Monday, January 10, 2011

A toupological analysis of the "MJ Kelli incident".

A while back, a reader very kindly provided us with their copy of the infamous 1994 "MJ Kelli incident", a 1994 radio interview in which, live on-air, Tampa Bay area DJs "MJ Kelli" (real name Todd Schnitt) and "BJ Harris"confronted Bill Shatner about his hairpiece.

"MJ Kelli"

Since that time, our toupologists have been undertaking a very thorough examination of the incident using some of the most cutting-edge technology available to us: touposcopes, toupometers and toup-particle accelerators.

But first, here's the full clip again and a transcript:

MJ: "Now, William. Before you go..."

WS: "Yes."

MJ: "I, I hope this is not a sensitive question. But you're a tough guy, right?"

WS: "Umm, I'm pretty tough, but can we edit this if we have to?"

MJ: [Laughter] "The hairpiece: It is the best I have ever seen!"

WS: "Well, it's - I don't wear a hairpiece."

MJ: "Oh, you don't?"

WS: "No!"

MJ: "Oh, I thought you did."

WS: "Well, I...I...that's the stupidest question I've ever heard."

MJ: "Oh, I thought you-"

WS: "Let me put it this way..."

MJ: "Yeah."

WS: "Am I talking to MJ?"

MJ: "Yes."

WS: "Well, uhh, 'MJ' stands for the 'Most Jerk'? Err, what does it stand for?"

MJ: "No! No, William, no. There's...let me tell-"

WS: "No, no really. No, no, no, no. With...I don't know how to put this, MJ, but that is a stupid question by a rather stupid person."

MJ: "No, no...William, no...I-"

WS: "Tell me again, MJ...MJ, tell me again the, the...what I really want to say is: it's been a pleasure talking to you."

MJ: "You're angry at me now."

WS: "No, no, not at all, MJ. You're just a dope. But I guess people will understand that over the, over time."

MJ: "Bye, bye, William."

WS: "Goodbye."

By the end of the above incident, the interview has turned into something of a slugging match, with Bill Shatner essentially reduced to hurling insults. But the key section, we think, is at the start. Here, Bill Shatner responds directly to point-blank toupological questions.

"My hair to your hair..."

A moment of context first - the Bill Shatner of 1994 was nowhere near as at (relative) ease with matters of the toupee as the Bill Shatner of 2011. Whereas we've since had " I wear a toupee?", "the hair, I just envy the hair", "fear of losing my hair" and other subtle shifts from absolute denialism, back in 1994, the Cold Toupular War was still raging and Bill Shatner was still very much on the other side of the "Lace Curtain" (Was Reagan really addressing the bald Gorbachev in 1987? Or was he sending a coded message: "Mr Shatner, tear off that toupee!").

Setting aside completely the motivations of the interviewers, let's look at the key Bill Shatner statements from this interview. The first is:

MJ: "[Laughter] The hairpiece: It is the best I have ever seen!"

WS: "Well, it's - I don't wear a hairpiece."

Bill Shatner is clearly startled at first, hearing such an unexpected statement. Indeed, before he manages to compose himself, his subconscious releases some vital information: "Well, it's - ". "It's" he says. "It", as in the hairpiece, the toupee...the response here suggests the inanimate object could perhaps be described by the interviewee as something else: "It's a hat!" But Bill Shatner wisely steers himself clear of that dead end. Instead, he opts for a flat denial: "I don't wear a hairpiece." He's fibbing, of course.

Next, we have:

MJ: "Oh, you don't?"

WS: "No!"

Bill Shatner is offered a second chance, like a politician who may have rashly misstated something in a televised debate: "Let me get this clear - are you saying that you...?" There is some wiggle room offered to perhaps change the subject or add shades of gray where there was only black and white: "What I meant to say is that..." There are several options open to Bill Shatner at this point, including "none of your business". But that answer would evidently have opened a door in the future that Bill Shatner preferred to be thoroughly closed.

"No!" he asserts.

But the tone of his voice is revealing. It isn't at all a confident assertion of an undeniable truth. The voice is subdued, shaky, quiet. A lie detector test would likely indicate that a falsehood was being told.

Finally, we have:

MJ: "Oh, I thought you did."

WS: "Well, I...I...that's the stupidest question I've ever heard."

The moment is reminiscent of a scene from the last ever Star Trek episode "Turnabout Intruder".

