Once in awhile someone will make the mistake of asking me how my "career" is going. I like to respond to this question with a dumbfounded stare. Of course, I respond to most questions that way. But this one particularly irks me.
I usually say, "I don't have a `career.' I have a job.""Career" is a perfectly decent English word and the reason it's taken on a distasteful tone is that I turn on television and hear people in show business talking about their "careers" day and night, ad infinitum and ad nauseam, until even a commercial for a toilet bowl cleaner would be a pleasant change of pace.
With the increased number of talk shows have come gaping new outlets for airheaded chatterboxes - people for whom the subject of themselves holds absolutely infinite interest. Their self-confidence is so engorged they assume it is of infinite interest to everybody.
Just once it might be nice to tune in a talk show and hear doctors talking about their careers, or teachers talking about their careers, or even plumbers talking about their careers. Ceaseless blather about show business is the emptiest kind of information imaginable.
When Jack Paar conducted his talk shows - "The Tonight Show" and "The Jack Paar Program" in prime time - he didn't just plop down stars and ask them how their careers were going. The conversation could be light, frivolous, completely inconsequential, but it was almost always entertaining, because the guests were witty and Paar was too, and the topics were wildly varied.
You don't have many wits running around now, of course, and talk-show rules have been relaxed. David Letterman still usually demands that his guests discuss something other than their latest movie or record, and that they at least dredge up a passable anecdote. But most other hosts will sit still for anything, as long as the guests' lips move.
Occasionally a guest will drift out of tediousness and say something appalling. On an early edition of "The Pat Sajak Show," the aptly named Michael Gross, who plays papa Steven Keaton on NBC's "Family Ties," said he hoped that on the last show of the series, the Keaton family would be "killed in a plane crash" so that no future "reunion" specials could be produced.
It was a graceless remark in many ways, not the least of them the flippancy about plane crashes. Perhaps worse was Gross's blatant ingratitude. He'd been a nobody who rode the coattails of "Family Ties" star Michael J. Fox (and series creator Gary David Goldberg) to fame and fortune. And this was his reaction.
On "The Arsenio Hall Show," the career patter seems especially grating, because so many of the guests are nonentities. A foul-mouthed comedian named Andrew Dice Clay appeared recently and repeatedly used an obscenity to refer to Letterman. Why? Because, Clay implied, Letterman wouldn't book the comic on his show.
"Entertainment Tonight" has made show-biz news marketable on television, and does a good job of reporting it.
Unfortunately, this kind of fluff-news now finds its way into regular local newscasts as well. Some even use the video equivalent of press releases - interviews that are really controlled by public-relations outfits representing stars and movie companies.
The Cable News Network takes regular breaks for news from Hollywood whether there really is any news from Hollywood or not.
The Academy Awards and the Emmy Awards have traditionally been treated as legitimate news. But some broadcasters now treat such meaningless prizes as the Golden Globes as real news, too.
People in show business will give awards to each other as long as the earth's supply of precious metals holds out. Giving an award to a star is a good cheap way to get attention, because few are the stars who can resist the temptation to show up.
Wherever you live in this country, and perhaps the world, you have the opportunity to watch TV tonight and discover some actor or actress saying they really want to direct, the star of a humdrum TV series saying that the entire cast is one big happy family, or a rock star saying that substance abuse is no longer a problem and that his or her career is back on track.
There really are too many careers to keep track of, but television will die trying.