Flipping through the wonders of TV’s dead winter season this evening (I was looking for an NBA game. I feel compelled to excuse my tube watching), I hit upon NBC’s new craptacular reality show Identity. In the show, Penn Jillette talks loudly (and shows that his schtick doesn’t work without the funnier half of Penn & Teller) while a contestant looks over 12 random people and tries to attach each of them to an “identity.” The identities range from professional bull rider to “was attacked by a shark.”
Normally, I would watch this for all of about 1/20th of a second, but tonight I noticed a familiar (if aged) face in the back row of mystery persons. Yep, it was none other than Stan Lee. I thought, surely, it couldn’t be him. Just couldn’t. I mean, yeah, for the past few decades he’s pretty well coasted on his glories of creating some of the most famous comics characters of all time. He’s made 19 cameo appearances and appeared as himself in nearly 50 movies and TV shows, running the gamut from Jugular Wine: A Vampire Odyssey to The Hulk: An MTV Movie Special. (For those English majors out there, this is what we consider a “false range”)
As someone young enough to not respect Lee for anything more than a creative mind (yeah, his writing was crap. Creative crap, but crap), I don’t know why I felt such an overwhelming sense of shame and revulsion at seeing this legend propped up before a small studio audience as some pretty bimbo named Nikki tried to figure out whether he was the creator of Spider-Man.
It played out as follows:
Nikki — “No offense, Stan, but Spider-Man is pretty old.”
Penn — “Stan, are you the creator of Spider-Man?”
Stan — “My spider-sense tells me that is so.”
It was just as bad as it sounds, a terribly uncomfortable scene in which this doddering old man was used as an unfunny joke for a TV show that nobody cares about. While I do feel somewhat sorry for Lee, even more I feel aggravated with him. Yes, the spotlight is a hard thing to let go of, but those who revere Stan Lee and have revered him for many, many years are comic book fans. He needs to realize that those loyal readers are who trained a spotlight on him, and if he wants to keep in their minds, he can do so through comic-book related projects.
By keeping on with these other appearances, he’s only making a fool of himself, and making comics appear foolish to non-readers.