Thursday, December 26, 2013

Something like a phenomenon

'Tis the end of another year. With this magical time comes the traditional onslaught of lists and awards people find it necessary to concoct, collect and distribute. Top Tens, Top Fives, Top 100s, Man of the Year, Woman of the Year, Manly Woman of the Year, Cuddly Internet Animal of the Year, etc. Time magazine has their Person of the Year (I mean, he is totally nailing this whole Pope thing). I figured I might get in on the action as well. Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Spartacus' Person of the Year:
Michael Bolton.

Now, to the casual observer, Michael Bolton isn't the obvious choice. The fact is, Michael Bolton has been subtly creeping into my consciousness all year. I am impressed that he has re-established his pop culture presence as a guy that can play himself in ironic cameo appearances. What started the year off as a seemingly random casting in the Optimum commercial, in which his phone number was hilariously confused with theirs, led to a borderline humiliating turn serenading cartoon fruit in a Starburst ad. He finished out the year singing to potential Honda customers and I, for one, am proud of the man. I'm happy that he's still working and I'm happy he can laugh at himself and allow us to laugh along. It's impressive. It's amusing. It's a treat. Dare I say it's a phenomenon?

The thing is, I love a good phenomenon. My favorite phenomenon, to date, was the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. This is when some abstract name or thing enters your world for the first time and then repeatedly, immediately following that first time. Alan Bellows gives a nice summary: "Anytime the phrase "that's so weird, I just heard about that the other day" would be appropriate, the utterer is hip-deep in Baader-Meinhof." For the rest of his explanation, see his damn interesting  post on the topic.

The name Baader-Meinhof refers to a very specific example of what is actually a very general, common thing... hearing about something you’ve just heard about.  In the case of Baader-Meinhof, it is not the actual phenomenon that I am so taken with, although for anyone to hear about that specific left-wing German activist gang multiple times in a short span of time does seem worthy of the title: phenomenon. The part I find most fascinating is the name... It was the simple act of a St. Paul Pioneer Press reader in 1986 mentioning the recurrence of hearing about the Baader-Meinhof gang that gave the entire phenomenon its name. If that guy can use his random example as a name inspiration, maybe I can too.

Using celebrities who are years, even decades, past their prime in advertisements and comedy sketches is a fairly common thing these days. Old Navy has been doing it for years (Mr. T, Boys II Men and Julie Haggerty-the stewardess from the movie Airplane, just to name a few). And who hasn’t enjoyed the series of Snickers ads with the likes of Kenny G and Abe Vigoda? As common as it seems, it is a thing that doesn't really have a name... until now. 

May I present to you: the Boltonomenon. Of course Michael Bolton isn’t the only washed up celebrity to play himself in an ad. Shoot, he isn't even the only washed up 80‘s pop singer to play himself in an ad this year. Anyone who saw Eddie Money as a travel agent in a Geico ad knows that. But he is a good recurring example of the phenomenon I am defining here: reviving a former star's popularity and presence in a somewhat hokey yet humorous way and the positive reaction we, the viewing public, have to seeing them in these "ironic" scenarios.

Our reaction is a combination of surprise: having not seen them in a while; nostalgia: thinking back fondly to when they were a big deal; and sentimentality: feeling bad because they are not really that big of a deal anymore. When we see the cast of 90210 or the Audrey's and Rusty's from three different National Lampoon's Vacation movies reuniting in an Old Navy ad we are mildly amused and a little excited. This is the sentiment of the Boltonomenon: “Oh look, it's them... I remember them... I didn’t expect to see them here today, but I’m glad they are all still alive and camera ready.”

When Michael Bolton started appearing again after all these years, he was greeted with a mix of mild amusement, moderate enthusiasm and an essence of pity. It is a much softer version of laughing at someone else's expense since these washed up celebrities are clearly in on the joke, assuming they are being paid for the ads. And given the lapse in time since we've seen them active in the entertainment world, I do truly hope they are being paid. 

I think he got paid in tickets to paradise, a pretty sweet deal for him these days.
We need to believe that these celebrities are in on the joke, otherwise it feels like we’re laughing AT them. So I will continue to assume that Michael Bolton, Kenny G, Eddie Money and anyone else they can dig up are wicked funny for being able to laugh at themselves, partially because it makes me feel better about them, but mainly because it makes me feel better about myself.

The Boltonomenon provides a way for familiar personalities of previous glory to rise again. It's like a phoenix rising if you replaced the majestic nature of the mythical bird with the majestic nature of a former heartthrob. Whatever it is, I am here to name it, embrace it, and thank it for making those moments when you forget to fast forward the DVR enjoyable.

As for Mr. Bolton, congratulations on what will potentially be your only Person of the Year award. It is no less deserved in its isolation and no less intended as a massive compliment. You might not be the Pope, but you certainly bring a little light to some people, which is more than many can say. Congratulations on this tremendous honor. 

Michael Bolton rocking out with his urns
...singing to cartoon fruit
... and singing with kids in the snow. Is there nothing he can't do?

MB clearly knows how to laugh at himself.... Check him out with the Lonely Planet guys a few years back...

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