Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Taming of the Shrew(s): Reality TV

I keep waiting for “reality tv” to jump the shark, but my wait may be in vain. Every season tops the last in exploitative, narcissistic, soulless, yet strangely addictive programming. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel, talk about lowest common denominator--- friends, Romans, countrymen--- we have found it. And it lives in our TV’s and obviously in our hearts. We embrace it with open arms. What is wrong with us? Are we all really that stupid?

I watch The Millionaire Club, The Real Housewives of New York City, Tough Love and Dr. Drew Pinsky and his idiots---er, addicts. I’ve watched a few episodes of Cherry Girl. I’m dying to watch Tiaras and Tears, or whatever its called--- the show where little girls are turned into living dolls. The sexism is so blatant, the stereotypes so cartoonish, I got to wonder why its so entertaining.

The Millionaire Matchmaker, which is a dating service in Los Angeles, pairs rich men with young women. Patty Stanger, the CEO, sets up mixers, but really they are more like cattle auctions. Sometimes the men peer in at a group of women behind a two way mirror. The better to assess the loin, the thigh and the breast, test their marketability, their value, their worth on the open market. When Patty “auditions” these young women she is often brutal, “Your hair is all wrong. The beads, the earrings, nothing matches. You need a makeover.”

Similarly in Tough Love, another dating show, the young man in charge of taming his wild shrews, tells a woman, “You’ll never get married by putting your fun bags on display.” Whew. Thanks for the heads up, guy. I’ll keep my fun bags where they belong. And finally, the real housewives are portrayed as backstabbing, cat fighting, middle-aged shrews with really good clothes. Sigh. I love to hate them.

God knows what to expect next season. We’ve already watched people slice their faces open in the name of beauty and better ratings. We’ve watched drunken party girls in Rock of Love arguing over a Has-Been-Rock-Star Lothario--- this show alone has not only resuscitated the idea of the Bimbo but sent it rocketing to another dimension. Thanks, and thanks again. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I bet the catfights, the sniping, the betrayals, the reversals, the tricks, the trauma, the tears and the pain are all scripted.

Reality TV show writers are wising up and asking to belong to the union. So. Wait. If these people are real, and the situations are real, then why do they need writers? Because there’s got to be conflict. Good conflict is good drama. This is what keeps us hooked. And my intuition tells me most of the drama is cooked up. This is why these shows need writers.

I bet the scenes are sketched out. I bet the real people are coached. I bet the fights are fake. We like these shows because we like conflict, we like drama, and we like to watch people behaving having badly. We especially like to watch rich, famous people behaving badly. So despite the fact that these shows trot out the worst possible stereotypes, exploit little girls, celebrate narcissism, we’ll keep watching.

Because reality TV is neither--- it is simply an old form of story-telling wearing a different dress. The Real Housewives of New York are simply taking the playbook from Dallas or Knots Landing. Let’s at least be aware of the considerable artifice behind the word “real”---as we tune in to find out why Bettheny Frankel hates Kelly Bensimon.


  1. Just say, "No".
    Only you can prevent forest fires.

  2. I'm beginning to think "reality" TV will NEVER jump the shark.