It should come as no surprise that literary culture, a last holdout, has been invaded by the Rosie O'Donnell phenomenon, as slick an example of marketing as ever to substitute sham for substance.
Once authors appeared on daytime and early evening television talk shows. Having written a book granted you air time, whether or not the majority of Americans had ever heard your name. Once Mary McCarthy told Dick Cavett, referring to Lillian Hellman, that every word she writes "is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.' " Television was, at least sometimes, a scene of literary debate.
Then, trash TV wiped out all the daytime discussion programs. Sally, Leeza, Jenny and Geraldo filled the airwaves with weeping women wondering why their daughters were sleeping with their grandfathers. When Rosie O'Donnell was granted a prime daytime talk show, syndicated nationally, it was billed as an alternative to the daily barrage of human grotesquerie. Rosie was a feminist. Rosie was a terrific listener. Rosie's daytime talk show would be different.
Yet in fact Rosie O'Donnell has created her own version of trash TV, a more insidious form of cultural dumbing down than the others. It is true that her guests are not 12-year-olds defiantly trying to get pregnant. But the shameless hype of the Rosie show is merely the celebrity version of the same ugliness patronized by Geraldo and Sally.
Offering up minor celebrities, mostly from television, Rosie engages in even more no-brainer dialogue than the other shows: "Isn't that nice?" she asks Arsenio Hall when the audience howls in glee upon his appearance. "Does it happen at the mall?" she asks a befuddled Johnny Depp when her audience screams and raves.
"Rosie!" "Rosie!" "Rosie!" is the chant as O'Donnell appears, as if she had done something worthwhile. All she is doing is providing starlets, once famous has-beens, and stars with the opportunity to sell a product, a show, themselves. Rosie with her endless clips is a further desecration of the culture, one more insidious than the admitted trash flooding daytime television, because her show pretends to be something other. Although Rosie has pointed to Mike Douglas as her mentor, his talk show invited authors on a daily basis; Rosie will allow none.
Rosie O'Donnell even admits ideas are dangerous since they're bound to offend someone. "I don't wanna do mean," she said, firing a writer who argued that "by its nature comedy attacks." "The Rosie Show" makes it impossible for the young and the impressionable, for whom television is the source of their access to this culture, to know what an idea even is.
Yet despite the fact that reading is irrelevant to the "Rosie Show," the book industry has discovered Rosie O'Donnell. A Warner hardcover, another of those non-books, "Kids Are Punny: Jokes Sent By Kids to the Rosie O'Donnell Show" has become a bestseller with hundreds of thousanRosie signed a $3 million contract to write her memoirs. That didn't stop two authors from producing paste-up quasi-biographies of Rosie, no matter that the subject refused to talk to them. Even as "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" is a travesty of discussion -- there isn't any -- so these two books are mere reflections of her show, hype without substance.
Not surprisingly, "Rosie: Rosie O'Donnell's Biography" by James Robert Parish (Carroll & Graf. 288 pages. $23) and "Rosie O'Donnell: Her True Story" by George Mair and Anna Green (A Birch Lane Press Book. 255 pages. $22.50) are virtual clones. Pick up either one and find the same anecdotes chronicling how Rosie's mother died when she was 10, how her father was an alcoholic and how she became a stand-up comedian at age 16. Both feature chapters on her friendship with Madonna. Both offer chapters about Rosie adopting her son as a single mom. Clipping and pasting from a stack of People magazines, these authors have managed to produce embarrassingly similar books.
As the "Rosie Show" never invades a guest's privacy or asks a controversial question, so the books about her reside on the surface. There is no analysis of Rosie as a neglected child raised on the pop culture of television. There is no examination of the cost to Rosie of all those years criss-crossing the country playing greasy clubs.
Competition for sleaze
DTC That the Rosie phenomenon is as prurient as the most flagrant trash television is reflected in the highlighting in both these books of the theme of O'Donnell's lesbianism. "Rosie: Rosie O'Donnell's Biography" does at least wait until page 189 to reveal her sexual orientation, only then to back quickly away from this controversial subject. Not to be outdone in the competition for sleaze, as if these authors were Jenny and Sally up against each other at the same hour, Mair and Green have moved the chapter about Rosie's sexuality, "Maybe I'm Lebanese," originally to have been chapter 24 in their book, up to page 38.