Chi-Blago! Rod Blagojevich and the art of Razzle Dazzle
“You're a phony celebrity, and in two weeks no one's going to give a [crap] about you... that's Chicago.”
No, it’s not a quote from the Blago trial. It’s from that other memorable show set in Chicago: the musical Chicago by Kander and Ebb, with book by Bob Fosse.
And except for the conspicuous lack of sequins in Blagojevich’s case, the two are surprisingly similar.
In case you aren’t familiar with the plot, the main character, Roxie Hart dreams of stardom. On the same night that star Velma Kelly commits a double murder, Roxie shoots her lover. Both women wind up in the Cook County jail, awaiting trial for murder. After Roxie persuades a high-powered lawyer, Billy Flynn, to take her case, she rises to fame -- or at least notoriety -- and winds up going free and joining Velma in a double act. There is also a lot of singing and metatheatrical commentary on the nature of performance, or something, but that’s the general gist of it.
At the center of it all is a great trial set piece, where Billy Flynn’s song Razzle Dazzle sums up my general feelings about celebrity trials:
Give 'em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle dazzle 'em
Give 'em an act with lots of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate
Give 'em the old hocus pocus
Bead and feather 'em
How can they see with sequins in their eyes?
What if your hinges all are rusting?
What if, in fact, you're just disgusting?
Razzle dazzle 'em
And they'll never catch wise!
It’s a pretty sharp commentary. I can only hope that Blago will follow Roxie's example and go on the vaudeville circuit immediately.
And from the looks of it, he will.
Blago and Roxie had the same realization: Once you trade in your convictions for fame, you seldom rack up any more convictions. Look at Roman Polanski, or O.J. “If I Did It” Simpson, or even Michael Jackson. Blago’s strategy seemed foolish to some -- how could anyone possibly appear on so many shows while sporting a coif that looks like a dead woodchuck? -- but it’s paid off. Now we all know who he is, and we can’t stand the thought of him breaking rocks behind bars.
It’s all about the fame. Once you become famous, someone sands off all the sharp corners of the world so you can’t bump into them. The worst thing that can happen to celebrities is that they accidentally overdose on things like excitement or plastic surgery or cocaine. Become old and fat and die behind bars, like the rest of us? Nonsense!
Sure, you’re a convicted felon who can never run for office again, but, hey, so is Lindsay Lohan! Maybe you can co-star in something. You were already on Celebrity Apprentice.
Blagojevich gets it. Now he's a celebrity! Get him out of here! He clearly never was into the whole governing thing. Once or twice during his term, he might have wandered into the office by mistake, thinking it was a reality TV audition. But that was it. This whole 45-month, 2.5 million dollar investigation has been just the wake-up call he needed. Time to quit fooling around with party planks and hit the boards!
But there’s a strange distortion transitioning between being a political star and a real, bona-fide celebrity. It’s something like converting between Fahrenheit and Celsius; you have to divide by 1.8, and add or subtract 32, and the end result always seems somehow off. Some have gone from stardom to political notoriety; look at Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), or even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.). But, so far, nobody has pulled off the Roxie Hart-style feat of going from real-world fame to join the elite ranks of those who have no discernible skills and are famous simply because they are. Blago certainly seems to fit the first category. But can he fit the second? Or is he washed-up already?
“Roxie, you got nothing to worry about,” Billy Flynn says in Chicago. “It's all a circus, kid. A three ring circus.These trials -- the whole world -- all show business.” He’s right.
Dibs on Blago, the Musical.
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