California recall makes perfect sense - on drugs

Kathleen Parker
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Posted: Aug 17, 2003 12:00 AM

I considered calling in sick today and skipping my column because I'm recovering from dental surgery, which involved a Demerol/Valium cocktail followed by several Percocets for pain.

In other words, I'm a little fuzzy and probably not as sharp as one should be to comment on world events for America's op-ed pages.

And then I remembered the California recall election! In fact, I recommend drugs for anyone trying to make sense of this bizarre little narcissistic convulsion from the left coast. Skip the surgery if possible.

Like most Americans who do not customarily consume mind-altering drugs, I've been trying to wrap my mind around the recall election. At final count, 135 names will appear on the Oct. 7 ballot to oust Gov. Gray Davis. Where were all these deeply caring, committed citizens during the real election?

Of the original 247 filing, 112 were thrown out for improper paperwork, including, sadly, Donald A. Novello, who played Father Guido Sarducci on "Saturday Night Live." A comedian posing as a priest somehow seems like a gaping hole in the California cast.

Left to run, however, is a roster of characters worthy of Ringling. Or "Saturday Night Live." On the other hand, how do you poke fun at something that's already beyond ridiculous? How do you satirize satire?

Life must be difficult these days for cartoonists who caricature for a living when all of life has become a caricature. As political cartoonist Doug Marlette writes in the introduction to his new book, "What Would Marlette Drive?" (to be published this fall), "How do you cartoon a cartoon?"

The final roll call offers a human panoply that might serve as a "Diversity is Us" advertisement for, well, California. Candidates include a golf pro, retired cop, porn star, bounty hunter, sumo wrestler, used-car salesman and an American Indian tribal chairman. Talk about a punch line in search of a joke.

And then we have the celebrities: Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger; porn king Larry Flynt; former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth; former child actor Gary Coleman; columnist, author and "brilliant gadfly" by her own account, Arianna Huffington, and my personal fave (blame the drugs) "Angelyne," a supersized human Barbie doll who is famous for being famous.

For the uninitiated, Angelyne is known as a billboard model. That's it. A bosomy blond Hollywood bombshell who drives a pink Corvette and pastes her image on huge signs for all to see just cuz she wantsta!

What more perfect metaphor for the celebrity-driven California recall - an extreme image of vapid celebrity. What does Angelyne do? Nothing. According to her own self-interview: "I don't do - I AM!"

In California, Descartes sez: "I'm famous, therefore I am."

I-Am-ness is the new political platform in the state that birthed the self-esteem movement and made narcissism a sacrament. Love me, love myself. Angelyne claims to have produced some musical CDs, though I couldn't find any during a quick Internet search. I did come across a video, "Hollywood Angelyne" (1995). But no matter. Substance isn't essential, only style.

"Some people become famous for music, films, TV, sports, whatever," says Angelyne on her Web site. "I became famous for being on billboards."

Angelyne's blow-up-doll looks, her exaggerated sexuality and unapologetic self-worship are custom-made for the moment. You might say, her time has come. Serious debate about the issues that plague California - where, we recall with fear and trembling, all American trends begin - is unlikely to transpire in the 50-odd days remaining before election time.

Meanwhile, we're left instead with what drives the culture. Celebrity. The biggest hype, or in Coleman's case, the smallest tyke. Or, in Schwarzenegger's case - Vell!

Suddenly he's everywhere on the Internet, as sensation-peddlers dig through old photo files. Let's just say he's not well-dressed. He's not dressed at all. No one's eyes are being damaged by the spectacle, but one is mindful that blow-up dolls come in both sexes.

I would be derelict not to mention a few other non-celeb candidates who conceivably may have a clue how to solve California's problems - state Sen. Tom McClintock, who has a record of fighting for fiscal reform; Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, and businessman Bill Simon, who lost to Davis in November. But frankly, my dear, they don't stand a chance. They're nobodies, as unmemorable as Gray Davis' charisma.

In this spoof on the political process, the biggest celebrity wins, which for Davis probably means "hasta la vista, baby."