In the episode, Dr. Janice Lester swaps minds with Captain Kirk and then sets about, in the body of Kirk, trying to persuade the crew that all is well and that Lester's allegations (with Kirk in her body) that she is really the captain are false. In one scene, Spock questions Lester/Kirk's orders. Kirk (with a brilliantly psychotic performance from Bill Shatner) tries to fob Spock off with a forced laugh similar to the above "That's the stupidest question I've ever heard.":

Imagine if someone went up to you and said: "Hey, I think that you are Elvis and that you have had plastic surgery to make yourself look younger and look like a different person." You would, quite rightly, respond that that was the stupidest thing you had ever heard.

However, the notion of Bill Shatner wearing a toupee - by 1994, countless late-night jokes and newspaper reviews of the Trek movies had made allusions to the "TJ Curly" - was one that the actor was certainly familiar with. Thus, the idea that Bill Shatner had heard something so wild and so preposterous that it literally made him laugh is, frankly, ridiculous and entirely unconvincing. And, of course, if it is so laughable, why get angry about it a few seconds later?

But, to Bill Shatner's credit, at least this third answer shifts from an outright denial to something less assertive and more focused on parsing words. More mysterious is the later: "You're just a dope. But I guess people will understand that over the, over time." The irony here is that Bill Shatner is suggesting that a detailed study of a subject will yield a hitherto unproven truth (that "MJ Kelli" is a dope) - though this is the very kind of spotlight he himself is shunning.

Overall, just like Janice Lester in the body of Kirk, defending a falsehood was proving to be a relentless irritant...

"Turnabout Intruder" provides a striking metaphor for what could happen - in a fictional, highly exaggerated universe, of course - to Bill Shatner if he ruled a world in which he sought the absolute authority to permanently stamp out any and all accusations that he wore a toupee. What would he do to someone who dared to suggest he wore a piece?

Would such absolute power corrupt absolutely? Might those who insisted that Bill Shatner wore a toupee ultimately find themselves subject to show trials and even executions
amidst a climate of fear and tyranny?

On another note: what could Bill Shatner have made of the whole MJ Kelli exchange? His likely reaction would have been: "Why would anyone want to do anything so mean? Why would anyone decide to hurt me that way?"

This brings us - in a curious detour, and surely proving that all quality Star Trek is about Bill Shatner's toupee - to perhaps the very best (in our subjective view) episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Q Who?" (beautifully scored by Ron Jones). At the end of this episode, Captain Picard asks the omnipotent Q a similar question: Why did you want me to humiliate myself in front of you? And why expose us to the Borg at such a terrible cost?

"If you can't take a little bloody nose," Q replies, "then maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid."

Later, in a discussion with the mysterious Guinan, Picard realizes that, like Shatner, he should actually be grateful for this negative experience.

Without moments such as the "MJ Kelli incident", Bill Shatner might never have eased up about the toupee at all - at least a little. Wearing a toupee in the modern age - especially as a public figure - is not for the timid, and one must be prepared when questions are inevitably asked. The alternative: a tyranny, even a passive-aggressive one, in which those who dare to even ask are metaphorically tried and executed as mutineers is truly an unthinkable and unsustainable alternative.

As Picard says, "Perhaps what we most needed was a kick in our complacency, to prepare us for what lies ahead..." Thankfully, due to a shift in toupological tone, what lay ahead for Bill Shatner after 1994 bore little resemblance to awkward, painful moments such as that of the notorious "MJ Kelli incident". So in a way, Bill Shatner arguably owes "MJ Kelli" a debt of gratitude for easing a path for the actor towards a more sustainable, less absolute form of toupological expressionism.


  1. Not to get all serious here, but I always felt those two guys more or less crossed the line. The Shat, God love him, gave these two largely unknowns a shot at an interview, only for them to sandbag him like that.

    If the Shatman ever does openly disclose his toupee use, then I think it should be done on His terms, not in some ambush interview disguised as a friendly chat that only serves it's true purpose of trying to embarass someone who is at least as human as you and I, if not greater.

    This is in no way against the blog. I love this blog! I've just always had a little problem with this one. Keep up the great work!

  2. Thanks "Shatinator" - we avoided the "on his own terms" aspect of this incident because we wanted, in this post at least, to focus on the particular answers. But we certainly take your point. See here for a discussion of the very issues you raise. Thanks! -ST

  3. In a later TNG episode, "Deja Q", Q is stripped of his omnipotent powers and forced to face life as a mere human - having to wear clothes, grow feeble with age, bathe, etc. He also expresses a very Shatnerian fear of losing his hair.

    Unfortunately, it seems that he failed to understand the full significance of his words in "Q Who" - including the toupological implications.

  4. Why didn't Shatner say "Moronic Jerk" or "Mega Jerk" instead of "the Most Jerk"?

    it was just an extreme emotional over-reaction by Shats. By the end of the interview MJ is just a dope to be written off and forgotten by Shatner and BS is asking the listening audience to do the same.

