This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
Game shows like Millionaire Hotseat or Deal or No Deal fascinate me. I don't particularly like them but I've never really disliked them either. That is, until I sat in the audience of one tripping major fucking balls.
Acid tends to do that, it slaps you in the face and forces you to change your perspective on certain things. For instance, before LSD, I didn't believe trees had souls, but they do—one told me so as I pissed on it at a music festival. Now I know. Before I sat in a live studio recording of Millionaire Hotseat I never really saw these game shows as evil, but they are. Now I know.
Maybe evil seems too strong a word. But Lysergic Acid afforded me an opportunity to analyse this modern circus from a whole new perspective. In my old blissful days of innocence, I saw game shows as the elevator music of TV world. Yet this is the very reason why they've insidiously been allowed to continue exploiting the emotions of the masses, in the name of ratings. Nobody is actually really watching, unless they are retired or stoned.
I'm sitting in my apartment writing this, trying to piece together the notes I hastily scribbled inside the Millionaire studio—indiscernible missives from another realm. I've never written an article on acid, a few philosophy essays at uni, never an article. But I'll try to decode them, and tell you what I learned.
We arrive at the Channel 9 studios early in the morning. I'd called three of my mates the night before and asked them to accompany me on this journey into the unknown. The acid is kicking in gently, like the slow rise of a rollercoaster right before shit gets real, everything speeds up, and you regret every life decision leading up to that point. On the plus side though, my Hubba Bubba tastes great. If you're going to drop acid, drop it on strawberry Hubba Bubba. Shit's amazing.
My friends are also tripping. Four of us. Cooked. The rest of the audience old enough to be our grandparents, they stand in line outside the studio—as if waiting to be called in for a job interview. Sombre, apprehensive. Security takes our phones and whisks us into what has to be a waiting room for the afterlife. Sterile white floor, black folding wrestling chairs, a screen broadcasting past episodes, silence. Overwhelming silence.
An old woman smiles at me. Oh god, she knows. I look at my mates, they look back at me, we laugh at the absurdity of the game we have voluntarily committed to. All the security guards look the same. Bald, bearded, smiles that say I don't want to fuck you up buddy but, if you try me, I will. A steward shows us to our seats. We teleport from purgatory to the front row of the studio audience, directly in eye sight of where Eddie McGuire will sit, directly in view of the camera. The steward is sadistic. Oh all four of you are cooked? All four? Front row please.
A modern court jester in a tight white business shirt tells us five episodes will be filmed today, one after another. The audience is "warmed up" by a sad man masquerading as a happy man—his façade betrayed by his dead, lifeless eyes. Want to know somebody? And I mean truly know somebody? Look at their eyes, look past their eyes. The dead clown coaches us and we mirror him, hypnotised. Clap on this signal, cheer on this one, no not like that, faster, too loud, slow down. He has us. We are eager puppets clapping along to his every whim.
The lights dim and Eddie appears to a backdrop of blue flames. Hotseat, a seat of hell. The strobe lights tell me time does not exist. The acid tells me Eddie McGuire is not to be fucked with. He is savage, the king of general knowledge, never lost for words. He's sharp, he's onto us. He knows all. Eddie can see into my soul. Fuck. My mind is somewhere between hyper awareness and mashed potatoes. But one thing is certain, only one universal truth tying fabric of space and time together: Eddie McGuire has special powers. He's hypnotising us. He's fucking hypnotising the audience man. This is some fucked up shit.
The show ensues, money is won and lost. Floating digital numbers reduce grown men to tears. But I can't concentrate above the hum of my subconscious debating itself. This is all a distraction, it says: Hear me out,it says. I'm listening, it says. This isn't about winning money, this is about fucking with people and recording it. How? Hotseat is an illusion. They dangle a golden ticket in front of you, to see how much you crack under the weight of possibility. You need this money, don't you? How bad do you need it? Oh, your grandpa's sick? We can help but you have to give us some drama. Oh, she's crying... Zoom in! Did you catch that Steve? This is gold. Great episode guys.
A certain type of person goes on this show. What's all that money to someone who's already rich? Millionaire Hotseat was never about the money. No, it's about putting people in the Hotseat and watching them instantly reveal everything about themselves. The Hotseat is an interrogation. The light is right above you, Eddie has the power, and he questions the contestants with gusto as they all shuffle nervously, eyes darting like scared possums. It all seems too surreal as I hastily scribble notes. Everything seems plastic. The trip is taking a dark turn.
This isn't about winning money, this is about fucking with people and recording it.
Millionaire Hotseat is a fucking distraction. Just like the lottery. Give them false hope. Keep them in check. Keep them tame.
In Ancient Rome, gladiators fought to the death in the name of entertainment for the masses. Want to raise taxes? Distract the commoners with blood and free bread. The plebs, no longer concerned with direction of government, too occupied discussing whether Aurelius was right to spare Tiberius and whether next weeks' match will be as blood filled as the last. Sound familiar? How do you reckon Collingwood's gonna go this week?
Perhaps I'm looking too far into it. We've evolved now after all. Barbaric blood sport swept aside in favour of emotional manipulation for the amusement of the lowest common denominator—a modern day G-rated Hunger Games. We don't want blood, we're more complex. Now we want you to beg for that sweet cash, mere pocket change for the network, but it sure is a hell of a lot to you isn't it Billy?
By being in this studio, I feel I've willingly become part of a parody of life itself—where the deluded majority think themselves already millionaires that just haven't secured their seemingly destined wealth yet. With a quick snap of the fingers Eddie awards hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lives changed just like that.
We're all the butt of some grand Truman Show-esque practical joke. Bad vibrations passing in waves as we are repetitively pulled back into the spectacle, riding every wave of emotion, mindlessly clapping on cue then waking up and trying not to laugh at how well we are being hypnotised—a momentary awakening, shaken only by yet another hand gesture by Eddie and all of a sudden we are puppets once more.
Sinister energy, we have to leave.
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