The mate and I went to hear James Taylor recently at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. We were seated on the grass behind the stadium, where the slope is so steep that one false move would have turned us “Rainy Day Man” fans into an avalanche of “Mudslide Slims.”
We were grateful for James’ hair-loss problem, as it gave us that one shiny reference point to distinguish him from the other ten tiny musicians on stage. Plus we had the jumbo-trons to help us keep up with the action. It was sort of like watching Taylor’s TV special on KQED with a great sound system and about 10,000 friends.
Now here comes the dog tie-in (you knew I’d get there eventually): Occasionally, the stage director would slip a slide appropriate to the song’s lyrics in amidst the live shots. The picture he flashed during the song “Mexico,” of a burro in a sombrero painted like a zebra, was a crowd pleaser. But my favorite – naturally – was the highly huggable chocolate lab puppy that appeared on the screen at the end of “You’ve Got a Friend.” His eyes seemed to say, “You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I’ll come running…”. Dogs: “How sweet it is to be loved by you.”
While channel surfing the other night, I came upon a new game show called Top American Dogs. The program’s a knock-off of shows like Top Model and Top Chef, but geared toward dog lovers. Five people are given adjectives that they must get their dogs to convey in a photo shoot… words like sneaky, regal, and excited. Then three celebrity judges look at the pictures and decide who pulled off the assignment most effectively.
The creators of such shows must think we enjoy witnessing humiliation, because there are no-win situations wedged into every episode. This allows the judges to wax indignant and superior on a frequent basis.
Example: A judge on Top Chef might grouse, “I know the challenge was to pan fry your dish with a blow torch underwater, but that’s no excuse for letting the vegetables get soggy!” For some viewers, apparently, if no one be trippin’ or snippin,’ the channel they be flippin’.
On Top American Dog, one unfortunate contestant had to get her dog to depict anger before the camera. Rather than teasing the animal mercilessly with a T-bone or exposing it to distemper, the woman chose to use an old Hollywood device called a “snarl band,” a long rubber strip slipped around the upper muzzle of the dog so its lip is curled up and its fangs are exposed – thus simulating anger.
This provided an excuse for the judges to get all snarly themselves, about the abject “cruelty” inflicted on this poor pooch in the process of getting the shot. (Observing how one of the judges had cinched up parts of her own body to simulate cleavage, I questioned the sincerity of her protestations.)
Of course, if the show’s creators were really concerned about the dogs’ wellbeing, they would have stipulated beforehand that use of the snarl band and other such questionable tactics was not allowed. But where would the drama be in that?
Having had orthodontia for years during my youth, I know firsthand that ten minutes or so of feeling a rubber band stretched between your teeth is a walk in the park, at least compared to the other indignities of adolescence, say being snubbed by beauty queens and football stars alike.
(Maybe I should have named the disenchanted punk rock group I started back then “The Snarl Band.”)
So I am not completely unfeeling, you see. I have always been four-square against orthodontia for dogs.