Saturday, January 8, 2011

#138 - Waxing Psychological

Waxing Psychological

1/8/11 (#138)

I was passing time on the bus by peeking over the shoulder of the woman in front of me and reading the headlines of her People magazine. Personally, I would never buy People magazine — and I say that with so much righteous intellectual superiority that my you'd think I didn't own a television — but in truth, it's always my first choice when I'm at the doctor's office. It's the cotton candy of magazines: no nutrition, no substance, but so much pointless deliciousness.

What immediately startled me during my visual eavesdropping session was the awful appearance of the stars featured on a particular two-page spread. Each one seemed happy enough, but almost catatonic, as if they were all auditioning for a starring role in The Stepford Wives and the casting agent was facing some difficult choices. I jockeyed for position in hope of finding an explanation, my face close enough to smell the other rider's hair, and saw that the article was comparing which celebrity women faired best at wax museums.

Halle Berry was featured, looking far more ordinary than she ever looks in film or photographs. Actually, her breasts looked fabulous, it was only her face that failed to match reality. (It's clear where the artist spent the most time on their work.) Lindsey Lohan looked spacey and stupefied — surprisingly lifelike in that regard, though her paraffin doppelganger sported a pre-tabloid innocence that looked oddly anachronistic. I shifted to see the other women featured, but my move coincided with the bus hitting a pothole and caused my chin to gently bump her shoulder, so I spent the rest of the ride glued to the back of my seat in order to make it perfectly clear that, no, I did want to nuzzle her neck (anymore), and no, security did not need to be called. But those glossy photos of those glassy-eyed celebrity duplicates continued to haunt me.

It's clear that wax museums have a solid base of supporters, but I am not one of them. I just don't understand the allure — the creepy figures they house may bear a general resemblance to a Hollywood celebrity or historical figure, but their lifeless gazes and frozen postures make the museum experience seem like an open-casket wake for 300 irrelevant personalities.

There are a few I can understand: What is it like to stand next to 7'6" basketball star Yao Ming? It's rare we encounter anyone approaching seven feet in our daily life, and I am unable to imagine the scale and proportions of his size by making a mark on the wall at 90". Maybe jockey Willie Shoemaker as well, though he was 4' 11", and I see people that tall when I drop my daughter at school every morning.

But what is the excitement of seeing a wickless-candle version of Matthew Mcconaughey? A wax casting of Princess Di? A plasticized Michelle Obama? Boy George, Adolph Hitler, Franz Kafka and Gandhi all standing rigidly at the world's most boring cocktail party? I don't get it.

Looking at wax museum sites online, I found one that boasts of a life-size facsimile of Glee's caustic cheering coach Jane Lynch — if ever there was a celebrity who you would want to be vocal, Jane is it, because without her wit, she's a middle-aged Old Navy display hawking affordable red sweat suits; another brags of their lifelike Julia Roberts, though the awkward expression and shimmering creepiness of her molded face makes her look like the dream date for BK's King.

It seems like a strange commentary on our culture that our celebrity obsessions are so deep that ogling claymation replicas of Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Lopez is deemed an afternoon well spent. Yet countless online photos confirm the popularity of the pastime, fans posing with mannequins dressed as their favorite movie characters, the lifeless eyes of James Bond or Jack Sparrow or Al Gore staring slightly away from the camera as if they themselves don't want to be in the picture.

I'm not passing judgment* on people who spend $35.50 for a day of silent socializing with a warehouse full of Hollywood has-beens. I simply don't get it. A few hours spent at the Smithsonian Museum is an opportunity to see or experience something tangible — observing the scale of Linburgh's plane and the Apollo 11 space capsule, examining the skeletal frame of a triceratops or the confines of a Chicago "L" transit car. Is there a similar historical value to seeing the waxy version of W.C. Fields or the original cast of television's Star Trek?

Personally, if I'm ever going to have my picture taken with the likes of Snooki or Speaker of the House John Boehner, I don't want it to look like I'm standing next to a scientifically preserved version of those people, because...wait, maybe those aren't the best examples.

* Of course I am.

©2011 wpreagan