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Tag Archives: reality television

Hoarders

firehouse

Reality television is at best a cracked lens on society. The percentage of toddlers wearing hairpieces, spray tans, dentures, and artificial nails is in actuality quite small. Most women don’t call themselves housewives, implant faces and bodies beyond recognition and parent so abysmally. Whether the people who participate in these shows are mentally healthy or not is an interesting question. Voguing for a camera (and hoping to land fame, fortune and book deals) is not currently classified as a mental illness. For the official-certified-it’s listed in the DSM-V, display of mental illness you need to turn to the addiction sub-genre of reality show.

That there is an audience at all to watch people struggle with a mental illness is itself disturbing. But evidently there is, and the proof is the shows focusing on obesity, drug and alcohol addiction and hoarding. You’ll note that there are no shows about mental illness that have a less quantifiable or compelling visual behavior. There’s yet to be a “Watch The Narcissist” show, and to be fair it’s probably due to the redundancy factor. There’ll never be a “Depressed Divas” show as depressed people are never entertaining. A “BiPolar Bonanza” would demand a far too attentive director and shooting schedule (dammit his mood just shifted, where is the camera!) We, the audience, are not very interested in mental illness per se, what we like is wacky behavior. And if that behavior stems from a syndrome all the better. We love nothing more than hearing from a person with questionable credentials (‘therapist’ needs a modifier to mean anything) spout psychobabble about the behavior. The hoarding shows center around this very phenomenon. We see a ‘therapist’ gently talking the hoarder into parting with the petrified pet. In the next scene she actively listens to distraught and frustrated family members and explains ‘the process’ to them. We sit in our over-accessorized homes, eating chips and dip out of a chip and dip bowl, as we wear our ‘tv watching’ outfit and snort over the wasteful accumulation. “That’s f*&^ed up” we say as we accidentally tip over the tower of DVDs.

This interest in wacky behavior doesn’t just guide free cable programming decisions. It also seems to guide political policy and expenditure. There are currently 85 communities across this country that consider hoarding to be a serious public health hazard. Hoarding, of course is not necessarily a health hazard. No one has been physically harmed by a Madame Alexander doll or Thomas Kinkade collection. Possibly a more apt description for the kind of behavior with which the authorities are concerned is ‘filth’. There’s a method that’s been used since the dawn of filth for such scenarios; it’s called condemning. There are no soft-spoken ‘therapists’ or understanding fire chiefs necessary. If a home poses a genuine risk to the public, shut it down. Anything else is utterly disingenuous. Hoarding and living in filthy squalor is only the presenting behavior. There’s a reason people engage in barricade building. Convincing someone to part with a few carcasses and some urine soaked newspaper may make the helpers feel better, but dollars to dozens and dozens of donuts, that home is going to fill the hell up again. And why shouldn’t it?! What business is it of anyone’s how someone else chooses to live? This is when someone pipes up and says “It’s a public heath issue”. Is it? Not always. If the person lives rurally it’s not. If it really and truly is then shut it down. But wait, what’s to become of the hoarder? Well, if we really believe that the person is a danger to themselves and others (and if they’re not we have no business bothering them) than they need to live in a protected environment.

That homes are being cleaned out, very slowly and often at taxpayer expense, by community officials is troubling. On its surface it appears that we care about our most fragile neighbors. If that is even remotely true why aren’t the same resources being used to remodel shantytowns? Surely people living in doorways, under bridges and in tunnels are also worthy of a clean dwelling. It stands to reason that people living on the street, presumably without access to health care also pose a public health hazard. It is always better to err on the side of helping, but it is the responsibility of the strong to be clear about who exactly they are helping and why. Wrapping ourselves in rhetoric to impinge on someone’s autonomy is not helping anyone but ourselves.

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Sideshow

freaks

It’s now been several generations since we considered a carnival sideshow an acceptable form of entertainment. Today photos or drawings from early 20th century circuses tend to evoke gasps. It’s jarring to consider that people who had an unconventional appearance were put on display and were considered entertainment. What societal limitations caused people to take to the circus tent? What kind of people would take pleasure in viewing a ‘freak show’? We will cover these and other questions in Intro To Reality Television: Evolution and Devolution.

