Monday, September 01, 2008
The Best Celebrity Who Remains Unspeakably Cool No Matter What He Does
Remember when you were a kid and you were unpopular because you liked reading, were overweight, were good at school, were unathletic, and also you have lazy eye and so from time-to-time wore an eye patch that was flesh-colored, so that from far away you appeared to either be an off-center cyclops and/or have suffered a disfiguring accident?
That experience was universal, right? It wasn't just me?
So we all remember growing up exactly like that, and also not really ever knowing what was going on because we didn't pay that much attention to things around us. And we also all remember our moms saying to us, as we grew up and remained kind of isolated loners and didn't get as many dates as other people and never made the athletic teams we insisted on trying out for, and never got cast as the lead in the school play and never made it onto "Swing Choir," which we for some reason tried out for one year, probably because we thought kids who sang a jazzy, a capella version of "Footloose" would be more likely to accept us than the cool/rich kids who played on the soccer team (but we were wrong), we all remember our moms saying to us:
Just be yourself and people will love you.
It turns out Mom was right -- weird, huh? It turns out that Mom was right not just about the benefits of drinking milk but also that if you just keep being yourself, eventually people will love you and you'll be a cool guy -- or you'll no longer care whether you are a cool guy and you'll just keep doing the things that you like to do, whether those things be "collect CDs of bagpipe music and try to learn to play bagpipes" or "teach yourself card tricks one summer" or just "write a blog about things you like and make dumb jokes," and people will love you for those things. Or in spite of those things, but it doesn't matter why they love you, because they love you.
It will help that you dropped some weight and no longer have to wear the eye patch.
Mom was right that being yourself is cool; she was a little off in how long it took the world to realize that, because it's not cool when you're a kid. When you're a kid, being yourself is anything but cool; when you're a kid the entire goal is to fit in exactly with what every other kid is doing, unless you are part of the 1% of kids who determine what it is, precisely, that the rest of the kids must fit into. I don't know how the childhood community determines which kids those are that are the trendsetters for kids -- money, mostly, and a lack of zits, I suspect -- but they set the pace and the other 99% of kids just have to keep up.
So Mom's good advice wasn't really intended for you during childhood, which Mom probably knew, but she couldn't tell you that, because for some reasons parents pretend that childhood works in ways other than how they know it really does work; they pretend that by being yourself you will be liked and popular and that girls will say "yes" when you ask them out instead of "Really? Who are you again? Oh, right, the eye-patch guy."
It would be more helpful, instead, to just say "No, they're not going to like you. You'll have to hang in there until you're about 25 or so, and then things will start turning around for you and when you go to your high school reunion, which you will do only once, you'll see why this is a better way to live." This is mostly what I tell my kids; I sugarcoat it a little but I tell them that high school is terrible and that they should focus on being themselves even though it means they will probably not be prom queen or prom king, because, I say, it'll just keep getting better for them once they survive being a kid.
Because doing that-- being myself and surviving being a kid -- worked for me, and it will work for them, and they will ultimately become "cool," like I did. They may even become supercool -- like I did, and like the two celebrities that are facing off in today's September Showdown did, just by being themselves.
These two celebrities are weird. They've been laughed at. They're not "hunky" in any sense. They are not routinely featured in People magazine and they never show up on the celebrity blogs or, really, on the celebrity radar. They star in geeky sci-fi shows and geeky cop shows and The Country Bears and Madonna videos and they make lame TV commercials that somehow aren't lame, after all, they're cool.
They are celebrity examples of the Mom-ism that if you just be yourself then eventually people will like you and you will be deemed to be "cool."
They are William Shatner and Christopher Walken, and they are the two Celebrities Who Remain Unspeakably Cool No Matter What He Does. My job today, as impossible as this sounds, is to decide which is The Best at that.
It is a tough task, and one I don't relish; these guys are idols to me and I don't like having to say one is better than the other at Remaining Unspeakably Cool No Matter What He Does, because I don't want to slight one, and because picking the coolest one of these guys is kind of like trying to determine which is better, accordion music or chocolate-orange cookies.
