"Pac-Man's homophobic," says a video game critic wearing glasses, a sweater vest and a tie. "The ghosts are homosexuals: They wear garish, bright colors and dresses, and they rub up against each other in a box. Think about it. Is the Pac-Man going to . . . let them be homosexuals, let them get married? No, he's going to eat a power pellet and then go chomp the ghosts. . . . If we had power pellets in real life, there would be no gay culture right now."
On the other side of the desk, a defender of video games is momentarily stunned. "It's laughable," he says. "No reasonable person would make that connection."
True enough: His opponent is not a reasonable person. He's a character played by the comedian Jerry Minor on the new Comedy Central series "Crossballs." The show's premise is straightforward: "comedians posing as experts . . . debating real people who don't know the show is fake."
"Crossballs" is at least as edifying as the typical TV debate show -- and a lot more entertaining. But it poses a serious puzzle: How is it that the real guests don't realize the fake guests are fake?
One possibility is that the positions staked out by the comics pretending to be experts are what we've come to expect from TV pundits: strong beliefs backed up by little more than bold assertions and bluster. When a marijuana activist played by Matt Besser (co-creator and executive producer of "Crossballs") begins a segment about drugs by declaring, "I think we all agree that pot is good for everyone," his debating style does not seem very different from what you can see on "The O'Reilly Factor" any given evening.
Likewise, the easy resort to ad hominem attacks is familiar to viewers of real debate shows, so it does not seem so strange when a "Crossballs" guest calls an opponent "crazy," "stupid," a "schmuck," a "right-wing fascist type," or "no better than Dr. Mengele." In fact, all those insults come from real guests who think the show is on the level.
Still, as the impostors' comments become more and more outrageous, you'd think the dupes would realize something is amiss. When Besser's pro-pot character talks about doing "research" on local kids, getting them alternately high and drunk before sending them out to drive around the neighborhood, can anyone seriously believe him?
Yes, it turns out. Marilyn MacDougall, executive director of the group Drug Use Is Life Abuse, is outraged. "You're a jeopardy to society," she tells Besser (to which he retorts, "You're a 'Wheel of Fortune' to society").