After the Elephant Man heyday of the late 19th century and early 20th century, Americans got hold of themselves and backed away from such voyeurism and exhibitionism. Later, with the advent of political correctness we bowed our heads in shame and taught our children not to point. If we came across a midnight showing of Freaks (1932) we watched it in the dark, with a certain amount of guilt. And then we got our base groove back. Sometime during the Reagan boom years we found comfort in gawking at the rich. It’s okay to gawk and make spectacle of those (economically) better off, right? Robin Leach was the mid-1980s barker of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and we gawked. He paved the way for us to release our pent up desires. Soon the business of celebrity boomed, to feed our insatiable appetite for fodder. It was okay to gawk and poke fun at people who had what we did not. But like any indulgence, it lost its ability to satisfy. Soon it wasn’t enough to see a child actress implode in front of our eyes. After a dozen or so of those kids, it ceases to impress.

Media abhors a vacuum, and can spot a hole in the market from space. Cue the new wave of reality television. A modern audience would not be satisfied with viewing a stock still anomaly on a stage, we are happier to see these specimens in their ‘natural’ habitat. We want to see people with their; 6,8,12,18,20 children going about their daily lives. Viewing wealthy people’s staged homes is no longer enough. We need to see them in prompted dramas. We need to see them dressed in award ceremony gowns to attend barbecues. We want to see them squabbling and behaving like junior high school students. We care little that there is no real wealth (and often bankruptcy.) Who cares that a title has been purchased, the hair is synthetic and the faces could be used as flotation devices? What we love is the sideshow behavior. It matters not that the behavior is created for our viewing pleasure. Who really cares that a toddler’s beauty pageant (in a sad little rural motel) is the most boring event one could ever imagine? With enough manufactured histrionics and adept editing, it’s more fun than a cross-dressing General Tom Thumb. Having a messy house, clipping coupons, or choosing a dress, are a snore fest. But throw in a few “No she didn’ts” or a litany of psychobabble and you’ve got yourself a show. The more fragile a participant is, the better the show. Make them cry, make them sound certifiable, and we’ll grab our chips and put down the remote. Emotional instability not your thing? Fear not, we’ve got shows about little people, the conjoined, the fattest man, the fattest woman, and the tattooed. Sound familiar? P.T. Barnum would be so proud.

In preparation of our next session: Professions Made To Look Glamorous; please review Baking, Trucking, Fishing shows and the newest addition to the golden age of television: The Search Is on for the Best Hooker in America.

 

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Behind The Scenes Reality

nymed

You can’t make it through a week in New York City with out spotting a Haddad’s dressing room trailer. Movies and television shows are shot continuously throughout the year and throughout the boroughs. Whether the shot is an exterior (there is no substitute for the real city) or interior, the streets are lined with trailers and crews. In certain neighborhoods it’s next to impossible to not be in a background shot. Less elaborate shooting is harder to spot but most likely happens more frequently. Student films, illegal shoots (done without permit and too much attention), news crews, ‘celebrity’ interviews at events (oft times the category of ‘celebrity’ is broad enough to include those recognized only by their extended family), and the creator of ‘celebrity’; reality shows.

In this town, you can not swing a restylane filled cat without hitting a reality show participant or shoot. Cooking, chatting, mating, dieting, contest, gossip & housewife shows are all shot here. In addition there are several more niche shows that go in and out of production. There was a restaurant show, not a sitcom like It’s A Living (that was a nice little show) but a behind the scenes show (like anyone wants their worst fears of what happens in a restaurant kitchen confirmed). Currently a hospital reality show is being shot in NYC. A previous season was shot at a Boston hospital and now it’s our turn. If memory serves; an intern (or two or three) are followed and recorded and we learn a bit of their personal life (or it being a perpetually on-call intern; their lack of a personal life.) I suppose the premise is interesting for anyone contemplating a life in medicine. If it’s an interest in blood & gore one has, there are shows that do that kind of thing better. This series almost poses as eduinfotainment. Almost.

