Style Conversational Week 1043: Celebreality and the no-holds Bard

October 17, 2013

Happy Take Your Self to Work Day, all you FederaLosers. It was awfully nice to have the Royal Consort home for the past two weeks, and I’m glad, in a way, that he discovered that we have water damage under the wood siding here at Mount Vermin.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen more than a few minutes of any “reality show” on TV, except for a sort of mini-series on public TV many years ago in which an English family had to pretend they were living 100 years ago. I worked nights on the Style section’s copy desk for 26 years, and so totally got out of the habit of turning on the television. Epic-length series ran of which I never saw a single episode. Only in the past year or so, via Netflix marathons, have we watched some drama and comedy series. But not any reality shows. So I admit that I’ll be judging Week 1043 with only secondhand familiarity with the genre. But I don’t think it’ll really matter.

The first Style Invitational contest to take note of the reality show genre (though not yet by that name) seems to be Week 338 (a.k.a. Week V; don’t ask) in February 2000, a few months before the debut of “Survivor.” The contest was headlined “Who Wants to Win a Toilet,” and the challenge was to “propose even greater depths of shameless, tasteless sleaze to which Fox TV is likely to sink after the noisome debacle of ‘Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?’ ”

The Post actually printed this example for the new contest, presumably penned by the Czar: “ ‘Abortion Auction!’ The Fox crew would bring a tuxedoed multi-millionaire to an abortion clinic waiting room. He would offer any woman in there $2,000 to give her baby up for adoption instead. Then he would slowly raise the stakes by increments of $1,000 until someone agreed. Hugs and tears all around!” Fortunately, that wasn’t the subject of the cartoon. But you know, does that scenario seem implausible these days for a reality show? For all I know, it’s been on the air.

And look how close to the mark that week’s “above-the-fold” winners were:

Fourth Runner-Up: “Who Wants a Mommy and Daddy?” It’s a quiz show. Each contestant is an orphan. The questions get increasingly difficult. For completing round one, the orphan gets adopted by a pair of alcoholic child abusers. But if he completes the next round, he gets to trade up to inattentive career-minded suburbanites. If the tyke is really smart, he wins parents who are warm, nurturing and rich as Croesus, in a home with a treehouse and a real live pony. (Simon Wegner, St. Paul, Minn.)

Third Runner-Up: “Win Ben Stein’s Kidney.” Desperately ill contestants compete with the Factmeister for a shot at longevity. (Jonathan Paul, Garrett Park; Brian Broadus, Charlottesville)

Second Runner-Up: “The New Family Feud.” Families really get to beat the crap out of each other, using chairs, apple corers and other household items. (Elliott Jaffa, Arlington)

First Runner-Up: Drunk Driving for Dollars. Contestants must drive themselves to the show, a distance of no less than five miles. Each is followed by a heli-cam. Whoever arrives safely with the highest blood alcohol level wins the grand prize. (Russ Beland, Springfield)

And the winner of the Toilet Bank: “Just How Hungry ARE You?” Fifty starving people from underdeveloped nations are offered various disgusting substances to eat. These substances — rancid mayonnaise, squirming maggots, fresh hippo dung — are proffered in order of increasing foulness. Last one to keep eating gets a million dollars! (Greg Pearson, Arlington)

This week’s contest, being celebrity-focused, won’t much overlap with Week 338. But here, linked to from Elden Carnahan’s Master Contest List, is the full set of results (under the new contest), probably the only place you can find them on the entire Internet unless you want to pay that highbeam.com company.

Puzzles — the Will; The results of Week 1039’s “To Be” makeover

Yayyy, another totally successful word-bank contest, even with a very small and challenging pool of fewer than 200 different words — and you were permitted to use those words only as often as they were used in the original passage. Which was, you’ll remember, the “To be, or not to be” speech made by Hamlet in the hit stage production of the same name as he stands around pondering the ramifications of offing himself.

I went with this speech because (a) it’s so well known that even individual words would be recognized in a new, comically different context without my having to show the original; (b) contestants could easily access the original online, without the worry of a paywall; and (c) while it’s of course considered great literature, it’s not a sacred text, and so we’re free to be irreverent with the subject matter as The Post’s language standards will allow (or, as sometimes is the case, even a bit beyond).

And as I mentioned in the introduction to this week’s results, the Loser Community obligingly rejiggered Shakespeare’s First Folio words into charming observations about penises, masturbation, John Boehner, Anthony Weiner, Obamacare, car maintenance, pop song lyrics and more, of varying degrees of pitch and moment. (There were at least three entries about shock absorbers.) And Congress has been so obliging in ensuring that all those entries about congressional dysfunction stayed timely right up to this morning.

I could never have judged this contest had someone not stepped up to validate the entries: to determine whether all the words in a particular entry were in fact contained in the speech, and whether any of the words were used more often than permitted. That someone was the super-generous 159-time Loser and onetime Loser of the Year Gary Crockett, a retired software developer who offered to create a program to handle just this task. My PC couldn’t run the Python-language program, so I sent him a few dozen potentially inking entries (I still hadn’t looked up the names of their writers) for him to run through his magic machine.

And sure enough, Wonky Python found problems in a number of entries; some used an “it” or “are,” neither of which appears in the soliloquy, or “my” was used more than the permitted single time. There’s simply no way that I could have found these errors myself. And Gary didn’t even rig the program to reject perfectly valid entries — even though it turned out that none of his entries was on my list.

