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World of Wonder, a production company spearheaded by documentary filmmakers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, has created a vast array of campy cultural touchstones over the past decade and a half, from feature documentaries like The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Inside Deep Throat; to reality series about transgender teenagers and Tammy Faye’s punk rock preacher son, Jay; to both Party Monster the documentary and Party Monster the feature, which starred Macaulay Culkin as real-life murderous club kid Michael Alig. Most of WOW’s work involves taking subjects which should by all rights be on the margins and imbuing them with mainstream appeal, but occasionally (their reality shows about Tori Spelling come to mind) they’ll take a specimen of mainstream culture that should be absolutely banal, and present it in a way that seems absolutely subversive.
Such is the case with episode 26 of The Daily Freak Show, one of the flagships of WOW’s fledging web video portal, WOW.tv. Freak stars James St. James, whose memoir on sometime-best friend Alig formed the basis of WOW’s narrative version of the story (he was played by Seth Green in the film). In episode 26, St. James and crew crash the line that was forming outside Nokia Theater in anticipation of the American Idol finale.
As far as I’m concerned, St. James is the perfect man for such a job. The former club kid is now in his 40s, and his on-camera persona — droll and cynical, yet explosively (if not always sincerely) enthusiastic at unexpected moments — is like a cross between Pee-wee Herman and Andy Warhol. On steroids.
St. James cobbles an interview style out of a combination of genuine-seeming curiosity, over-it derision, and, most surprising, tough-love moralism. When any woman in the line over the age of 13 says she’s rooting for David Archuletta, St. James scolds her for being a child molester. When a group of preteen girls admit that they like last year’s winner, Jordin Sparks, St. James horrifies them with the story of how Sparks’ “vocal chords exploded.” Choose your idols carefully, girls! In such moments, the episode goes beyond being a parody of the kind of coverage of itself that American Idol works into each episode in order to kill time before the next Ford commercial — it’s almost service journalism!
In all sincerity: We’ve seen countless pieces of media “reporting” about what it’s like to wait in line for stuff, but nothing like this, which manages to spoof the milieu whilst at the same time showing real affection for the fans that it attracts.