Tuesday, August 23, 2016

In Good Company in Malibu, Where Folks Do the Darndest Things

So Rio 2016 has been put to bed.  I admit I’m a sucker for the Olympic Games. Yes, I know all the problems as well as all the annoyances of the NBC primetime coverage. (How many times can anyone bear to watch a commercial in which a grown woman insults her elderly dad because his “How I Met Your Mother” stories are not as exciting as the Internet?) But televised sports continue to grab me because of their unrivaled spontaneity. It’s the surprises that I’ll remember, like Joseph Schooling from Singapore beating the best in the field in the 100-meter butterfly. And South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk, raised with the legacy of apartheid, setting a world mark in the 400-meter sprint. Not to mention U.S. women’s beach volleyball stars Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, down and out after their sloppy semi-final loss to a Brazilian pair, coming back from a serious deficit to tame two more Cariocas (and the crowd) for a hard-fought bronze medal.

Our entertainment media claim to believe in spontaneity too. That’s the point of all those reality shows where supposedly ordinary people (like duck hunters and stage mamas and “real housewives”) say the darndest things. I’m dating myself when I remember back to Art Linkletter’s House Party and People Are Funny, shows in which everyday folks were manipulated into showing off their goofy side. Those were innocent programs: a Linkletter specialty well known to schoolchildren in the L.A. area was to invite a few kids onto the show and coax them into comic answers to his theoretically artless questions. But if the Linkletter programs and such later entertainments as Candid Camera can be considered innocent merriment, today we expect a raunchy bluntness that’s not exactly extemporaneous. The shows’ makers carefully seek out “average” folk who lack a filter, then dream up situations that encourage them to go berserk. And they’re hardly above (on competition-type shows) stacking the deck by choosing heroes and villains in advance. I know someone who was quietly removed from a major competitive show when she refused to become the designated bad girl, the one who lives to undermine the hard work of others. Unscripted? Think again.

Which brings me, somehow, from Rio to Malibu, home of Gidget and Three’s Company.  I had gone with friends to one of my favorite SoCal places, the Getty Villa. Built by zillionaire J. Paul Getty to match the style of ancient Rome’s Villa dei Papiri (which was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.), it houses a marvelous collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, beautifully displayed. Among the villa’s glories are its intricately patterned marble floors as well as the spectacular trompe l’oeil paintings on the walls of its enclosed outer peristyle. Where did Getty’s team find the craftsmen to do this sophisticated work? Why,  they were European emigrés, who’d made their living decorating the sets for Hollywood’s great Bible epics, like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. Score another one for the influence of the film industry on Southern California cultural life.

Later, we had dinner in an outdoor Italian café that epitomized Malibu’s own dolce vita. This café  too has a showbiz history: a birthday party for Barbra Streisand at which Andrea Bocelli led the singing, local resident Jim Carrey coming in several times a week to pretend to be a waiter. While we sat there, feeling blissful, the young women at the next table pulled out their phones, very excited. They’d spotted a Kardashian, complete with spouse and kids. In Malibu, even Kardashians are just part of the landscape. 

The Getty Villa, with inlaid flooring

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