We're all just sick about this Milli Vanilli thing, aren't we? Well, aren't we?
Imagine, fakery and trickery in the entertainment industry! Good Lord, what next? Greed on Wall Street? Fraud in the savings and loan business? Dishonesty in government???
Milli Vanilli, as much of the free world is now achingly aware, is a popular pair of Eurorockers who gained fame through acres of exposure on cable's perpetual hype machine, MTV. It has been revealed that the two Milli Vanillains, Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan, didn't sing a note on any of their records or music videos. Somebody else did it for them.
Gosh. Wow. Holy moly. In the annals of outrages, this one seems about as serious as Claude Rains walking into Humphrey Bogart's nightclub in "Casablanca" and being "shocked, shocked" to find gambling going on there.
Just before Grammy officials decided to rescind Milli Vanilli's award, repentant shamsters Pilatus and Morvan volunteered to return it. Incensed fans insisted on it. As for Milli Vanilli's records, indignant disc jockeys called for bonfires of these vanities.
Well of course! We wouldn't want any undeserving Grammy winners running around loose out there, would we?
The hubbub seems awfully naive in the light of decade upon decade of shameless show biz subterfuges. Mr. Ed the talking horse didn't supply his own voice, either. Lassie the maternal collie was always played by a male dog. Those aren't really Bill Cosby's children on "The Cosby Show" and that isn't really Willard Scott's hair on Willard Scott's head.
He owns it, yes, but he didn't grow it.
As far as singers who don't sing, the movies have a long history of supplying those. Rita Hayworth didn't sing in "Cover Girl," Rossano Brazzi didn't sing in "South Pacific," Ava Gardner didn't sing in "Show Boat," and Cyd Charisse never sang in anything.
Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady," Deborah Kerr in "The King and I" and Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" all had one thing in common: Marni Nixon's voice. When Warner Bros. filmed Rodgers and Hart's "On Your Toes" in 1939, star Eddie Albert couldn't tap fast enough in the "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" finale, so in some shots he is dancing with somebody else's feet.
Admittedly, there was a tacit understanding between the filmmakers and the audience that voices they heard were not necessarily coming from the moving lips they saw on the screen. And Natalie Wood never recorded an album on her own using somebody else's voice and pretending it was hers.
But just as movie audiences wanted people who looked good to sing good, MTV has reordered pop music priorities, and now, how performers look, and the sexual and kinetic charges put out by their videos, are at least as important as what they sound like.
Milli Vanilli's scam is just one more TV illusion that can be added to an endless list. Those comedy shows that are "taped before a live audience"? Hah! Often what's finally seen on the air includes scenes shot when no studio audience was present. Producers commonly tape rehearsals as well as actual performances and combine footage from both in the completed show.
In addition, there may have been "pickups" done separately to replace shots the director didn't like or that were marred by a foul-up. It would probably be more honest for the announcer to say that the Such-and-Such Show was "taped before a live audience entered the studio."
As for the spontaneous reaction of the crowd, it's often heavily augmented by an engineer at a laugh machine. Amplifying laughs to make them louder, or adding laughs where there were none, is euphemistically called "sweetening." It guarantees that no matter how unfunny a sitcom may be, when people watch at home they will still hear an audience laughing uproariously.
Thus does "Honey, I'm home" routinely get screams.
All these everyday illusions and dozens more are in addition to the premeditated deceptions of the commercials, which offer one misleading hoax after another, minute after minute, from here to eternity, and back again. The dominant ruse of the moment is the infomercial, a half-hour ad disguised as a talk show, replete with hired audience and goofily grinning host.
They push spot removers, impotence cures and amazing miraculous toaster ovens this way.
Now in the sweeping context of all this tomfoolery and legerdemain, this shilly and shally and flim and flam, are we going to hold Milli Vanilli to higher standards than the rest of the business? Come on! The lads are contrite, after all. They promised to cut a record using their own voices. And they did say they'd give back that precious Grammy, if they can find it among the other junk in their basement.
Did they say they would give back the money? Hey, they may be fakes, but they're not dopes!