by Benn Ray
It was a strange moment. We were watching TV and there was a commercial on with some chick playing a NintendoDS. You could tell that the way the commercial was shot, the girl playing the videogame as a star, but I didn't recognize her.
She had a tricked out/bedazzled handheld game system with the word "America" on the back.
So I asked Rachel, "Why do you think she has 'America' on the back of her videogame?"
Rachel gave me one of those looks that makes me regret opening my mouth, "You're kidding, right?"
"No," I pleaded.
"Um, that's her name. America. America Ferrera."
The name sounded familiar, but my face clearly indicated I wasn't making the necessary connection.
"You know," Rachel said with a tone that usually implies she's had enough of my denseness, "Ugly Betty."
"No, she's not," I laughed. "That's not Ugly Betty."
I've never seen a complete episode of the show, but I've seen enough to know that Ugly Betty is homely. I said, "Come on, Ugly Betty is, well, ugly. This girl is not ugly. In fact, she's pretty cute."
Rachel again gave me a look. This time it was the look I get when I confuse an actor as gay because he or she once played a gay character. I do the same with character actors who play drunks, bad guys, etc. I usually just assume the actor is an alcoholic or a bastard in real life.
I dropped it.
But I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed the experience. I tend to feel hyper-exposed and jaded. I feel, culturally, I'm super aware. Which frequently leads to boredom as discovering new things becomes rarer and rarer.
But realizing that the rest of the world knew that America Ferrera wasn’t ugly, she just played ugly on TV, and I had no idea made me feel like it's very possible that there are things in the pop culture world I still know nothing about and it makes me hopeful that there is still new stuff to find out, to learn, to discover.
When you think about it, it makes sense that Ugly Betty isn't really ugly. I mean, can you imagine the casting call for that?
Attention Ugly Girls! This will be your only chance ever to play a substantial character on TV!
Just seems mean. It kind of reminds me of how I like to imagine the casting call went for Deliverance. Specifically, the dueling banjos scene character.
Wanted: Obvious inbreed! Must be able to play banjo.
Anyway, the point was I felt pretty good about my own ignorance/stupidity. I found hope in what I like to call a Trapped In The Closet Moment. This is what I call these times when the whole world, or a significant portion of the world, is seemingly aware of some sort of pop culture phenomenon that, for whatever reason, simply never registered on my radar.
And the reason I call it a "Trapped In The Closet Moment" is because of the genius of R.Kelly. That's right, I think R.Kelly is a genius.
A few weeks ago, a friend came into the store and started raving about R.Kelly's masterpiece, Trapped In The Closet. Admittedly, I thought he was crazy. But then, all I know about R.Kelly is that he really likes kids (in an allegedly illegal way).
I looked at his wife, and she nodded that he was in fact not crazy, that R.Kelly did create something of significant importance.
He said, "Look, I'll put my whole reputation on this. I guarantee you will like it."
So of course later that night I went home and we watched the saga that is R.Kelly's Trapped In The Closet. And he was right. It was freaking brilliant (although episodes 1-12 are much more solid than 13-24 - R.Kelly starts to get the joke in the second part). I honestly thought I’d only watch an episode or two, but the cliffhangers kept me watching – that and the utterly bizarre humor of the whole thing.
But not only was it brilliant, so many other cultural references that I didn't fully understand at the time snapped into clarity.
Wow. Somehow, it was like I was culturally trapped in the closet when this happened.
And it makes me hopeful that I haven't been exposed to it all. That my "seen it/been there/done it already" jadedness is just a bullshit mood I get in sometimes.
Oh, and you can watch all the Trapped In The Closet segments here, if you haven't already done so. Rumor has it more are coming in 2009!