If I added up all the hours I have suffered the indecency of being subjected to karaoke throughout Asia, the time would amount to literally months of my life. I can think of no other group activity with such singular disregard for aesthetic taste and one that so poignantly devours hope for the future of our race.
The sensory onslaught centers around the television, which by itself reduces social engagement to forward-facing blinking. Add to this the images on the screen: an asynchronous montage of frosted lovers galloping across pastoral landscapes, gaping in contemplation and overwrought with feigned longing. This, on its own, serves to stir and chill, but it is the mere beginning of the horror.
Enter the music. By and large songs range from drizzly pop to suicidal ballads. They are the inferior counterfeits of the most tasteless of western arrangements. But to make matters worse, these karaoke rip-offs are often not even played as they were originally recorded by their hapless poser composers, having often been re-orchestrated as synthesized versions of their poor copies. The final effect is reminiscent of a homeless busquer plugged to a Casio on the New York subway.
And if even this were the extent of the abuse it would still almost be tolerable. Yet karaoke is even so much less. Let’s lubricate the visual and audible onslaught with crates of warm lager and whisky cocktails sweetened with green tea. And let’s now smack around and screech into microphones, with the reverb turned up to a deafening echo. Yes, let’s. Bad ideas compound and flourish.
Sometimes a karaoke old-timer demonstrates his or her vocal prowess at a nationalistic military diddly, undoubtedly drawing enthused applause and subsequent rounds of toasts. Sometimes hookers are traipsed into the room with whom there is waltzing and fondling. Some of them can even impress with a boozy tune before being whisked to a hotel or into a corner.
A dark, confined and smoke-stained room with maximumly amplified music blasted through low grade speakers; the sexually starved scream through microphones and gush with inebriation and pride: for me an unparalleled nightmare, yet to many a karaoke dream.
So, the perennial question: why do I time after time fall victim to this agonizing charade? Perhaps, like Sisyphus, it is the hopeless belief that, but once, my struggles will conclude in a triumphant result. Perhaps it is my sensibility for the absurd, an appreciative and perverse eye for the culmination of nonsense. And like karaoke, the meaning is to be found less in the question and more in simply giving oneself over to the throngs of existence.