    MJ, if he were smart, would've switched from The Toupee immediately to The Girdle. Shat might never have recovered from the force of that lethal one-two combination punch.

  5. Turnabout Intruder is so delightfully awful. Shatner's over-the-top portrayal of a power-mad harridan is spellbinding and ridiculous - in a good way.

    The episode betrays its origins with its sexist premise. Maybe a woman couldn't have been a starship captain in 1969, but in the 23rd Century, that shouldn't be a problem.

  6. Janice could've had a sex change operation and then become captain. I mean this is Starfleet, where they hire an alien as 1st officer while barely knowing anything of his biology, physiology, etc. Then they hire an android named Norman as a crew member without realizing he wasn't human. They just don't sweat the details too much.

  7. I've never seen the Shat in person, like at a convention or anything, but I imagine he has a small entourage of bodyguards that follow him around and stay close to him. I wonder if he has one who is specially assigned to protect the toup. Protect it, say, from an overzealous fan who might try to snatch it for a priceless souvenier, dashing off into the crowd and leaving our hero speachless, uncovered and unprotected(God forbid!)

  8. @Shatinator I read that he turns on a force field that keeps such people from getting too close

  9. That comment about bodyguards and the toup's forcefield got me thinking. I mean, I love the Shat, we all do, but if I was that close..say he was at a desk and he bent down to sign something right in front of me..could I resist the almost uncontrollable urge to rip it off? Would he squeal? Would it squeal? Would I be arrested? And finally but most importantly, if the incident was recorded and we had the first indisputable evidence that the guy's bald, a genuine toupless photo for the first time in 54 years...
    where does that leave my favourite website? Would the mission be over?

    Oh lordy it doesn't bear thinking about. I'm staying well away from the main man.

  10. It happened to Andy Warhol at a similar event, while signing autographs. Some chick snatched it off his head, then threw it over the balcony to some dude below, who then dashed off never to be seen again - the dude and the toup. Warhol's immediate reaction: He called the girl a 'bitch' as she was arrested.

  11. We at the WSSTS would absolutely never advocate such action! Our touposcopes enable quality research without the need for any sort of attempt at an involuntary external toupbotomy. -ST

  12. I actually like Turnabout Intruder. I thought it was a good episode.

    I know there's been much discussion about the sexism of the story, but I've always saw Kirk's decision to break off his relationship with Lester many years ago having more to do with the realization that she was crazy - and that it was this rather than her gender that held her back. (She was primarily responsible for killing her expedition on Camus II).

    You don't see Kirk, Spock, McCoy, or Scotty gloating over the end-result. Indeed Kirk is quite remorseful over the fact that in order to get his body (and command) back, he had to in-effect destroy her and send her over the edge to insanity.

    Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, and Doohan each get a chance to shine, as does Koenig and Takei (albeit for a brief section). I also thought the guest-star did a great job.

    The only negative issue I have with it - is Uhura isn't in it.

    But anyways ... the one issue I had with the Season 3 toupees isn't so much that they are longer, but that they are more wavy. In some regards, one could say Kirk's hair was evolving into the TJ Early look he'd sport 10 years later in TMP.

    At least in this episode, most of the waves are smoothed out.

  13. My god, I just laughed so hard reading this. Well done.

  14. Shatinator gets it right. You have to hand it to Mr. Shatner. He was kind enough to consent to an interview with unknowns, in a very trusting, vulnerable way, only to be ambushed. The truth is how many Hollywood celebrities have had face-lifts, boob jobs, rhinoplasties, you name it? Too many to mention here!
    Look, there's a tremendous amount of pressure in Hollywood to look young and beautiful. Don't bust Mr. Shatner's chops only because he wants to look good for his fans. But I enjoy the blog and now it's time to move forward!

  15. how many Hollywood celebrities have had face-lifts, boob jobs, rhinoplasties, you name it?

    Shatner has also had most of those procedures done as well.

  16. "Don't bust Mr. Shatner's chops only because he wants to look good for his fans. "

    You're kidding me, right?

    Did you not see the Star Trek TOS films? The wig/toupee (aka TJ Early, TJ Curly), and the girdles were largely worn to preserve Shatner's vanity. It had nothing to do with fans.

    As a fan, it would've been great if he could've returned to the Jim Kirk lace for the films.

    He wouldn't return to the Jim Kirk lace for the films, because too much time had passed where people had seen him sporting some really bad toupees. So he went into near complete self-denial and wore those monstrosities on his head till the 2000's.

    His toupees today are at least more in line with his overall appearance. And for his age, it isn't too bad.