Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Performer-aversion

'People like strange, distasteful things today. We need to give children magic and hope'
--Mickey Rooney

I was catching up on reading the Guardian today when I came across an unsettling photograph of Mickey Rooney in costume for a new performance.

As someone who's facing old age, I don't want to sound insensitive or uncharitable but I wonder if there isn't a time when performers shouldn't just let it all rest.

This isn't just true of performers, of course. Virtually everybody reaches a time when it's probably best to rest. And just about every career seems to have people who stay too long. Surgeons, commercial pilots, politicians...to name a few careers that get dangerous for folks at the mercy of those who won't retire. And writers, too, of course, peak and decline.

But we see performers at work. Being seen is the essence of their work. That's why it's so painful to watch somebody like Rooney--who I never liked even when I was a kid and supposed to--keep hamming it up. "People like strange, disasteful things." And I can't think of much that's sadder and more pathetic than the strange, distasteful sight of a ham staying too long at the fair.

I know this sounds cruel and I'm sorry for that. But I don't apply my performer-aversion just to age. Dennis Hopper irritates and embarasses me as much as Rooney does. Hopper was none too bright as a hippie; now he's added smugness to his act as he whores for the capitalists.

1 comment:

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Funny, but the other day the memory of Sophie Tucker leapt into my mind, unbidden. It seems to me she spent the last 20 or 30 years of her life assuring people she'd never retire as long as someone out there had two hands he or she could clap with. I must have been a teenager when I saw her and she seemed a sad and grotesque figure to me. I later realized that she, like others I've known, have nothing else in life but their work and to retire would be like dying. And that I find the saddest situation of all.