See? See how impossible that is? It's even harder to judge the cool-off between William Shatner and Christopher Walken. Christopher Walken, after all, has been frequently cited here on The Best of Everything for having The Best SNL Skit and being part of The Best Video, and also was noted to be one of the four truly new and unique creations of the 20th century. But William Shatner is no slouch himself -- he got the nod for having The Best Eleven Spot Song, after all, and that's the song that I use to inspire myself to get up that hill during the Baby Workout.
Christopher Walken frequently embodies the best parts of movies -- and sometimes the only watchable parts of movies, like in Gigli, which really was every bit as bad as they said it was, right down to the part where the mentally retarded guy gets to be in a music video -- but William Shatner gets me to actually watch commercials, because I love those "Priceline Negotiator" commercials. Plus, when I was a kid, I had a cardboard playset of the "Enterprise" bridge with a William Shatner doll that I could put into the teleporter and spin it and he would disappear. Christopher Walken has never, to my knowledge, been an action doll.
Then again, Doll-Shatner "disappeared" because the teleporter was spun around so that he was in a hidden compartment, and I then had to take him out of that to "teleport" him to the surface of the planet he was going to explore (the bean bag chair in my room) so I usually skipped that step and just carried him there. But is that a plus or a minus for him? Hard to say. Hard to say.
Christopher Walken has given me more catchphrases and things that will make me laugh inappropriately at times, like when they ring those bells in church and I think those are nice-sounding bells and then I think I need more cowbell and then I laugh to myself and then Sweetie and the kids all stare at me.
Christopher Walken has been made fun of by The Simpsons, which even though it now spends its time just parodying movies, used to be funny. But William Shatner was parodied by Family Guy and I've got that parody on my iPod, which means that in theory I could first listen to Common People while jogging and then cool down by listening to this:
Christopher Walken sings, too, but he sings in a movie that also featured Susan Sarandon, who is one of the 10 people that makes me not want to see things:
So that's a minus. Being in the company of Susan Sarandon, or any of the other 10, is a minus on your career.
But I'm not going to decide it solely on that basis. Even though Christopher Walken appeared in a movie with Susan Sarandon, who people insist is a sex symbol when she's clearly not, while William Shatner appeared in a TV show with Heather Locklear, who clearly is still a sex symbol, I'm not going to decide it on that basis.
Instead, I'm going to decide it based on who is more like me. After all, I like me and Mom turned out to be right: I'm a pretty cool guy, just being myself. So of these two guys, the one that is more like me is obviously the one who is the cooler guy, right? That one is obviously better at being The Best Celebrity Who Remains Unspeakably Cool No Matter What He Does because he's doing what I do, and if what I do isn't the right thing to do, then why am I doing it?
That person, the one who is most like me, is William Shatner. He is the most like me because he appears to have spent his entire life doing what I have spent my entire life doing, which is trying everything.
First, he appeared to try to do everything just to fit in: be a space captain, be a cop, sing spoken-word versions of popular songs... all in hopes that people would like him.
But then, he began to seem like he was trying to do everything just because it was fun. Instead of trying to fit in and make people like him, he plays a lawyer on TV and does air-karate chops in commercials and sings songs like Has Been:
And people love him. They love him not because he's brilliant and his brilliance makes him cool (like it does with Christopher Walken) but because he's just having fun living life; he's being himself and enjoying it, and that's cool.
When you're a kid, being yourself and having fun makes you an outsider. When you're an adult, being yourself and having fun makes you cool.
That's what I learned after a childhood spent trying to fit in and get people to like me: I learned to just be myself and have fun. I continued trying everything, but it was no longer about being part of the cool kids; it was about experiencing life and enjoying it and having fun. And as I went on trying everything just to see what it was like -- as I went to law school and was a singer in a band and created t-shirts and invented games and did yoga while watching Invader Zim and wrote songs like "The Lookout Cow," not only was I having fun, but people loved me.
At least, Sweetie loves me. And I'm pretty sure the Babies! love me. And the older kids tolerate me, which is the most I can expect because they're teenagers and the existence of adults in their lives embarrasses them.
But they'll come around. I know they will, because Mom was right after all: Be yourself and people will love you. It worked for me, and it worked for William Shatner, The Best Celebrity Who Remains Unspeakably Cool No Matter What He Does.
The Eleven-Spot? Find out what that is by clicking here. Or watch Christopher Walken's performance in The Best SNL Skit here.
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