September 14, 2009

As Seen on Television: Third and Final Part

I am about to say an inflammatory thing, and many of you, my best beloveds, are going to make Tyra Banks Audience noises at me and say, OH NO SHE DID NOT GO THERE. But I am going there. Here I go, right to there.

There are two kinds of people in the world:
People who watch reality TV, and people who have souls.

I have a soul.
*cough* Most days.

Not on Thursday evening at 10 PM EST, obviously, when The Great Exception comes on Lifetime. Oh, Heidi! Oh, TIM. Love you, love your show. Carol Hannah and Epperson are my super favorites. I enjoy to look upon the silver pants guy.

Perhaps there are not two kinds of people. Perhaps I was only being a shameless rabble-rouser in order to get comments. (You think?) After all, some of my BEST FRIENDS are soulless reality TV junkies. (Hi Lydia! Hi Karen!) Wow – look there… fully HALF of my closest friends love this stuff.

FURTHERLY perhaps there are two kinds of reality TV---contest-y types, and the kind that simply makes me ashamed to be human.

Project Runway is a contest-y type, and I UNABASHEDLY adore it. It is, until Dollhouse starts up again (OH! SPETEMBER 25th! COME SOON!), the only hour of television I cannot miss. I watch it, I am avid, and I am not ashamed. In fact, MANY of the contesty ones don’t make me want to get a personectomy and become something superior. Like, say, fungus.

In order to qualify as a REAL GAME and therefore NOT reality-TV in my head (where it counts), there have to be certain conditions met. For example, it can’t be a game where the objective is “Be the biggest butt chuck.” SO Survivor and Big Brother and MOLE type shows are flat out. It’s best when the game is based on actual gifted people exercising their talents, but also regular folks with a common goal is fine by me. I have never experienced the urge to projectile vomit when seeing bits of THE AMAZING RACE or DANCING WITH THE STARS, for example.

I cannot say the same thing about The Hills.

I like games. I like to see people try and fail and promise to keep trying and then I like to see someone win and cry happy tears. I like to see people with talents and skill sets go head to head. At its best (say it with me: Project Runway) reality television is like the Olympics for people who like art instead of sports. So while I don’t watch American Idol because I don’t care much about songs, I have no squeamish and horrified reaction to all the parts of it that are not Simon.

I don’t mind Top Chef or any of the shows where room designers make rooms. I even have a soft spot for “Dance Your *ss Off, the show my brother has dubbed, “The Final Nail in the Coffin of Western Civilization.” But I LIKED Dance Your *ss Off the couple times I have seen it. And I also like So You Think You Can Dance, where amazing people defy gravity and fold themselves into airborne yoga shapes.

On the other hand, I HAVE almost puked while inadvertently seeing more than 10 seconds of The Real Housewives of Anywhere, any REAL world, any sort of Bacholor/Bachelorette, in fact, anything with the basic premise “COME FIND TRUE LOVE (By making out with 20 seperate Boob Job hotties!)” I can’t manage to keep food down in a room with these shows.

There are several reasons I become ill---I get CRIPPLING sympathetic embarrassment. My intestines seize and writhe with shared shame. I think things like, “Wow. You, TV Person, are probably kind of a big dumb jerk in real life, but they are editing you to look like an extremely dumb uber-jerk, and I only hope that in REAL LIFE you are too dumb to get how dumb and jerky you come across on TV.”

I cannot stomach the MEAN-NESS. The PETTINESS. People get their little egos involved and gang up and turn all Lord of the Flies over the tiniest slights. I know I have a tendency to be petty, to be a grudgeholder, to be hypersensitive. It’s the thing I like LEAST in myself, the thing I fight as hard as I can, and to see the very thing I fight hardest and hate most when I fall pray to it encouraged and glorified is sick-making.

Also, it makes me lose faith and hope in any kind of future. I watch these things and think, “If this is how HUMAN BEINGS actually and consistently ARE, then I have to leave the planet.”

The most egregious show on television right now is MORE TO LOVE. I sat down to try to watch it twice now, feeling I SHOULD try to watch it. Both times, within 10 minutes, I had to change the channel or sink into a slough of despond.

