William Hung’s fifteen minutes of fame

By on March 4, 2004

Singers this blessed with the pipes have the tendency to coast, but not William Hung. Even if you do not watch American Idol, you may be familiar with Hung’s now infamous audition in which he “sang” Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.”

While not a fan of the show (I am generally skeptical of “reality” TV programming), but the trailers of this inept buffoon teased me.

There is some carnal, voyeuristic kind of gratification to be found in public humiliation; a civil engineering student from UC Berkeley with delusions of grandeur certainly delivered this promise. For an ear and side splitting three minutes, William Hung gave his all-the nightmare incarnation of karaoke gone horribly, horribly wrong.

At this point, we have been conditioned for this type of embarrassment- the caustic Simon Cowell has made a career out of shredding the dreams of the desperately untalented and clueless.

But Hung was something different; at the moment when he should have cried, argued or stormed off the stage, he took his criticism like a man.

“I gave it my all and I have no regrets,” he replied, slung his backpack over his shoulder and headed off the stage-maybe the library was still open and there was work to be done.

After the guffaws of laughter had settled, the first pangs of guilt set in. This kid was actually genuine-and his performance, no matter how inept and unintentionally hysterical, was a sincere effort.

“I have no professional training of singing,”

Hung confesses and we laugh on cue as if it were a scripted punchline. But somehow this obliviously unskilled jackass had broken through the artifice of the reality TV, and exposed it for the overproduced sham it is. He was simply too “real” for the show to handle, his charisma too unexpected.

William Hung seems to have the last laugh: internet sites have popped up in his devotion, T-shirts are selling on ebay, he has made the TV talk show circuit, performs during the half-time shows at his school, and is being urged to run for student senate. An online petition to “send Hung to Hollywood” is over 100,000 signatures.

You may have heard about the record deal offer of $25,000. The network seems to realize their error, and is trying to capitalize on Hung’s notoriety by bringing him back for an “Uncut, Uncensored and Untalented” special. A Clay Aiken concert was bumped.

As students at his school become increasingly annoyed with Hung-mania (perhaps a tad envious), and the inevitable media backlash poised more as whiplash, William Hung’s fifteen minutes could be in their final moments. My advice: milk the cash cow for all its worth now- you can expect the Hung disc to promptly find its way into used cd bins as soon as the novelty wears off.

He is a memorable flash-in-the-pan, an accidental cult hero who found a degree of celebrity in spite of his Goodwill wardrobe, hokey dance moves and tuneless vocal. Here is a man who found success in his failure. It’s hard not to see in that gap-toothed grin the smile of all the American dream.

Andy Warhol looks like a genius now for his musing that everyone would be famous for at least fifteen minutes, and but could he have possibly foreseen a future like this? Hung has certainly got his mileage out of it.

Then the awe slowly gives way to disgust, and you realize there is something vaguely troubling about Hung’s messianic rise to fame. There is a vulgar temptation by slack-jawed idolators to glorify an obnoxious twit like Hung because they find him perversely amusing. Is it not alarming that this witless wonder cannot distinguish from people laughing with, or at him?

The misadventures of William Hung signify a new moment in the pop culture lexicon, the inception of a new aesthetic- he could be the first faux-reality savant exploitation star. That face- it seems so plucky and harmless, right?-could also mark the first ripples of the degradation of modern society.

At www.williamhungsucks.com, a Berkeley student remarks running into Hung on campus and laughing in his face. Hung’s response? He casually smiles back. There are reports he is taking singing lessons to actively pursue a career.

Surely these are clear signs of psychosis, but there is nothing meticulous about William Hung (his snappy dressing a hint). Some critics from the Asian-American community feel that Hung is a travesty; an offensive, crude representation of their race. They argue he embodies all the stereotypes they would hope to deny.

We cannot afford to underestimate the impact of this bungling menace on society. America used to be a country that rewarded the toils of hard work and talent. Do not mistake the gawky, clownish demeanor of this simpering sycophant as innocence.

The decline of civilization shines in those vacuous eyes of William Hung- can you now see that it is him who is laughing at us?


About S. Flavius Mercurius