Ignoring for a moment the ethics (or simply good taste) of filming people experiencing a medical emergency (and it’s always a medical emergency being filmed; elective surgery rarely provides drama.) Let us instead consider the reality of this reality show. I was on set (otherwise known as accompanying someone to the E.R.) yesterday and had the opportunity to witness the sausage being made. Upon check-in I noticed a gaunt unnaturally white man clad in scrubs and carrying a handheld television camera like it was a scythe. There he was in Admitting. Oh look who’s that guy in Radiology? Wait didn’t I just see you in the ambulance bay? He’s Waldo sniffing out an ’emergency.’ And like a good made for T.V. movie, his prayers were answered. An elderly woman arrived in the throes of anaphylactic shock. She could speak and she could breathe, but it was serious. It was as if a bomb went off; the floor emptied and every nurse, doctor, and other scrub wearing personnel crammed into the bay. The 10 foot by 10 foot space came to resemble a clown car, with countless people entering and exiting. There was not a single nurse or physician available to the other patients in the E.R. for 45 minutes. The woman was intubated and moved to a room within 15 minutes. So what’s wrong with the math? Why did it take at least a dozen people to intubate a compliant elderly woman? Why did a 15 minute procedure waylay personnel for 45 minutes? Waldo. Not only did each doctor retell the horror and drama directly to the camera, a nurse slowly enacted calling for a room (which was already procured) for the camera. Doctors spoke fervently about the extreme danger and mystery of anaphylaxis and then disappeared back into the bowels of the hospital. The granddaughter of the patient, a weeping shaking teenager was all alone; except for the hospital handler guiding her to speak to the camera. If you’re still reading this, you might want to stop now.

For the next hour the nurses, interns, and attending physicians chatted excitedly about the event. Overheard was; “Oh my god I was like okay we can do this” and “Wow that was wild.” Now if I’m not mistaken an emergency room (in a world famous teaching hospital) sees its fair share of emergencies. Anaphylaxis is dangerous and certainly an emergency but is it rare? Is any emergency rare enough to warrant an OMG from the staff? The chatter, tempo and general ambience was that of a junior high school fire drill. Was it all for the benefit of Waldo? Does the very presence of a camera alter people’s behavior? Usually. Were there personnel that showed up for this particular emergency knowing the footage would make it into the final cut? A quick Google search verified those emergency guests are regulars on the show.

My guess is that this event will make for 10 minutes of footage (5 real minutes and 5 slow motion & recap moments.) What won’t make it onto the show are the patients that we left alone for 30-40 minutes at a time. We’ll never see the elderly incoherent patient never seen by a hospital handler let alone an actual doctor. The camera did not pick up on the man left on a gurney in the hallway for 7 hours while many bays were empty. The camera missed the attending physician checking on a patient without looking at the chart or asking any questions. The audience will never see this doctor making a surreal diagnosis completely unrelated to the presenting issue, answering his cell phone, and rushing out for his one-on-one with Waldo. Maybe I’m darker than most, but I’d watch that show.

 
 

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Lose Pounds and Inches Fast!

“Eat our processed food and lose weight!”  “Join this gym and lose weight!”  “Take this pill, shake, herb, tea, suppository, and lose weight!”

And they’re off!  New Year’s is the weight loss industry’s black Friday.  Many millions are reaped throughout the year, but it is January that does wonders for the industry’s bottom line.  As our nation has grown in size so has an industry filled with an abundance of promises and zero standards.  How has this happened?

Whether one considers excessive weight to be a health, behavior or public issue is somewhat secondary to the point that the market feels free to exploit the situation.

If you feel that being overweight is a health issue, what do you make of reality television shows featuring obese contestants being humiliated as a means to bolstering their health?  Do we watch smokers and drinkers being humiliated on reality shows?  Do we honestly think that this programming is not solely about the viewer’s entertainment?  How did other people’s heartbreaking struggle with a health issue become fodder for our entertainment?

If you feel that being overweight is the result of an utter lack of self-control, what do you make of products that reinforce that disconnect between outcome and behavior?  The “behavior” camp asserts that maintaining a healthy weight is the result of not consuming more than one is using.  A sensible diet and a moderate amount of exercise is the permanent method with which to control weight.  If the federal government believes this (and they seem to) why then are companies allowed to sell snake oil?  Why doesn’t every advertisement for Nutri-Jenny-Fast have a big black box across it stating “Eating our fake food is not sustainable & your behavior will not be changed by our program.  You may in fact lose weight while you are our customer, but most people gain it back immediately after leaving our program.”   Too big brother?  Remember, we now have warnings on aerosol bottles to dissuade people from huffing.

