Upon learning of the passing of Chuck Barris, the mad genius behind The Gong Show, I couldn't help but reflect on my memories of that genre-busting television program and what it meant to me as a young kid.
I'm pretty sure that when I was a seven-year-old kid growing up in the suburbs of New York City during the 1970s, I couldn't spell the word subversive, let alone explain what it meant. But I knew subversion or, more importantly, I felt subversion when I saw it.
And to the seven-year-old me in 1977, there was nothing more subversive -- not that knew of, anyway, given my early bedtime and my parent's strict oversight of my television viewing -- than The Gong Show. Ironically enough, it was my by-the-book, no-nonsense father that introduced me to the syndicated talent show.
After a single viewing, I was hooked.
For me, one of the great joys of watching The Gong Show was its thrilling sense of off-script chaos and anarchy. More importantly, though, was the show's off-beat way of showcasing -- not mocking -- the freaks, weirdos, and oddballs that appeared on each and every episode. Not only did it take a sledgehammer to television show formats of the past, The Gong Show gave hope to many of us who felt a little different than everyone else or like we didn't fit in anywhere.
In their own eccentric ways, Chuck Barris and The Gong Show taught us that the very things that made each and every one of us unique were the very talents worthy of celebrating.