Because I ate lunch at my mother-in-law's today I got to watch the last half of Bob Barker's final The Price is Right.
Barker is an archetypal figure. I was a rugrat struggling with proto-conscious perceptive abilities while my mom watched him on Truth or Consequences. The Price is Right was a fixture of my youth. All of my grandparents watched it when they were home on weekdays, as did my mother and my great-grandmother. Bob Barker and Big Bird are the only figures who remained on TV from my infancy until my 38th birthday.
I didn't become a devotee of the show until Buf, Sluggo, and I started eating at a pizza joint on campus at Loyola College when we were Freshmen. At the time we were hanging out with a bunch of tough New York/New Jersey gals. What fun it was to bid along with the contestants! And we did so every day over slices bought on Dawn Lee's meal plan.
At various points in my life--when I was working night shifts or when I was able to eat lunch at home--I'd check in on Bob Barker now and again. He was a stern, no-nonsense host in his early days, before transforming into a genie perpetually delighted to give away loot. I love the way he fucked with his contestants by pretending to get ready to reveal the price before pulling back to talk some inanity. He'd have the audience in a frenzy. What a job.
And while his Beauties were stroking refrigerators and automobiles, he was stroking them. What a Mack Daddy.
I don't care how cynical you are about game shows and cheezy TV. I don't care if you regard The Price is Right as a perverse symptom of the disease called capitalism. You've still fantasized about spinning that big wheel and winning $1000 on your first spin. You've imagined getting the green or red on your second spin. You've laughed at that stupid tuba music they played for losers. You can recite Bob Barker's closing monologue:
This is Bob Barker reminding you: help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered...g'bye everybody!
Bob Barker was funnier and more charming at the end of his career than he was at the beginning. He exuded the carefree confidence of someone who realized he was a right lucky bastard to have the best job in the world. Nobody who didn't feel that way would work well into their 80s and remain sharp.
Perhaps I didn't watch The Price is Right more than 10 times in the last ten years. But I knew Bob Barker was there, giving away a trip or a car or a grandfather clock. Now he's gone off to sit by his pool and play with his dogs, and there's a black hole in the pop cultural space fabric. I'm sure Barker's departure from television is recorded in Nostradamus somewhere, or in the Book of Revelation, or on the Mayan calendar. I know that my in-laws and I did today what everyone does when they watch The Price is Right: we yelled bids at the screen, and groaned at losers, and laughed happily when winners danced and jumped around crazily.