laughing_and_pointingOnce a year the glitterati of U.S. television gather to honour their own. Known as the Emmys, this year’s award ceremony was the 55th. You’ve seen one Emmy you’ve seen them all. Yet there was something a bit different about this year’s Emmys. There was one award that was not mentioned. It’s the award for one star who shows up every year. The Grim Reaper.

Every year the U.S. television industry tips it’s hat to the memory of their fellows who had died since the last ceremony. This year’s “In Memoriam” was particularly poignant. The list included:

Bob Hope John Ritter Gregory Hines Fred Rogers Johnny Cash Katherine Hepburn Gregory Peck Charles Bronson

Since the U.S. entertainment industry basically rules the world, these entertainers and the roles they played, occupy key places in our memories. And now they were gone. So many of them.

I looked at the crowd gathered in the auditorium and wondered how they felt when they were confronted with these giants of their world who were now dead. Did they see that this too was the fate that awaited them? Maybe for some more than for others. In his acceptance speech,(best actor in a comedy),Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”) noted the passing of a beloved nephew. And Bill Cosby (Bob Hope Humanitarian Award), referred to his son Ennis, who was shot to death in 1997.

Many of the presenters were comedians and many of the recipients were very witty in their acceptance speeches. There was so much laughter. So little time to be sad.

Here then was another paradox for the books. Human existence is basically a tragedy. No matter who you are, no matter how high you climb in your chosen profession, what awaits is the grave.

A wiser man in times past had already noted this meaninglesness of life. He lived in Jerusalem but he could have just as well be living in present day Hollywood.

“Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 (NRSV)

If life is one big sad joke, it would help to explain why the entertainment industry, and comedies in particular, is so big. They help stave off the horror of meaninglessness, at least for a few hours a day.

Now I enjoy a good comedy series like the next man. But somehow I miss the older ones. There is an underlying harshness to “Everybody Loves Raymond”. And “Friends” trivializes every key human relationship for a laugh. “Cheers” and “Taxi” however, made me laugh but didn’t take me too far away from the pathos of life.

No, I am not against comedies. I will be the last to deny my fellows whatever spiritual palliative comfort they can glean from entertainment. But at least let us agree that at most good TV shows stimulate mind and/or funny bone, but give no definitive answers to life’s most pressing questions.

The answers lie elsewhere of course. And if they had the time to examine in depth the lives of those who had passed on, they may have found the answer in the life of Johnny Cash.

In an article on the New York Times Online (September 14, 2003), Peter T. Kilborn (with Marta Aldrich) wrote:

“Anyone along Printers Alley and the neon-blinding blocks of Nashville’s Broadway can recount the moments of the life of Johnny Cash, who died early Friday at 71, four months after the death of his wife of 35 years, June Carter Cash: the work picking cotton as a destitute farmer’s boy in northwestern Arkansas; the music lessons his mother scrounged to buy him; his start with Sam Phillips of Sun Records, who was Elvis’s mentor, too.

They cite his failed first marriage and bouts with drugs and the law; his marriage to June, a singer, too, and star of the Carter Family who steered him to Jesus and most of the time off amphetamines, barbiturates and alcohol; his performances at prisons like San Quentin and Folsom State; his slide from the charts in the 1980’s and renaissance at an age when many men head for their La-Z-Boys.”

Johnny Cash did not find his salvation in his art. He found it in Jesus. And he knew where he was going when he breathed his last. From his song “Meet Me In Heaven”:

“Can’t be sure of how’s it’s going to be When we walk into the light across the bar But I’ll know you and you’ll know me Out there beyond the stars

We’ve seen the secret things revealed by God And we heard what the angels had to say Should you go first, or if you follow me Will you meet me in Heaven someday”

No, salvation will not come from Hollywood. The sad truth is that most entertainment serve only to make us forget the ultimate issues of life. What is truly sad is that there is an answer to the human predicament. Human pathos can be transformed to joy. But only if we turn the tube off long enough to think and search.

Your brother and couch potato,

Soo-Inn Tan