I’ve been waiting for Jennifer Weiner, whose books I love, and who on her wildly entertaining blog talks quite bit about reality TV, to give me a context for it that will make me not want to blow up earth every time a COMMERCIAL for More To Love airs, but she says, “it seems like the kind of thing I should have an opinion about, right? -- but I cannot find my place on the impressed-horrified continuum. Yes, the ladies seem kind of needy and pathetic...but aren't all of the contestants on every reality dating show needy and pathetic? Yes, they're drunk, but why should big girls in bathing suits be any different from the skinny girls in theirs?

I guess the difference, for me, is that the skinny girls in their bathing suits are not solely defined as THE SKINNY GIRLS. It isn’t IN SHAPE BACHOLOR and 20 ATHLETIC LADIES WITH BOOB JOBS. It’s just…people. And granted, the contestants are usually what I call TV Pretty (which is to say, they are held to a higher standard to qualify as pretty than MALL PRETTY. These are the terms I use to define the phenom in which a person you see in your local mall has to hit a MUCH LOWER bar to be judged attractive than a person you see on TV.)

MORE TO LOVE seems to SILENTLY ENDORSE some horrifying ideas. Foremost, that these people’s intrinsic VALUE is lowered by their weight. They deserve each other. We should put all the fat people on an island to be loved by other fat people. Fat People are not LIKE Thin People, and they should stick to their own kind.

Every time I have watched, within the ten minutes before I had to flip the channel or implode, MORE than one girl has wept about how this is her one chance---that it is her weight that MAKES this her one chance. That without this show, her weight makes her unworthy…How many times can you watch a silly, sad girl cry her guts out thinking saying no one will ever love her because she is heavy without becoming suicidal?

For me? The answer is just about twice.

And I admit this is a hot button for me. I have spent my life, from puberty on UP, flirting with eating disorders while trying to convince myself that my value as a person is NOT diminished by a higher dress size. I KNOW intellectually that I am JUST as valuable and worthy of love when I am a size 14 as when I am a size 8. And yet…this show reinforces the idea that what I have always secretly believed in my mentally ill little heart: My jeans size is more important than my PERSONHOOD, more important than being kind and loving, more important than being forgiving, more important than fighting pettiness and more important than trying to learn empathy.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Granted, the whole idea of finding love by simultaneously making out with 20 different people and passing out roses and having quasi-scripted dates ALREADY makes me go UGH, but the sly mocking hatefulness of MORE TO LOVE makes me want to kick someone in the face.

If you love it, then you tell me…What am I missing?

Posted by joshilyn at September 14, 2009 7:44 AM

I always thought I was destined to burn in the fires of Gehenna, but now I know my soul shines even more brightly than yours, as the closest thing to reality-TV I ever watch is "America's Funniest Home Videos" and that game-show that's based on "Most Extreme Elimination Challenge".
(snicker with glee)

Posted by: Brigitte at September 14, 2009 8:22 AM

I agree. I love Project Runway with a devotion that makes my boyfriend disown me because I sew and I know how impossible it is to make those clothes.
I also love America's Next Top Model because it shows that anyone can look amazing as long as they have a makeup person, a hair stylist, a professional photographer, a posing coach, and lots of airbrushing! Other than that I can't watch reality shows. I hate nasty.( I even skip over the fights on these shows since I watch online.)

Posted by: Heather at September 14, 2009 8:38 AM

This is my first time watching Project it! I really like Carol Hannah too, and silver pants guy is very pretty. I've even gotten sucked in to Models of the Runway. I adore the "big 3" - Survivor, Amazing Race, and Big Brother. At best, they're fun and exciting, and at their worst, they're a train wreck that's too hard to look away from (the Bachelor(and Bachelorette) is a prime example of train wreck tv). I can watch some Hells Kitchen, but all that yelling can get to be too much and I switch channels.

Posted by: Cathy at September 14, 2009 9:21 AM

I am Megan, and I have a slight reality TV addiction. I like the Real Housewives of New Jersey. I like America's Next Top Model. I like Project Runway. But I HATE with the burning fires of a million hating little suns any reality show based on dating. And I especially hate the idea of one based on weight.