If you feel that the public health of our nation is at risk, then we really have to talk.  Whether we should start with the corn subsidies or food labeling, or school lunches makes for good dinner party conversation.  But so do dinner parties for that matter.  All of our habits, from the decline of dinner tables to carbo-loaded toddlers while they burn zero calories riding in a stroller, to wheels on sneakers (children don’t even walk anymore, they roll,) it’s all up for scrutiny.  What about processed foods designed specifically for children?  The baby food industry started the trend with “toddler” jarred foods.  Apparently toddlers find real yogurt and bananas to be daunting.  As they get older, the food industry has graciously provided, fake cheese, yogurt with candy, processed breaded chicken nuggets, lunchables and colored flavored drinks.  For those in the public health camp; why is this even tolerated?  We regulate pill bottle caps, cribs, car seats, window blind cords, but not the food sold for our children?  We are cultivating a lifelong appetite for fake food.

It is a terrible burden to feel as if your size is standing in your way.  Feeling as if your own body is the enemy is an exhausting way to go through life.  For anyone pulling on their new sneakers and heading out into the unknown this January, I say Brava!  It is physics; the first steps are the hardest.  Keep at it, and in about six weeks it will be the new normal.  Eat real food, celebrate meals, enjoy life and save your money.  There are no shortcuts and the only magic is discovering your own strength.

 

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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Lemon Sky – Review

Lanford Wilson’s Lemon Sky has been revived by the Keen Company and is playing at Theatre Row.  This play is considered the most autobiographical of Mr. Wilson and was last revived in 1985.  The play, told in flashback and predominantly set in the late 1950s, is the story of a brief reunion between a father and son.  Directed by Jonathan Silverstein, this very lovely play falls a bit short of brilliant.  There are some beautifully directed and acted moments, but there is also a small collection of distractions.

Our narrator, Alan (Keith Nobbs) is brimming with charisma and poignancy (I found him much more in his element than I did in Lombardi.)  His narration, and at times the drama, is intentionally self-conscious, a device considered quite novel in 1970.  (Narration and self-consciousness is now mainstreamed into reality television.)  The role of Alan needs to be entirely captivating and ingratiating, and in Mr. Nobbs he most definitely is.  While Mr. Nobbs does indulge in a small amount of Ferris Bueller interpretation, I found this less distracting than I did illuminating (I had not realized how effeminate Ferris Bueller was.)  Alan slips gracefully in an out of the narrator role and insinuates himself into the household drama.  A lengthy bus trip has delivered Alan (from Nebraska to San Diego) to the home of his estranged father Doug (Kevin Kilner.)  Mr. Kilner’s interpretation of a, not very likable Doug, is simply wonderful.  It would have been an easy one-dimensional portrayal, but Mr. Kilner goes deep.  He gregariously welcomes his heretofore ignored teenage son into his new family.  His light and cautious wife Ronnie (Kellie Overbey) is an eager step-mother, quick with the party line and a cup of coffee.  The household is rounded out by Ronnie and Doug’s two sons (a fabulous Zachary Mackiewicz as Jack and the older Logan Riley Bruner as Jerry) and two foster daughters (Penny, brilliantly portrayed by Amie Tedesco, and Carol, portrayed by Alyssa May Gold.)

The characters, their interactions and dialogue are drawn so realistically.  While we suspect what’s coming at every turn, the discovery is not really the point.  The point is how people connect, or disconnect, and what stories they tell themselves along the way.

This production has enormous potential, but falls just a bit short.  When mounting a small ensemble production, it is imperative that the onstage talent is in balance.  This is simply not the case with this production.  Eldest child Mr. Bruner is a very self conscious child actor.  Had he been the only child, one would chalk it up to child blindness (for some reason, casting directors often can not discern talent in children, going for appearance only) but Mr. Bruner is paired with the excellent Zachary Mackiewicz.  Ms. Gold is awkward and ill at ease, playing the fragile, potentially fascinating Carol with an extreme heavy hand.  Adding to this distraction is the fact that Ms. Gold is simply not the right physical type for this role.  She is not done any favors with the costume padding and “bump-it” hairstyling device.  Carol’s costuming doesn’t hit the right note any more than the set does.  Doug works third shift in a factory, the mortgage is paid with the foster child allotment.  There is no way that their home would be furnished with such obvious 1950s items.  Furniture was expensive back then, and new furniture would not have been within reach for a working class family.

Distractions aside, this is a very good play and a fine production.  If the past is any indication of the future, it does not get produced often.  For this reason, I encourage you to see it.

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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