Chuck Barris was not the first tall-tale teller to strike it rich. But as one of the progenitors of reality TV entertainment and a raconteur with no allegiance to the truth, Barris may be the lynchpin that connects an earlier America to our current, highly-segmented, glitzy, fame-fueled culture. Barris didn’t invent the Internet, but he invented “The Dating Game” and with it the judgmental voyeuristic viewing style that informs every Internet troll and Kardashian fan.
And, oh yeah, he might have been a CIA assassin. Or that was just a good story, something the facts should never get in the way of. That’s the modern affliction — a post-fact world — and Barris was a master of it, using the two greatest tools ever invented — television and his imagination. His “The Gong Show” was the first program to proclaim that everyone could be a star even if one’s talent was scant. If Warhol thought about everybody getting 15 minutes of fame, Barris granted it. All this prepped society for the Internet, which is basically a version of Barris’s imagination blown up by orders of magnitude. Barris died this week at age 87, leaving obituary writers grasping at the wind. The only credible record was Barris’ own subversive account, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which was also incredible.