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Home > Culture and Society

Roy Horn and the 21st Century reality crisis

A man lies horribly mauled on a hospital bed somewhere in Nevada. His sequinned shirt hangs in shreds on the back of a bedside chair. And - God forbid - he might actually die from his injuries, whispers Charlie Skelton, in hushed tones, lest he wakes the patient.

10 October 2003

Poor old Roy.

Roy Horn is the shorter, quieter, and currently less healthy half of Siegfried and Roy. He is, without a doubt, one of the world's 'special people' - like Princess Diana, John McEnroe, Frank Bruno, Dorothy Parker and David Icke. And we hope he gets better soon.

It is hard to overestimate how special Roy Horn actually is. When God created man, he could only dream of the lifestyle that Roy Horn would come to enjoy: a life of elephants and jewels and rugs and personal chefs and limousines and enormous bathrooms and tight leather trousers and snow-white tigers and sunbeds. There are only 20 minutes in any 24 hour period when Roy isn't either on stage, or asleep, or under a sunbed, or lolling on a rug whilst Siegfried sings the songs of Schubert from behind the white piano. And most of those 20 minutes are spent having his eyebrows seen to. It's a weird life, but someone’s got to lead it. And that someone is Roy Horn.

Roy Horn.

Magician, dancer, holy fool - currently on a saline drip, weak and bloodless, barely strong enough to have his lashes combed, let alone wrestle nightly with a monstrous fire-breathing reptile. Until so recently lithe and spry, glossy of hair, strong of thigh. A magnificent flame of a man, dimmed by a tiger's heavy petting. Right up until the moment his windpipe got chewed, Roy’s very existence was a cause for unbridled (unmuzzled?) joy and celebration. Roy had achieved what so few people ever do: he had got to precisely where he wanted to be in life, he had found his complete and utter soulmate, and he got to live out his wildest fantasies night after night after night.

On a vast revolving stage, Ultimate Gothic meets High Camp, and a gigantic mechanical snake blurts fire at our tan-faced heroes (see how the fearless Roy rides the head of the snake!) - and the flames consume the giddy, leapfrogging Horn - is he dead? - is our hero dead? - then all of a sudden, in a fancy ripple of silk, Siegfried leaps from behind a curtain, plants a firm and suntanned hand on his hip, his eyes swivelling in pantomime fear.... "but wait" he shouts, "where's Roy?" and the shadows fall away to reveal Roy sitting Swami-like on the head of an elephant and we rise to our feet and applaud.

And this is what that stroppy tiger has taken away from us.

Not fair.

And what are we left with? David fucking Blaine. Yup - he's is still in the box. Well, sort of. He's also sharing it with his lookalike who switches with him during the 'cleaning sessions' when they drape a sheet round and the security guards shuffle about embarrassed by how rubbish it all is. Do we care? No.

And we're left with Derren fucking Brown. A tremendous performer (and a great live act) who has thrown his entire reputation down the bog-hole by not really playing Russian Roulette. Either play it or don't, Derren. Don't 'sort of' do it, like Blaine is 'sort of' living in a box. We're sick of these half truths. Decide what you're actually doing: are you pushing reality to its limits, or are you doing theatre? And if you're doing theatre, don't just half do it. Do as Roy does, and embrace it; prance and sing, sit cross-legged on a elephant and leap through the nostril-flame of a looming serpent.

Siegfried and Roy celebrate the fantasy. Blaine and Brown stress, over and over, the reality of what they are doing. As if this is what's important.

Blaine and Brown have got sidetracked by the idea that we need to smell 'reality' in order to enjoy our TV dinner. It is a truism that aside from cars and salads, Death and Sex are the two most real things in our lives. We fuck and die. Or more accurately: we breathe a bit, run about, look up at the clouds, laugh when someone falls over, and every so often we wiggle about inside each other and then we die. A rich and complex existence. But for some reason, the fucking and dying bit seems lately to have caught the eye of television...

British TV is currently clawing wild-eyed towards Death and Sex, and ohmygod! - Channel 4 is going to show some 18-yr-olds actually doing it under some sheets! - is he really putting it in her?? - ohmygod ohmygod ohshutup. The latest Big Brother teen slut bonk experiment promises a poking, and the headlines are all screaming about the 'last taboo' being broken. Whoopee. It is fascinating to watch this desperate scrabbling across lines-in-the-sand, through barriers - as David Blaine constantly says, he is "pushing the limits of human existence beyond what has ever bla bla bla." He can hardly shut up about crossing new boundaries and entering new territories...

New and real.

Visceral and actual.

What does it mean, this 'breaking of taboos'? Why do we crave it? A possible answer is this: too much of our culture has been given over to amusing us. We are not engaging with our society, our communities, our loved-ones, our own lives - our eyes have glazed over to our real lives; we are frantic to be distracted. When Robbie Williams said "let me entertain you" it wasn't a whim of his to entertain us, he was answering a need in our culture. A craving. It is no co-incidence that we, as a society, have never been so politically disengaged, so socially fragmented, and so very well entertained.

Or had so much 'news'.

Sky+ says you can "create your own TV channel." Video games create an entire world for you to kick about in. Everything is becoming more immediate, more fingertip, more controllable. Quicker and faster. Realler. Realler. Better graphics, more choice, YOUR CHANNEL, just for you, what next? What next?

David Blaine starving in a box. Like it. Next!

Derren Brown playing Russian Roulette. Great. Next!

Kids fucking on a plywood cot. Cool. Next!

We want more and more realitainment. More cakes and circuses. More stuff to shove in our eyes and brains; more 'reality' to numb us to reality.

It is remarkable, but somehow appropriate that Roy Horn should be mauled now. There seemed almost to be a conjunction of three moons this past week: Roy, Derren and Blaine - a heavenly alignment which marked the passing of the old order: the shift into a new aeon in which the theatre of Roy (grandiose, exotic, fantastical and fairytale - full of sex and death, but in a determinedly spangly way) became thing of the past, and the limp theatre of 'real' death and sex took over.

We cannot be doing with fairytales, because fiction requires us to be secure enough in our own existences to let our imagination play. Reality has become the true and rightful end of entertainment. But how sad it is to watch Derren Brown and David Blaine stumbling so awkwardly towards this goal.

Don't kid us that you're really 'about to die'.

You're not.

Roy is the one who is really about to die.

That’s the tragedy.



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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