Pledge week on KCTS, Seattle's local PBS station, always gives me hives, but last week's affair finally broke my spirit. As if it weren't enough that the station seems increasingly middle-of-the-road (if not ominously, how shall we say, right lane), one cloud on its cultural horizon warns of a complete aesthetic breakdown. I speak of "The Young Prince of Belgium," operatic vocalist Michael Junior.
Cuddly pledge-week emcee George Ray quoted singer/impresario Helmut Lotti as telling him back in the spring of '99, "I have found another talent in Belgium. And he is going to be a world-beater [?!]." Certainly anyone catching Junior's little bleating Aryan shtick will suffer an intense emotional bruise, yet the station continues to televise the 13-year-old's European concert as though it were the Second Coming. The blond, glassy-eyed tot hollers in high C like some steely animatronic moppet—like Hayley Joel Osment in Speilberg's A.I., his love is real, but he is not. He occasionally duets with Lotti, who stares down at him with a frozen smile that seems to say, "You better not blow this, kid, or there will be no gruel for supper tonight." If this is considered culture on KCTS, we can soon expect the Olsen twins singing Lakme and making impassioned pleas for world peace in their matching pink jumpers.
Worse are Junior's scripted, psychotic ramblings, spoken in terrifyingly vague English and piped in over shots of him roaming the continent's idyllic hillsides. It's how I imagine those eerie, big-eyed waifs in Margaret Keane's kitsch paintings might sound if given voice and a medieval dose of Prozac: "Do you know the movie The Sound of Music? Sometimes I dream I am Michael Von Trapp. I pick songs as if they were flowers and I make a bouquet of them that I sing just for you." Or this searing rumination that sent me into a fit of epilepsy at 2 a.m.: "Life is an adventure story where everyone wants to sit at home and say, 'I love you. Ich liebe dich.'" What? What?!
A perusal of customer reviews on Amazon.com—always a good indication of the imminent downfall of Western civilization—should awaken all doubters to the shape of things to come. One entry claims that the tot's Dreamland recording "moves me to the point that I feel that I can transcend any obstacle in the universe." People, this kid is singing "Edelweiss".
At some point during the pledge breaks, Ray dutifully reminds us, "You're the people who really call the shots." Oh, my friends—and any fearful others—start calling.