You know what really makes your relationship last? No, its not a sense of humor, loyalty, kindness, caring, being there when someone needs you. Its being able to stay in a size 6. Because its not boring at all to date a woman who only talks about her weight or anything.


Posted by: megan at September 14, 2009 9:41 AM

Not to mention - my husband would like me to add - its insulting to men as well, implying that they couldn't find a bigger girl sexy because you know how men are all only interested in impossibly skinny women with large fake breasts, regardless of intelligence, etc.

Posted by: megan at September 14, 2009 9:44 AM

I admit to falling prey to "More To Love" out of morbid curiosity. It's almost over now, and surprisingly, not a one of those women has been able to afford a single dress with enough cloth in it to cover her boobs. Interestingly, I have learned from this show that cattiness doesn't seem to be affected by dress size. Speaking of dress size - you are complaining about a 14? Ha! I would love to be a 14 again.

I also love Project Runway and Top Chef and So You Think You Can Dance. ("More to Love" was a detour down a side road.) Like you, I prefer my reality with a dose of real talent. And, like you, I puke at the thought of watching "Real Housewives" (of, as you said, "Anywhere).

By the way, girl, you misspelled "separate". GASP! Don't make me come back to Alabama! You hear?

Posted by: AngelMay at September 14, 2009 10:23 AM

Well, I can't help you. My embarrassment at the dating shows (ALL of them) is so high that I switch the channel even for the commercials. Never watched 'em. I like several reality competition shows -- Project Runway is the BEST, but I also quite enjoy Top Chef and So You Think You Can Dance.

What maybe you and some folks above can explain to me is this: what am I missing about Logan, aka Silver Pants Guy? I just don't get it. It's like when Tom Cruise was first in movies, in stuff like Top Gun and Cocktail, and my sister was swooning, and I was saying, "Eh. He looks like a rat." Logan, to me, looks like a skeletal sort of alien. I just. don't. get it.

Posted by: Aimee at September 14, 2009 10:55 AM

I think the last reality show I watched was on BBC. It was "Castaway", and it lasted a year -- the length of the project.

I wish I had some insight to the mean "reality" TV shows, but then I never watch Jerry Springer either.

Posted by: Fran at September 14, 2009 11:50 AM

I hate hate hate all those dating shows! C'mon, finding "tru lurve" while mugging for the cameras? These are all people who want their 15 minutes of fame and will do anything to be on tv. I DO watch Amazing Race but try to keep in mind that it's all in the editing. And Top Model, mostly because I like seeing how the photos turn out. Like Heather said above with makeup, stylist, airbrushing, etc. they get some amazing photos.

Posted by: Kathy at September 14, 2009 11:54 AM

the average american woman is something like 5 foot 2 and size 16. they put these women on the "fat girls" show when they are actually average-sized, tho, granted, that may be "fat" given your mindset. but remember, it's actually "average." not that anyone wants to be average.

Posted by: dramamama at September 14, 2009 11:54 AM

Sometimes I think you are in my head. I'm right there with ya. Actually, I don't even like the dancing and singing ones because they spend too much time talking and not enough singing and dancing.

But I love me some Project Runway and Top Chef!

(I used to also love Hell's Kitchen, but I got tired of listening to whatshisface getting all enraged all the time. BO-RING.)

Posted by: Jen at September 14, 2009 11:58 AM

I completely agree with you on the dating-based reality shows. And the Real Whomsoevers...

But I have to disagree on Survivor. I have been a big fan since the second season(which is when I first tuned in). The last two winners, for example, have been decidedly un-butt chucky. Sure, there are some people on the show who use their 15 minutes to act like complete ass hats, but there are also some contestants you can really root for. I find the social aspects fascinating, and I love it when you can see that the experience has really had a profound effect on certain people, in particular women who really weren't sure they had it in them.

I am also surprised that The Amazing Race has never wanted to make you projectile vomit-- not because of the competition, but have you seen some of the eating challenges on that show??? ;)

Somehow I have just never gotten interested in any of the dancing/modeling/design shows. I never miss Next Food Network Star and I occasionally tune in to American Idol, but that is about it.

