THE WB’S SUPERSTAR USA

Superstar USA was a television show that ran 
for less than one month (May 17–June 14) 
the year that I graduated high school

It was a spoof of the show American Idol, still at the height 
of its popularity (its first year, the day after the penultimate episode 
when Kelly Clarkson sang the song that would give her victory
a girl on my bus explained to us with a kind of solemn shock, 
that she still had goosebumps that next early morning
from the night before)

Superstar USA ran on the television network the WB, at a low point
in that network’s history (which is saying something).
They were throwing all kinds of pasta on the wall hoping it would stick.
Particular low points: Joe Millionaire, and that bachelorette-style show 
called Beauty and the Beast (I think), one glamorous woman in a house of nerds

But of this I remember very little—in May and June of 2004 
I was regularly drinking until I puked, which somehow sounds
better than it ever was. One weekend a Scottish rugby team we billeted 
(repaying the favour they had done for us) was getting naked outside the strange 
and lonely backwoods mansions of some of the players on the team. 
I was sleeping it off on couch cushions placed on hardwood
or being scolded by my mother that one time she came to collect us
and I hadn’t sobered up

No one ever carded me before I turned nineteen
I don’t understand this, always attribute it to some mean tension
or anxiety I must have carried in my face, once even 
buying mickeys and a twenty-sixer wearing my graduation t-shirt
from that year. Now I know they simply didn’t ever care

But back to the show—Wikipedia says “Superstar USA told contestants 
they were looking for the best singer when they were 
actually looking for the worst.” Something in this inversion reminds 
me of the party the night after the one where I’d been picked up by my mom—
an older player hearing the story of what I had done the night before
saw me crack the gentle tongue of a tall boy I had been handed
(so I could save my mickey) and told me “Still drinking? Good man” 

Reading the Wikipedia article it strikes me that some inversions
and some cruelties are more honest than their counterparts, hearing how the winner,
Jamie Foss, was told on stage the truth in front of the audience she had just sung for—
for all its shocking violence it still reminds us 
some truths are longer and harder to learn 

Every so often he would go into the woods and take off his clothes, carefully choosing a location to hide them. He transformed into a wolf and ran through the trees and over the hills, coming back sometimes days or weeks later. His wife begged to know where he had gone but for a long time he refused to tell her. Finally he relented and horrified after he demonstrates his transformation she steals the clothes and hides them so he cannot return to his human form. This is the story of Bisclavret, betrayed by his intimacy, and unable to leave the state that he enters after the betrayal.

In other tales of the werewolf it is a skin that is put on. A suit that allows the wearer to perform horrible crimes undetected, sometimes a gift from a god or a demon as a reward for the bearer’s devotion. Putting on the new skin—to transform one’s inner being one need only alter the exterior. 

Bisclavret had no choice in the matter. His wife took up with another man and he was trapped in his animal form. Eventually he is rescued by the king, who discovers he is a rational being. In time the wife and her new lover are punished—unfortunately and brutally the wife’s nose is torn off by Bisclavret while in his animal form. (He is otherwise noted for his gentleness.) From then on, we learn in the postscript, all of her descendants are similarly noseless. The exterior becomes a representation of the interior, and the interior is altered in turn. Of course this not how genetics work, and perhaps that is something even Marie de France knew herself, though she was writing only in the twelfth century. 

One werewolf is courteous, the other violent, depraved. One takes something off and the other puts something on. Both lose and gain by this process. Both are reduced and magnified. Often like Actaeon (who of course transforms into a deer) they are torn to shreds by dogs. Often they become symbols for their hungers—their mouths elongated, their snouts, ravenous and forced to hunt and prowl. 

I would like to take off this skin or this clothing that I have been wearing for too long. Last night I laid on the couch and listened to a reading that had been done for me November of last year. I hadn’t known then that it would be for the last few months of 2020, 2021, and even beyond that. Some of what was predicted has come to pass—much still remains for the future. 

It was heartening to listen to this little message, to hear my hesitant voice which I did not realize was so hesitant then and to understand that already so much has changed. I would like to live according to the other voice and the life that it laid out for me, to live in something alive to the promise of the future. For that certain things need to be left behind, for they harm both onlooker and bearer. 

Now it is spring and the trees are in bloom. In Toronto everywhere there are flowers. This is an exterior that is working in me, that feels part of this change. 

Convenience is not class. Past a certain level no matter how high you rise life will never get easier for you. Living is difficult. I mean being with yourself. Existing alongside imperfection, your own and in what is around you, what always will be. Accepting that you do not have the power to change and influence. Accepting that the world doesn’t bend at your whim. 

Now we think of labour as moral—a protestant ethic. If you do not work hard you do not deserve to live. That is bullshit. But work is important. The medievals talked about this. A life without labour is hard to live. A life lived in convenience and luxury unmoors you, setting you free in the worst way. 

There are different forms of labour. Different forms of difficulty. Living alone, working from home, materially comfortable. This is its own kind of frictionless environment. This is depraved and languishing luxury.