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The Celebrity's Shortcut Guide to Respectability

If you are like most people, you are an internationally famous Hollywood superstar possessing decadent wealth, legions of ravenous fans, and one or two stalkers. But sometimes that's not enough. Sometimes, there is an emptiness deep inside whose cure can not be purchased with points on the gross, nor will it arrive in a gift basket in recognition of your compelling work at The Oscars. As unlikely as it may first sound, there is one craving satisfied only through the admiration of our learned peers. So what is a star to do? Where does one start? To these troubled and important celebrities who wish to transform themselves from flavor-of-the-month to guest-at-The-Actor's-Studio, those who seek the true satisfaction of RESPECTABILITY, these words are humbly, obsequiously, offered.

For the actor, the course to respectability is clear. Either on television or (preferably) in the movies, pretend to be a retard. Before you reject the notion out of hand, think of your colleagues and their successes. Novices can look to Larry Drake, who won acclaim and tremendous respect for his portrayal of Benny, the loveable retard on "L.A. Law". For established superstars, making like a moron can undo previous mistakes. Sean Penn was finally able to put Jeff Spicoli behind him when he pretended to be the titular retard of "I Am Sam". The role of the retard can also invigorate a sagging career, like Dustin Hoffman in "Rainman".

You can join their mighty company, if only you commit to the task. Think how gallant you will appear while portraying the dignity of retards in your unflattering haircut, with your drool and slurred speech. You, the sexy star, casting aside your own perfection, hiding your sculpted body under disheveled, fashionless clothes, struggling against the odds, facing the ridicule of your character's enemies. And if you choose your script correctly, your character will triumph over adversity. The entertainment community, recognizing your inner strength by proxy, will rush to commend your achievement. You will glow with resolve whenever a clip is replayed on a talkshow or press junket. You can wear all black; you can wear eyeglasses of wisdom. Your love of the craft, the art, will be obvious.

Playing a retard need not be all sacrifice. Simply commit to the nobility of the role while keeping your own long-term interests at heart. Mel Gibson was a retard in "Tim", but was able to play the retard as athletic boytoy, preserving his cache as a superhunk. For lessons in retard portrayal, though, one need look no further than the mastery of Tom Hanks' Academy Award winning interpretation of Forest Gump. Not only did he talk funny and wear stupid clothes, the great Hanks managed to imbue the retard Forest with genius. It is Forest who invents Elvis' hip sway; it is Forest who coins the maxim 'have a nice day.' Forest participates in school desegregation, plays football for Bear Bryant, wins the Congressional Medal of Honor, and becomes both a shrimp and ping-pong millionaire. Now that's a retard that even Charlton Heston or Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud to pretend to be.

Unfortunately for actresses, there is no advantage to the role of retard. Remember Juliet Lewis' powerful depiction of a moron in that one movie with Diane Keaton? Of course you don't; nobody does. The hard truth is that no one wants to see hot starlets feign more stupidity than they already possess. For the actress in search of respect and deference, of a quiet and sustained ovation, you must cast off your tight, malnourished allure and wrap yourself up like a fatass. Remember, though, that delicacy is required when playing a lardo. The key is, ironically, to keep it light. Think romantic comedy, and guard against anything resembling true-life, like "The Practice" or Camryn Manheim. Even her name sounds fat and pathetic. Remember, your goal is respectability, not pity.

It is only natural to be cautious about soiling your bony reputation. Why not follow Gwyneth Paltrow's lead in "Shallow Hal"? Not only did she wear the fat suit, she repeatedly appeared in the movie without it. We were continuously reminded throughout the film that she's a hot young star, not a big fat pig. Of course, a script of this caliber is often difficult to procure. Be sure to send the writers, if any, copious notes. It's your ass on the screen. If you are willing to experiment, consider gaining actual bodyweight for the role. We venerate Renee Zellweger for her heroic work as a grotesquely fat slob in "Bridget Jones' Diary". For those strong and desperate enough to take the wide road, the accolades can be manifest. Like your male counterpart, you will field softball questions from behind delicate eyeglass frames and talk endlessly of the decadence of eating and the hardship of exercise, all while clothed head to foot in slimming black. Just be sure to lose the weight quickly; you are only pretending to be a fatass.

Honor awaits those who cast off the trappings of success and pretend to be one of the wretches of society. We in the entertainment community will thank repeatedly and mercilessly whoever degrades him or herself and brings to our attention the dignity and humanity of the retard or fatass. Someone will do it. The only question is, will it be you who receives the Award?

Update: Recently, several actresses have been inspired by Charlize Theron for her winning double-whammy portrayal of an ugly fatass. "Monster" indeed! While it is sometimes advisable, like Talia Shire in "Rocky", to pretend to be ugly, affecting both fat AND ugly at the same time is beyond the range of most of us. The task is better left to those special, well-trained few. Actors are pointing to Gary Sinise of "Forest Gump", noting that respectability can be won by pretending to be a cripple. It hadn't occurred to me, but now that I think about it, Tom Cruise also did well as a gimpy vet in "Born on the Forth of July". Perhaps it is worth a try. Just don't be really a cripple, that will go nowhere, right Marlee Matlin?

Words Won't Help You

All words are lies. A fabulously hypocritical way to start an essay, yes, but it is a point I hope to prove. With your kind indulgence, let me explain. Our current President's application of language is described as either endearing or dangerous, depending on the agenda of the speaker. Should we be concerned? My challenging proposition is that we should not. I say, language is inherently misleading and far too imprecise to ever merit use. With an extension of your kind indulgence, allow me to explain.