Did you read Jennifer Weiner's new book? I LOVED it.

Posted by: Jill W. at September 14, 2009 12:50 PM

well, our tv lives under the stairs these days, as there is nothing on except mean reality shows. where did the entertaining, happy-ending sit-com go? tv is supposed to be an escape FROM reality, not a first-class ticket into the bottomless pit of inhumanity!

one really good reality show was the one on pbs, where the family had to live like they did back in the 1800s. really enjoyed that one.

Posted by: Trish at September 14, 2009 12:51 PM

Oh, Trish, I loved those PBS shows -- they had several of them. One was Frontier House, if I remember correctly; they also had World War II House in London. I remember that, for that one, the family had to build an air-raid shelter in the backyard. Those I found completely fascinating, because it was really a glimpse into a way of life that's gone.

Posted by: Aimee at September 14, 2009 4:01 PM

The thing about the self worth and the dress size? You say exactly what I wish I could say, except far, far more intelligently.

Posted by: Heather at September 14, 2009 7:28 PM

I will confess to watching "Big Brother" 8 years ago when my 2nd child was born and would only nurse or scream. Those two thing only. On whatever night it came on, I would hand the screaming baby to his father (no nursing without me) who would take him for a stroll in the balmy heat of Houston summer while I let my brain rot.

I will also say--and FOR TRUE--that we moved to a house WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY out in the country where we must pay for a satellite to beam television into our home. And since our house is new, and we built it on two school teachers' salaries and we are CHEAP, we have chosen to not PAY for the satellite, but rather spend $16+change for Netflix and order in entire episodes of Star Trek TNG and National Geographic specials and Buster Keaton and Mythbusters and Janet Oake books turned into movies (don't hate me. . .I have a daughter who got hooked when my mother came to visit and I ordered them for her).

I had not, until the reading of your blog (my beloved) even HEARD of "more to love" though I, myself, fit that category perfectly. I am nearly ill just thinking of the sadness of it all.

Posted by: Roxanne at September 14, 2009 8:45 PM

I agree. I hate 99.9% of what's on TV. I think it shows the worst, most scheming qualities, and unattractive attributes of our race. Or it's pointless.

I'm with Trish and Aimee. I'm a fan of Frontier House and Manor House. I also like "This Old House" and "Hometime". But now blog reading has become my substitution for TV - and I find I avoid the "reality" & "train wreck" blogs too!

Finally - I agree with all you say about people and "dating" on TV - especially when the focus is looks/weight vs worth.

Posted by: Mit at September 14, 2009 8:51 PM

I liked the idea of the Japanese game show where real people were pummeled by huge swinging objects while running an obstacle course. I still wouldn't watch it unless I could choose the contestants.

We only use our TV for watching DVDs.

Posted by: ibobunot at September 14, 2009 9:15 PM

Project Runway, Models of the Runway, So You Think You Can Dance and America's Next Top Model are all on my DVR. What I love most about SYTYCD is that it is almost never about hating on people, except a little bit during the tryouts, and I figure those people can't possibly believe that they're real competitors, and are just there for their 30 seconds of TV fame. Criticism by the judges is generally constructive, and we get to watch some really beautiful dancing. Project Runway is also about talent, and Tim Gunn is a wonderful, encouraging presence. I watch Models of the Runway to get a little more insight into Project Runway. ANTM - well, I like the photo shoots and the challenges. I fast forward through Tyra's freaky monologues and weird accents. (By the way, am I the only person distracted by the phrasing "only X will continue ON in the hopes..."?)

As for More to Love, I watched about 7 minutes before I began chewing my arm off. Same snarkiness, same superficiality, same self-centered crap as on any other dating show. No thanks.

If you'd like to check out a non-reality show that is actually pretty positive about overweight people, watch Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva. Summary: Skinny blond model dies and comes back as a fat brunette lawyer. Model's memories, lawyer's brains. My favorite line from the last show, where she's suing a store for not offering clothes in sizes larger than 10: "I don't have body issues, they have issues with my body."

Posted by: Sandi at September 14, 2009 11:26 PM

Gosh darn it! You have RUINED that Prius commercial for me, RUINED IT!!!

