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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.

By Alexandra Petri  | August 18, 2010; 1:05 PM ET
Categories:  Petri  | Tags:  Alexandra Petri  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Grand Old Party of distractions
Next: In defense of Dr. Laura


This is informative but lacks Star Wars references.

Posted by: vdader | August 18, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

I really love him. The US political system is so full of lies and he was honest.

Posted by: uzs106 | August 19, 2010 6:02 AM | Report abuse

uh, does Ms. Sahili come to mind? Now there's a great example of chutzpah that paid off....

Posted by: sdansker2002 | August 19, 2010 6:27 AM | Report abuse

I loved his comment about giving old ladies a free ride on the bus and still not getting any appreciation. Blago is a crook in the Illinois mold. DOJ has blown it and now going to spend more millions of tax dollars to try to put him away again. Only in America.

Posted by: bobbo2 | August 19, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

"...we can’t stand the thought of him breaking rocks behind bars."
Oh yeah? I can! Blago in prison stripes with sequins. What a nice picture!

Posted by: paul6554 | August 19, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

The writer must not have known about the "Superstar" show about Blago done by the improv group in Chicago. He was even in a few performances. She can't have 'dibs' on Blago the Musical.

The only thing left for Blago to do is to turn himself into a media prostitute, who 'sells' his sob story to the highest bidder, the lowest bidder, any bidder.

I'm already avoiding TV for a while so I don't have to see Blago's grandeur, his foolishly arrogant mocking of the world who tried and 'failed' to convict him. Will I have to avoid all newspapers, too?

Posted by: momof20yo | August 19, 2010 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Many of us are in Illinois are soooo angry at Patrick Fritzgerald....He always goes after the wrong guy twice he could had got the big brass and twice he failed

He went after Governor Ryan while skipping over the real cupid Mayor Daley

He went after Scotter Libby and overlooked Karl Rove

And just when Americans were looking to Illinois for if great healthcare by Blago...while I understand he was a very eccentric character...He did a good job as Governor

Now we are stuck with voting for Quinn (whom I really don't like) and Brady (whom I really really hate)




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