What a week for Loser Craig Dykstra! After a couple of years of obsessive Invitationalizing — he was both Loser of the Year and Rookie of the Year a few years back with 90 blots of ink, then followed up the next year with 121 — Craig turned his attention to other matters, dropping to just 19 inks last year. So it’s exciting to see him back on his Invite game, with both the winning and fourth-place entries as well as two honorable mentions, to put him at 296 blots all-time, including five wins. But this is his first Inkin’ Memorial, a prize that debuted in Week 966.

A more consistent Loser — perhaps the most consistent ever — is Kevin Dopart, who’s continuing to cruise to the 1,000-ink mark with three more inks today, bringing him to 983. We hope Kevin will share a photo of him displaying the Grillz tooth-bling candy. Kevin was also the star of our previous “Hamlet” word bank contest, in which you had to string together words plucked out, in order, from a scene or two of the play. In that contest five years ago, Week 683, Kevin earned a ridiculous eleven blots of ink; results here (scroll down past the new contest).

A much newer but thoroughly hilarious Loser, Jeff Shirley, had perhaps the week’s LOLest set of entries. Jeff also got three blots of ink, including the mug- or bag-winning “Does a bear ‘grunt’ in the country”? This bumps Jeff from 12 to 15 inks, including four above the fold.

In the Style Conversational of Week 1039, I anticipated the question “Do you get to combine words to make other words?” My answer was that you could to some extent, but that I didn’t want it to turn into a set of results that had strings of short syllables combined out of context. This week’s results do have a few, like “in-laws” (a combination submitted by five people, including ink-getter Brendan Beary). But they weren’t like this admittedly clever line from John McCooey: “If you suffer with die-a-be-tis, take more insolence and have no more so-does.” (Took me a while to get that the last word meant “sodas.”)

I haven’t heard back about the fave of Sunday Style Editor David Malitz this week, but Gary Crockett says that when validating this week’s entries, he got the biggest laugh from Jeff Contompasis’s creative “to-to-to-to-to ...”

The long and the short of humor: The Invite and the ‘Speccie’

Robert Schechter — who when not racking up Loser points (he has 126) is featured in a number of poetry venues, from translations of Rilke in String Poet Journal to a pre-reefer rumination on colors in Highlights for Children — shared on the Style Invitational Devotees page the results of a recent contest in the Spectator, the venerable British publication whose humor competition is even older than the Invite — as in it’s currently on No. 2819. The contest was “to merge two literary classics and provide a synopsis of the new title” — a contest that the Invitational has of course done, in Weeks 312, 610 and 939.

Due in no small part to Bob’s recruiting of “Speccie” players to enter the Invite, the results of the Spectator contest was laden with Losers: Six of the 10 contestants’ names cited have gotten ink in the Invitational: Winner Chris O’Carroll, plus Robert, Frank Osen, Mae Scanlan, John O’Byrne and Bill Greenwell. Plus there’s one more, Bob says, who’s in there under a pseudonym.

I’m always proud to see the Loser Community blotting up ink all over, but what most interested me was how the Losers were able to change their style to suit the much more leisurely tastes of Speccie editor Lucy Vickery. Rather than the pithy jokes the Invite tends to reward, they instead supplied long paragraphs of long sentences. Here, for example, is Chris O’Carroll’s winner, merging the books “The God Delusion” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (the reader is assumed to know the titles being combined, since they’re not given):

“In The Wonderland Delusion, co-authors Richard Dawkins and Lewis Carroll present an allegorical tale of a young girl’s coming of age as she learns to reject religious superstition and embrace scientific truth. The protagonist, Alice, falls down a deep hole into a topsy-turvy theocratic realm where science and reason are anathematised, and absurd doctrines are proclaimed as fact by insane authority figures who threaten to behead any rational thinker who dissents from their groundless beliefs. An evangelist gradually disappears as he delivers a sermon, until nothing is left of him but a vacant grin hanging in the air. A bishop in a ridiculously oversized mitre torments Alice with readings from a catechism of nonsense riddles, demanding, ‘How is a woman like a man’s rib?’ Dragged before a religious court to be condemned for heresy, she courageously liberates herself at last by exclaiming, ‘It’s nothing but a pack of lies!’ ”

On the other hand, Frank Osen, another poet who’s become a Loserly fixture in all sorts of contests (including this week’s results), did send in a one-liner for “Pollyanna Karenina” — “A girl from New England is so relentlessly upbeat about her affair with a Russian aristocrat that he throws himself under a passing train”; inadvertently duplicating Brendan Beary’s Week 939 ink (“Oh, my, isn’t that the most beautiful train?”), which itself inadvertently duplicated Jennifer Hart’s Week CLX ink in a portmanteau contest (“Cheerfully threw herself under a train”), which itself inadvertently duplicated Susan Reese’s slightly different ink in Week 287 (“Someone so annoyingly cheerful it makes you want to throw yourself under a train”). Anyway, Frank’s one-liner was cited only in the introduction to the results, presumably because it wasn’t discursive enough.

I certainly think there’s room for both styles of humor; I just think it’s neat that the same contest -- with the same contestants! — can yield such different results.

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