Consume enough popular culture, and eventually you’re going to experience something that will convince you that now, finally, you’ve seen just about everything.
You’ll be wrong, of course (because there’s always something beyond the limits of what you can process), but that won’t keep you from believing that, well ... what in the world was that person doing with a lighted marshmallow on their head — and why could I not stop laughing?
It happened during the finale of “The Voice” this week. Poor Chevel Shepherd, the teenage retro-country singer who eventually was crowned this season’s winner. Perhaps the yodeling youngster will find the level of fame reached by previous “Voice” champions such as ... ummm, let’s get back to that one.
Chevel’s victory was overshadowed by the presence in the final of an act billed as “Marshmello featuring Bastille” which performed a song called “Happier” (perhaps in an attempt to outdo former “Voice” coach Pharrell Williams’s earworm staple “Happy.”)
Bastille is a British band with a decent lead singer named Dan Smith, whose performance of “Happier” was pleasant but instantly forgottable due to the presence of the aforementioned Marshmello.
If you haven’t been exposed to this fello yet, consider yourself fortunate. Marshmello stood behind Smith, perhaps banging sticks on an electric drum kit (it was hard to tell whether any sound was being produced by this action) ... then coming to the front of the “Voice” stage to wave his arms around and do some dad-shuffle dance steps behind the singer.
Did I mention he wore a marshmallow on his head? A white marshmallow that had black X’s for eyes and, ultimately, glowed green and red — I suppose to celebrate the holiday season.
I sat there, watching this, and thought ... heck, I could do that.
We’ve seen Devo wear collapsible cups on their heads, Elton John dress up like Donald Duck and Madonna vamp her way through more personalities than Sybil. We’ve seen Daft Punk (speaking of Pharrell Williams) strut about with robot heads.
We’ve even seen Sia without her hair cover her face.
But I’m apparently very late to the party on Marshmello, an electronic dance music superstar whose costume is apparently an homage to someone who goes by the stage name of Deadmau5.
(At least, we can only hope that Deadmau5 is a stage name — or else Dweezil and Moon Unit have a sibling who we hadn’t heard about until now.)
I don’t get the WTF vibe very much these days. Spend enough time allowing screens to thrust images into cerebrum and you get numb to the experience.
Watching Marshmello, I remember sitting in one of the back theaters at the Varsity back in 2008 for a sparsely attended screening of “Synecdoche, New York” — the Charlie Kaufman film that Roger Ebert proclaimed the best of the decade.
If you happened to miss it, the movie depicts the crumbling life of a theater director who decides to stage a living production of the world around him on a stage that ultimately grows to the size of a city block, and characters that not only include an actor portraying the director himself staging such a show ... but another actor who portrays the actor who is playing the director.
Kaufman fans are used to his playing fast and loose with the nature of reality in films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich” — but “Synecdoche” spins so far in on itself and out of control that it makes the audience want to trade places with Malcolm McDowell during Alex’s eye-opening reprogramming experiment near the end of “A Clockwork Orange.”
As the film ended (I think) and the lights came back up, a singular voice shot out from the back of theater.
“What the hell was that?” she said, and the dozen or so of her fello moviegoers broken into spontaneous laughter.
There’s something to be said for being taken out of your comfort zone. It’s why we read a Pynchon novel, or listen to Zappa, or accept so easily that Dick York can morph into Dick Sargent.
But sometimes the instrument of the artifice goes beyond transparence, and we realize that we’re simply being manipulated for the sake of manipulation. Is a painting of a Campbell Soup can art, or a commentary on our willingness to accept anything as art?
Marshmello’s performance on “The Voice” finale, I would argue, was skillful marketing fluffed up for just the sort of reaction that mainstream America (and it doesn’t get more mainstream than watching “The Voice”) would provide.
As the music faded, there was a shot of four figures with Marshmello heads sitting in the chairs of the “Voice” coaches. It might have been the coaches — and while I can see Blake Shelton wearing the mask, something tells me Jennifer Hudson would not — which made me realize that the person prancing around on stage as Marshmello might simply have been someone paid to dress up as the performer.
Who could tell what was real. And then I thought about Chevel Shepherd ... remember her?
Here’s a young singer who has performing since the age of 8. She knows her “lane” in the music field and stays within it — reaching an audience of millions on a “competition” series that only depends on the votes of those who download professionally packaged performances.
Reality shows are a product of skilled marketing as well. When it comes to consuming popular culture, we are what we eat.
S’mores can be sent to Mail Tribune columnist Robert Galvin at firstname.lastname@example.org.