Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Chuck Barris: Television Auteur, CIA Hitman, Literary Fan

We'll be back with more...stuff!
I slipped in a little non-fiction this past week, when I read Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Or maybe it was a little fiction...? The book, written by Chuck Barris in 1982, bills itself as an "unauthorized autobiography." Since it was first published, it has generated a lot of debate as to how much of it really is true, and if you've read it, you know what I'm talking about.

For those of you unfamiliar with Chuck Barris, he was the creator of such infamous shows as The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show (which he also hosted.) What is up for debate is Barris' claim that while working in television all those years, he was also a contract killer for the CIA.

Naturally it couldn't be true. Or could it? The debate has gone on for over 30 years, even by those who knew him best.

But I digress, the reason I bring this up here, on a blog about classic novels, is because of how often Chuck Barris mentions books from the List or their authors, in his book. And I always love reading mentions of the List in something I'm reading, because now I know what they're talking about, where as four years ago, I might not have.

My first thought would be that classic literature wouldn't be Chuck Barris' strong suit. After all, this was the man who not only brought us the shows listed above, but also "The $1.98 Beauty Show," "The Parent Game," and "Three's a Crowd" (among many others). He endured a lot of criticism for these shows, being accused of lowering the bar of decency in television. But he was able to put out hit after hit, which begs the question, who's more foolish, the fool, or the fool who watches all his shows? 

After reading his book, and reading about Barris, it's obvious he was no dummy, he was just giving the people what they wanted. It's no different from today really, where nobody admits to reading about the Kardashians, but they're on the cover of every magazine, every month, so...bullshit!

So who does he mention? He quotes Iris Murdoch many times, usually at the beginning of a new chapter. This is a perfect example of my new found knowledge, as four years ago I wouldn't have had any idea who Iris Murdoch was. He also quotes Walker Percy and mentions reading The Moviegoer.

At one point, Barris says he needs to escape the superficiality of Hollywood, by reading Ernest Hemingway, by reading something real. He also mentions Vladimir Nabokov, and laments how he never read "the classics" when he was younger.

And he admits (one of the few who does too), that he didn't understand Gravity's Rainbow at all.

That's a book I've been putting off, because I think it scares me more than any title on the List. Since I love watching The Gong Show, I'm one of the fools watching the fool's shows, which doesn't bode well for me understanding Gravity's Rainbow.

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