Friday, December 6, 2013

Pat Sajak Speaks Truth to Power


The TVs at the old-guy-bar around the corner where I sometimes go are usually tuned to Celtics or Bruins or Red Sox or Patriots games.  When no Boston team is playing, some more obscure sport may be on.  Except if it’s a weeknight between 7:00 and 7:30 EST.  Then it’s Wheel of Fortune time.  The bar quiets down a few notches, all attention is directed to the screens, and the guys settle in to experience Pat Sajak and Vanna White working their magic.

Wheel of Fortune has been on in one incarnation or another since 1975.  Pat Sajak started hosting in 1982 and has been there ever since.  When I was a kid, I remember the system being that the winner got cash credit for all of his points and then got to spend it all in different showcases.  If he had won a big pile of cash, he’d say “ooh, OK, Pat, I’d like the pop-up camper for $12,000.”  And then work his way down… “uuh, let’s see, how ‘bout the combination TV / VCR for $750 and the camping stove for $150.”  Then he’d really hit the dregs… “mmmm, I guess I’ll take the porcelain kitty cat for $35.”  That system got scaled back.  Maybe it was too complicated.  Now winners just get the cash.

Wheel of Fortune is precisely, meticulously calibrated, like a slot machine, to operate in the brain space between “level 1” and “coma.”  The word puzzles are easy enough that you can usually figure them out eventually, but hard enough that you feel pretty damn happy and smart when you do.  The wheel spins hypnotically around.  Vanna glides across the floor, waving her hand across the letters, which ding and light up on a screen (she used to have to actually turn the letters around, but I guess that was a little too jarring to the audience, or maybe Vanna developed some kind of letter-spinning repetitive stress injury).  Every microbe of Pat’s movements and wardrobe and gelled hair and sunken eyes seem tuned to the same comatose wavelength.  He’s like a human game show lullaby, gently easing 10 million nightly viewers (highest of any show in the nation) into a vegetative, millimeter-short-of-a-coma half-sleep.  If aliens or Nazis or the brain police were trying to figure out how to descend on our country and force our citizens into submission, the best time to do it would unquestionably be during the half hour each night when a meaningful percentage of our citizens is drooling in front of Wheel of Fortune. 

As the staying power of Wheel of Fortune attests (as does the $8 million annual salary to which The Market has determined Pat Sajak is entitled), the show is onto something.  Its appeal lies in its very blandness.  The sentences that come out of Pat’s mouth during the show are so vacuous and milquetoast that they barely even qualify as actual human communication.  The world is scary and dangerous.  Just outside, there’s a war on Christmas and the gays are trying to force their agenda on peoples’ grandkids and Facebook is trying to steal their identity and the blacks are moving in right next door.  But all is calm and well on Wheel of Fortune.  Nothing there is provocative or shocking.  It’s not scary.  And it sure as hell, first and foremost, down the very core of its DNA, is not political. 

Or so I thought until one night a few months ago when I got to witness Pat Sajak bust out of his beige vanilla shell and speak truth to power.  The show that night was being filmed in New York City around the time Mayor Bloomberg had proposed a ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.  After some white noise banter with a contestant, Pat made his move.  He reached down behind the wheel, pulled out a big plastic cup with a lid and straw, took a big pull, and said something like “mmmm. I think I’ll just enjoy a sip of my huuuuge drink.” 

Holy crap!  Kid gloves off!  Gauntlet thrown down!  Shit was getting’ real!  Pat was going to be silenced no more!  And his statement to the world was this: You can say what you will.  Do what you want.  But you will have to pry my frosty extra-large sugary beverage from my Cold. Dead. Hands.

It was all done with a wink and a smile.  But the message was loud and clear.  The effete east coast liberal elite are making their move.  First they’ll come for your 36 ounce Slurpee.  Next it’ll be your gun.  And before you can say oy vay izmir, there will be death camps in Dayton where anyone who doesn’t shop at Zabars or read The New Yorker will be gassed.  Pat Sajak finally spoke his mind.  And while starvation and AIDS and human trafficking and tsunamis are all unfortunate, the one issue that really needs to be addressed – the most dire, pressing issue of our times – is the preservation of every American’s God given right to ease his fat, hulking ass into his EZ-chair, click on his 80 inch television and wind down with an icy-cold 40 ounce Dr. Pepper. 

People used to make fun of Pat Sajak.  But now we know what he’s really made of.  He’s a warrior, a visionary, a defender of the downtrodden.  I call on Pat to lead the charge, to free the masses from their shackles, to rise up against tyranny and oppression.  He may need to find a different medium, though.  His troops may be watching, but they may have trouble summoning the energy to do much more than take a long pull of cool, refreshing  soda and say to their spouses, “guy shoulda bought a vowel.”  

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