were without a doubt-- well-- stupid. They knowingly made bad choices, and it got them. They were victims only of themselves--like Montgomery Clift.
      What gets me as I look around is that there are lots of young people with the attitude of 'live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse.' One of the logical flaws espoused by this group (kind of a mantra) is 'He who dies with the most toys--wins'. My logical response to this lunacy-- when it is presented as a valid lifestyle-- is, Wins what? I've never seen dead people play with any toys. The only thing I've seen dead people do is either lie in a box in the ground or get turned into ashes. So the only thing they can win on this Earth is a game of hide-and-seek-- that is, only if they have unmarked graves.
       The major problem of living on the edge is you are most likely to die there, as demonstrated by the principal characters in the painting. I should hope that if our poster children for bad judgment were presented with some foreknowledge of their outcomes, (I would show them the painting, just for starters) then they may have made some wiser choices. Then again, maybe not. The principle of Expressive Idiocy applies here. What is the principle of Expressive Idiocy, you ask? I can best explain it as thus: never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups. Maybe they would all get together and agree that they would want to be in that silly painting after all. You can never tell about artists and actors anyway.