pours from the studio audience at the comic actors' antics. A
moment later, the studio audience is silent and here at home;
we're the ones who are laughing. That's because here at home,
we can see things neither the actors nor the studio audience
can. We're watching Drew Carey's Green Screen Show, which marries
Whose Line Is It Anyway-style improvisation with loose, outrageous
animation that is added later. So when, in a skit, the studio
audience sees a squatting man pretending to milk a bull, we at
home also see a three-legged stool under him and a cartoony bull
standing nearby. The studio audience watches actors miming a
jungle safari, but we see the drawn-in pith helmets, dense foliage,
and weird animals.
A recent skit had two audience members providing sound effects
for a scene in a shooting gallery. The actors, pretending to
hold weapons, were discussing how loud and powerful the guns
were. Instead of making big bangs with each shot, however,
the audience member in charge of gunshot sounds was driving
the actors crazy with his wind-blowing noises and cuckoo-clock
imitation. Every time this happened, the "gun" ---
animated to appear in the actor's hand --- morphed from a massive
weapon into a water pistol or an ornate wooden cuckoo clock.
Although this scene would have been funny without the animation
--- and, in fact, the studio audience was laughing throughout
--- the addition of the animated props added to and underscored
the hilarity. The animation enriched the action, adding context
and, because the animators are as sick as the actors, another
layer of humor that only we could see. Part of the pleasure
of watching The Green Screen Showis knowing that we're seeing
something the actors can't. We know they are being acted upon
by a much larger force and are just small players in the bigger
scheme of things.
Lately it's felt a lot like that here in America, and not
in a good way. Outside the entertaining confines of a television
show, the green-screen concept is not so hilarious. For example,
a small troupe of actors performing for an isolated studio
audience is running the country, even as we, the citizen viewers
at home, watch the green screen of reality. That is, the Bush
White House contains both the actors and the studio audience
--- a small group of isolates who listen and respond only to
each other. They can't or don't want to see the reality we
are living: the truth about the economy, the hurricane victims
(many of whom are still struggling), and the importance of
joining the world community in legislating against global warming
and the torture of prisoners.
While the desperation wrought by Katrina raged on the green
screen, Michael Brown, hired as an actor to play FEMA director,
saw not the nation's worst natural disaster, but an audience
for his vanity. In emails from that time, he strutted his recent
Nordstrom purchases and wondered if he should wear a tie or
not. (No shit. Look it up.) Here at home we watched the bigger
picture, which threw into stark relief the difference between
the people dithering on stage and reality. People were dying.
If you think about it, you can almost sympathize when you
consider some of the outrageous stances Bush and his advisors
have taken on topics like global warming and torture. Poor
things are so cut off from reality that they don't share America's
horror about the documented abuses at Abu Ghraib and the suspected
ones at GuantanamoBay. In the echo chamber of the administration's
isolated soundstage, idle talk about what the terrorists really
deserve becomes policy and the Constitution goes out the window.
Most recently, Bush vowed to veto any bill that contains the
provision, passed by the Senate (90-9) last month, requiring
troops to bar "cruel, inhumane, and degrading" treatment
of prisoners in US custody.
And now, with new revelations about "Soviet-era compounds
in Eastern Europe," where top al Qaeda suspects are being
held, we have new concerns. How long will they be held? How
are they being treated? National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley
reassures us that US agents will treat the prisoners "in
a way that is consistent with our values and principles." We
have to wonder: whose values and principles?
It's no secret that at times the government has tried to co-opt
the green screen and use it toward its own ends. Sometimes
it didn't work --- the staged visits to the storm-struck South
were quickly decried as photo ops. And sometimes it did ---
the Mission Accomplished speech and the panicky terror alerts
in the buildup to the 2004 election struck a national chord.
As much as I love to blame Bush for everything, I realize he's
on the way out and I have to find fault elsewhere.
In this case, we all share some of the blame. Magical thinking
has caused the green-screenification of America. We bought
into the Mission Accomplished hooey even as the number of war
dead rose, because we all believe in happy endings. We bought
into the multiple terror alerts and reelected Bush, because
it's easier to be scared than to be smart.
Don't deny it: you have a pretty backdrop that you put behind
anything you don't know or care about. We all do it. In order
to visit New Orleans back in the day and drink ourselves silly,
we had to green-screen the whole damn place. Anyone who bothered
to look out the limo window on the way in from the airport
knew it was brimming with desperately poor people. After 9/11
and then again after Katrina we cried, "How could this
happen in America?" As long as we keep looking inward
and screen out the truths, it can and will happen again.