A birthday from Mr. Belvedere, one of TV’s many disquieting alternate universes.
Television Land (not to be confused with the ever-sadder TV Land) is a foreign country: they do things differently there. The residents get very excited about fast food. Dads are childish buffoons and moms are smug scolds. All kids are bratty smart alecks. Police witnesses are strangely insolent and really busy. And everyone who uses online dating services is beautiful, chic, and well adjusted. But perhaps the strangest thing about this parallel universe is that in lieu of “Happy Birthday,” they sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
Well, until recently. Now that shows don’t have to pay the astronomical permissions fee on “Happy Birthday”—as of last week, in fact, when a federal judge invalidated the copyright—there’s sure to be a stampede of television office workers and television classrooms and television singletons breaking into the song on the slightest pretext. Heidi Klum—serenading Macy’s in an ad that I find unwatchably embarrassing because it’s trying so hard in so many ways—is just the first. I’m glad, at least, that she got a Marilyn reference in right out of the gate; maybe it will stem the tide a little. But: Après Klum le deluge.
It makes much more sense, of course. It was very peculiar to see characters who were ostensibly normal, cosmopolitan, modern people constantly breaking into “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” a song one never in fact hears in real life, and certainly not at birthday parties. It was sort of like all those insolent witnesses and perps and their unwillingness to take any effin’ crap from stinkin’ cops—weird, yet somehow comforting. A reminder that it was TV. That Big Brother is not only watching, but he has his hand on the purse strings, and he isn’t made of money.
Why else do you think everyone on TV’s so excited about those endless shrimp?
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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