A Challenge to Wobegon

I’m going to state something a bit…controversial, perhaps: I don’t get the ferocious appeal of A Prairie Home Companion.

Now before someone berates me, hear me out.

Every now and then I happen to be in my car at just the right time, on the right day and with the right station on to catch a bit of the show. I don’t go out of my way to hear it, and in fact, couldn’t really tell you when or where it’s on. I caught part of it today, a Sunday, sometime before noon on MPR. So…ok, so I guess I just lied. But if it weren’t for today’s intersection with this show I couldn’t say a thing about it.

Living in Minnesota, a statement like this feels a bit like a sacrilege. I don’t feel like much of a Minnesotan even though I’ve lived here for many years now (I don’t quite connect with some of the culture, but that’s all another topic) so I don’t think I’m going to hell for this. Someone else might, not me.

I’ll admit that there are times when little bits of Garrison Keillor’s monologues or tales…or stories…or whatever his chatter is supposed to be…can be amusing and charming. I’ll even admit that I’ve laughed or giggled at a few of the things, and that some of the music is fun, in its own way. But the thing I cannot get over is the murkiness in its presentation. Maybe I need to hear a whole episode or two or twelve to get it, but I honestly can’t tell whether the whole thing is genuine or completely tongue-in-cheek. It seems so saccharine it’s hard to believe it’s truly trying to be what it seems—some wholesome, home-spun, warm and fuzzy, gather-the-kids-around, piece of old-timey entertainment.

I almost wonder if Keillor hasn’t built an empire whose core element is actually mocking the people whom he purports to exalt: the hard-working, middle-class, upper-midwest (usually Nordic and often Lutheran) demographic. Listening to the show I fear that the joke is on the audience and they’re completely unaware of this. I’m also sure they  have paid a good amount of money to sit in the Fitzgerald in St. Paul or where ever it is the show gets broadcast from that week (today’s show was from Bismarck, ND) to watch this radio-variety show in progress. Tickets can be a hot commodity.

Also, and this might sound really cruel: I find Mr. Keillor’s tone a bit….well, not only mocking, but very nearly arrogant. Not warm and friendly, not inviting….but rather paternal (in a power sense) and sort of above it all.

Perhaps I’m just not the audience for this thing. In fact, I’m pretty certain I’m not, given what I’ve just written above. And that’s what I’ve often thought, but the strange thing is that I’ve met many people my age and younger who otherwise have similar sensibilities and tastes to mine and who think it’s just the best thing ever. While I love the idea of a entertainment program format that’s not only a sort of classic but is also different from so many other choices, I can’t get over the fact that this one doesn’t do it for me. I want it to be something else. I want it to be the radio variety show for 2009, and not a remake.

I want Garrison Keillor to up his game.

I want to see the next Garrison Keillor.


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