If you are inclined toward a certain skeptic-semi-paranoid — let’s call it cynicism — against the holiday season, then you, like me, rejoiced as you observed Joaquin Phoenix’s recent string of talk show interviews: his nefarious grace, ripping and making-fun-at-the-expense-of every host in his wake.
You have noticed by now that the Christmas decorations have been retrieved from Jimmy Stewart’s attic, and returned to their place on the altar of every talk show’s living room set. Some of these decorations may even resemble ones that sit atop the cedar “entertainment center” that houses your television in your very own living room. You might, during a commercial break perhaps, gaze with admiration at the fabric figures of Mr. and Mrs. Clause beneath a mistletoe, while presumably you sip a Starbucks Peppermint MochaTM. (Sidebar: If you contact me directly, I can get you one of these tasty fermented treats for 30 percent off. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to write a letter of inquiry to our editor in chief, Mr. Joe Manganiello. I’ve been told that this discount can work wonders for your social life. Sorry Joe.)
Ellen is nearing the end of her 12 days of giveaways; Kelly is a torpedo of crusading good cheer; and Dave is sipping his seventh gin and tonic, bubbling up the same chagrin of a lonely chaperone on prom night. Meanwhile, Phoenix is returning from the frozen football bleachers that far too many members of the surrounding community sat on to watch the neighborhood boys go 2-12 last season. We really thought the kids had a chance this year; if only the quarterback hadn’t sprained his ankle by jumping off the roof of his mother’s house at the banger he threw following the team’s 2-0 start. How disappointing.
When Joaquin returns to the high school gym, Dave, punch-drunk and indifferent, asks Joaquin where he’s been, and what is that smell? Joaquin evades the question, so Dave tells him: Well, it’s good to see you, and it’s good to see that you’ve taken off the sunglasses and trimmed your beard. Joaquin warms up a little, and he decides to tell Dave that he has just now, outside on the bleachers, gotten engaged to Prom Queen Reese Weatherspoon. What will the golden boy quarterback think of this? Ah well, the king is on crutches, and he can’t dance anyway.
Joaquin continues past Dave to make his rounds among the rest of the faculty. In the collapsable metal chairs, Joaquin finds the guidance counsellor George Stephanopoulos, with his index finger drawn up against his forehead, creating a dinosaur pun for the girls without dates, who sit solemn, un-entertained, and generally distressed around him.Joaquin’s only intention for dropping by this conglomeration of despair seems to be to tell the Stephanopoulos that he has lied to Mr. Letterman. He is not, as it turns out, engaged.
The question that is being asked when we talk about Joaquin Phoenix’s recent talk show antics is: Why go on the David Letterman show and lie about being engaged? And perhaps the better, follow-up question is: Why go on subsequent talk shows and tell the hosts that you lied on David Letterman’s show? I guess the answer, which is actually another question altogether, is: Why not?
More and more, television personalities and talk show hosts — Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart, in particular — are drawing attention to the fact that their professions, ideally executed, are supposed to provide the American working public with a healthy catharsis after our long and often stressful days. This is nice, but television has not, yet, adequately catered itself to the realities of all of the citizens of America.
The corporate obsession and utilization of Christmas is one way in which television is not accommodating a greater American audience. The lack of an intellectually strong, black talk show personality is another way in which this need to appeal to a diverse American audience is being neglected. Michael Strahan is put through the ringer whenever a contemptuous white guest, like Joaquin Phoenix, is brought on Live with Kelly and Michael. (Tyler Perry immediately comes to my mind when I think of a black celebrity who would be able to hold his own in a conversation with any guest). Strahan comes across as lost, and he succumbs to playing a goofy personality to cover his insecurity. We need strong black personalities on television, not simply because of race issues, but because, flat-out, a man like Tyler Perry is better qualified for the job.
Jimmy Fallon is a strong fit for his position as host of the Tonight Show. With that in mind, I seriously doubt that Bobby Moynihan, for example, was ever on Lorne Michaels’s list of who would be best to run his Late Night franchise. Fallon has a necessary “it” for the late night format that other performers, however talented, do not. But when you consider how much white, straight males have dominated the history of late night television, it isn’t going out on a limb to claim that the string pullers behind network television do not put white men in positions under national spotlight where they will be out of place. The same cannot be said, though, for minorities and women — Michael Strahan has been taken out of his element (football) and placed somewhere else (television) where he is made to appear weak, day after excruciating day. Of course, Strahan consented to this, so perhaps that foils my entire argument. However, I still contend that there is something — the temptation of fame and fortune — sinister to it.
And, of course, there is something sinister about the entire Christmas fanfare that comes around this time of year. For, there was something sinister about the way the Catholic church re-imagined Jesus, the heir to David’s kingdom, as a demigod.We have lost sight of this historic bloodline.Instead of a King Jesus and a Jewish kingdom, rival and resistant to the whims of Roman conquest and corporate wealth mongering, we are left with Aslan and Narnia. How far through the wardrobe have we gone?
So to answer my earlier question (and, yes, I know how pretentious that sounds) why not, if you are Joaquin Phoenix, go on the richly Christmas decorated sets of talk shows and lie? Why not? The whole thing is a lie.“Step back, can’t get spunk on the minx. I mean damn, what would Jeromey Romey Romey Rome think?” — Basically, if they’re lying, i’ma lie too. And Joaquin Phoenix is going to lie in a way that let’s them know they’re a fool.Or else, he’s going to make them a fool.
When Joaquin Phoenix walks on the set of a talk show with his loose James Murphy tie, and Converse All-Stars, he has the same effect on the audience as that stoner kid who showed up late to everyone’s prom.This is an annihilating effect.He is a force of nature that washes away the comfortable assumptions of the Starbucks drinking, One Direction listening, beneficiaries of our American society.I mean whose got five bucks for sixteen ounces of milk?Here, Phoenix seems to say, let me get you some water.But, if I were you, I wouldn’t stay for the main course, and not only because Joaquin Phoenix is a vegan.