I ask that you think of a flower. In order for this to work, you must trust me and think of an actual flower. Now already we are in an unbalanced contest, because I intend to deceive even as I ask for your trust. So now, in addition to your indulgence, I must ask for your faith that I mean you no harm when I ask you to think of a flower. Have you thought of one? Ask a person near you also to think of a flower. This works better if there is another person, but the second person is not essential.

To sum up so far, you are thinking of a flower, and a friend is also thinking of a flower. What are the chances that the two of you are thinking of the same flower? After all, I asked you to think of a flower, and I asked you to ask another person to do the same. It's the same flower, isn't it? Probably not. This is the first problem of language. You can relay my language to another, but no matter how simple my words, nor how exactly you repeat them, this new person just won't quite get it. Her flower inevitably is different than yours. Translation never works very well. Your repetition was an honest and most literal translation possible, and yet it failed. But even ignoring your friend for a moment (just for a moment), your flower is probably not the one I was asking about. Even in this first and simpler instance of communication, me asking you to think of a flower, we have failed. Perhaps interestingly, it would have made no difference if I had managed to speak directly to your friend. I am quite sure that each of us has our own particular flower in mind, and that if for the rest of my life I asked everyone I met to think of a flower, the pictures in their many heads would never match suggestion precisely.

But you protest, as you might, that my description of the flower was intentionally vague in order to induce this misunderstanding and prove a point that might not be true. "We are both thinking of flowers, isn't that some form of common ground?" you ask. I concede. The clever debater is usually the one who most carefully constructs his examples so as to hide the weaknesses of his argument. (Analogies are particularly dangerous in this regard; suspect them always!) "The problem," you note brilliantly, "is in your poor explanation of the flower."

I concede that my description is vague, but what if had been more precise, or more to the point, wordy. Would that really help? How many words would I need to describe the exact color of my flower so that you could see it the way I do? How long would it take me to properly portray each petal: each petal's shape, and each petal's location? Just off the top of my head, I will need to explain in additional detail the stem, leaves and thorns, if any, the environment in which my flower resides, the weather conditions, the time of day, and the angle and distance from which I regard it. Not only where in the universe, but also when. Every atom, each electron, needs accounting for. Temperature, humidity, sounds, motion, smell. I could die of old age before I even completed my list of what I must describe, let alone find the time to actually make the description.

More sinister, each word that I add will only add to the confusion. If "flower", a single word, is vague to a degree, then surely "red flower" with twice as many words must be twice as vague. Any precision gained by the addition of a second word is more than offset by that word's own propensity to be misunderstood. Each additional word I use will only compound the differences between our two conceptions. The more precise I attempt to be, the more clearly you will see your own flower, and in the end, the more plainly you will be able to distinguish yours from mine. As just one example of this problem, I offer the law. Lawyers hope to eliminate confusion and create clarity by adding words to their contracts and laws. Over time, these well-meaning and much respected folk have created ponderous documents meant to increase clarity and understanding between parties, but we might acknowledge that their many efforts are in vain. I doubt if anyone truly understands the entirety of the IRS tax code, or the Texas constitution, or any of the other weighty tomes we carry on our backs as we struggle through life. But even if some deluded character attempted to memorize one of these burdens, it would avail him nothing. Each word is merely an additional point for contention between adversaries. The longer the contract, the more complex the lawsuit, but the no less likely the filing of complaints.

I have a flower, you have a flower, and your good friend has a flower, and yet there is no device or technique for us to convey our flowers out of our own heads into the heads of each other. We are looking straight past each other even as we nod in agreement.

You may counter, in the spirit of genuine conversation and without forensic trickery, that all this merely adds up to only a modest misunderstanding. Possibly so, but you might hold your thought until I make my last point, which is... there is no flower! Fantastic, eh? I thought of a flower. I asked you to think of a flower. You in turn, if you are so blessed as to posses a friend, asked another the same. I suggest that we each thought of a different flower. That's three in all, three exquisitely appropriate representatives of the entirety of flowerdom locked forever in our own idiosyncratic perceptions. Except that actually there are no flowers at all. Stunning! "There is the flower, I can see it," we thought to ourselves. It must be there! That's three easy errors in judgement from otherwise thoughtful and considerate people, as I'm sure our company is always populated. How can it be?

Words are not things, but only suggestions of things. They approximate at best, but even with good intentions and special considerations, they can deceive. In fact, they must deceive, because they are not themselves but representations of something else. Each time I use a word to communicate outside of myself, I accept a reality, consciously or not, of being misunderstood. Further, even within my own mind, I use these words, these tiny whispers of reduction and deception, to organize my perceptions of the world, to lay down my own philosophies, to swipe and claw at truth. The words nudge at my memories, they seduce me. I no longer remember a large brown fingering object in the yard covered in small tabs of green. I remember a tree. Actually, I remember the idea of tree. "It was a tree," I tell myself, and satisfied with the order I think I see in the universe, I forget the visceral impact of light on my retina. Perhaps it is inevitable. How could I hold my memories without some shorthand?

I have attempted with all sincerity to make my point honestly and clearly, and judging by the length of my essay and its many devious words, I can be assured that anyone reading here is hopelessly deceived and thinking all the wrong things, or at least all the wrong suggestions of things. The verbosity of the intellectual is an illusory bargain. Our President shows wisdom in opting out. Let us follow his lead into a happy new future, one free of the misunderstandings of language.

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