In other news I picked up The Girl Who Stopped Swimming last night and WHOA. SOOO GOOD! I missed whole quarters of football games and my boyfriend speaking to me while I was reading it. (The first is surprising, the second, probably not good in all actuality.) Thank you. Thank you very much.

Posted by: Courtney Leigh at September 14, 2009 11:33 PM

Jill W. - re Survivor...yes! That is it exactly. Some of the people on there so inspiring, like Cirie a couple seasons back, who was amazed at what she was able to do and encouraged people to "get up off the couch" and push themselves to be a little more.

I'm not sure what Logan's appeal is...he's not particularly studly, lol, but he's got charisma, and seems like a nice guy, which ramps up the attractiveness. And he can somehow pull off silver pants. No pun intended.

Posted by: Cathy at September 15, 2009 8:35 AM

You mean my value is not in my jean size? Are you sure about this?

Posted by: edj at September 15, 2009 9:18 AM

When you have a communal and connected society on the decline you get bread and circuses, and the Coliseum. When you have an individualistic and disassociated society on the decline you get Survivor and More to Love.

What's being televised is not the revolution.

However, I would like to nominate Tim Gunn for press secretary.

Tim Gunn: "I think president Obama has a really fresh take on the whole healthcare thing. He's making bold choices, and I respect that. He's making it work."

Reporter: "How about the president's lack of action following the Korean missle tests?"

Tim Gunn: "I'm concerned...."

Posted by: Mr. Husband at September 15, 2009 9:55 AM

Reality TV: I never thought I'd watch any of it, but it can be hard to avoid. Sometimes I feel brain dead and want to watch mind candy. I don't watch the most popular ones except "American Idol", a guilty pleasure. (Won't be the same without hypothesizing which controlled substance is making Paula feel so fine at the judges' table or Adam Lambert's voice, so they may lose me.) "Divorce Court" is another--I get a boot out of Judge Lynn. I used to get hooked in by the Vh1 reality shows quite a bit, but they are starting to recycle so much--people that are only known for reality shows getting their own, and why do we care? I can easily envision a logo for "Grandson of Rock of Love Bus" and that fact really frightens me.

The reality shows I like are "Intervention", "Police Women of Broward County, "Dog Town" (about Best Friends Animal Sanctuary), where there are usually some intelligent, likable people involved. I find "Gene Simmons Family Values" hysterical--that whole family is funny and one of the most functional I've seen anywhere, much less on TV. I don't see why the freakishly fertile get so much airtime, but everyone seems to get their own show sooner or later.

I've also had a lifetime of weight issues and at first I thought "More to Love" was probably a cool thing, but (a) I hate dating shows and (b) these women just look normal to me. I've managed to have an active social life all my adult life, even though I have spent the majority of it 5'3" and weighing over 250 pounds. Found a really great husband, even. I think the secret is limiting oneself to dating men who don't think a woman's worth is in her jeans size; it eliminates much potential heartbreak and saves a lot of time. The people on these dating shows should spend more money on therapy and less money on hair extensions...

Just my $0.02.

Posted by: SaltedWithShadows at September 15, 2009 11:16 AM

P. S. I can't stand Tyra Banks. Ever since she wore the fat suit and sat there and made an actual fat person comfort her for how badly she was treated while she wore it. Blech.

Posted by: SaltedWithShadows at September 15, 2009 11:18 AM

I'm with YOU... I Super Heart Project Runway, Top Chef and anything with a dancer. But I feel like I'm covered with nasty germs every time I've found myself watching a "dating" reality show. Yick.

Posted by: Eden at September 15, 2009 6:49 PM

I can't stand makeover shows like What Not to Wear. "Watch us transform this poor ugly duckling into a beautiful swan with the right clothes, makeup, and hairstyle." Right, because appearance means everything and looking good makes you a good person.
What peeves me the most about WNTW is that said "ugly ducklings" are recommended to the show BY THEIR FRIENDS AND FAMILY. If you're going to change your appearance, it should be for yourself, not to please somebody else.

Posted by: Paige at September 17, 2009 4:58 PM