Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Reality (????) TV

when reality TV was worth watching

I wish I could honestly say that I watch absolutely no reality TV except for TV judge shows, which are not without educational benefit (some more than others, obviously). For me to say such, however, would be nothing more than a big fat lie. It wouldn't be the first big fat lie I've ever told, but it would probably be the most pointless. Why bother lying about it? People who know me are aware than I'm not any sort of  genteel intellectual.  Why should I pretend that I subsist on no television other than PBS and CSPAN? Who would believe such an obvious falsehood?

For me and for my family, it all started with The Osbournes. I can't recall how long it's been since that show was on. My brother and  I were arguably younger than we should have been to have  been watching the show, but the program's content wasn't sexually explicit, and Matthew and I had heard, courtesy of our father, just about any word we would ever hear, or at least any word we were likely to hear on The Osbournes.  I think my favorite Osbourne moment ever was when Sharon threw a ham in the driveway of their warring neighbors and said something to the effect of, "This is a model of your wife's ass." Between everyone's work or activities, watching the show together once a week was as close to quality family time as it would get for our family. After the fact, I find it both funny and ironic that the family lived for a time as next-door neighbors to Pat Boone.

I don't think there was another reality show we watched together, but we each had and have our own guilty pleasures since and presently. My dad has watched a few of those Hugh Heffner shows with scantily dressed females all over the place. He's now thoroughly hooked on Duck Dynasty.

My brother's probably watched more than the rest of us combined, but his favorites were that one where people's cars are repossessed  (I just didn't find it funny), Hoarders, Duck Dynasty , and even an occasional trashy Kardashian mother ship or spin-off. His current addiction, though is one about online dating called Catfish: The TV Show.  He's even persuaded me to watch it with him a few times.
He also likes Breaking Amish.

My mom  has watched just enough of the Real Housewives shows  to know they're too trashy and unrelatable for her tastes.  She watched 19 and Counting from  psychologist's perspective, trying to get inside Jim Bob's and Michelle's heads to see what would possess them to live their lives in such a way. She finally decided she would never understand it, and gave the show up.  She does watch Sister Wives, which is almost equally bizarre, but she says it's the proverbial train wreck from which she cannot turn away.  Even though it was a drama (Face it: all reality TV shows are dramas; otherwise, why did they need to cancel production when there was a writer's strike? Think about it.) the two of us watched Big Love  together eagerly each week. Dance Moms is her guilty pleasure.  She practically throws things at the television screen whenever Cathy from Cathy's Candy Apples appears. I remind my mother that it's all scripted, but it doesn't seem to help her understand  or to modulate her emotions.

I watch several Judge shows, with Judge Alex being the most regular.  I watch Toddlers and Tiaras, though I don't look for a knife and start cutting myself if I miss an episode. Even though the novelty has worn off, I watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo more to irritate my dad than because of any inherent  desire to keep up with the famous redneck clan. I usually try to have it on in the background while I'm doing something more productive, such as practicing violin  or transcribing notes from one of my classes.  I watched Jon & Kate Plus 8 all the way through to the bitter end, although I drew the line at the Kate Plus 8 version.  I watch Bobby Flay cooking shows even though I have no particular desire to cook.  I watch My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (taking place in the British Isles) and My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding  even though, with the American version, I'd be hard pressed to distinguish the American gypsies, were I to run into them at a shopping mall or anywhere else, from any other form of American white trash.  I watch Untold Stories of the E.R.,  which is for real though partly reenacted. My dad loves to remind me that watching it is doing nothing to prepare me for a career in medicine, as the cases they actually show are so sensationalized that I'll be lucky  (or unlucky, depending upon how one views it) to encounter one similar case in an entire medical career. He says hes been working ER shifts for about 25 years and has yet to encounter a single case of Costa Rican beetle larvae embedding itself under anyone's skin, much less under a bride's skin, and manifesting itself on the day of her wedding.  Whatever. No one ever claimed that reality TV was supposed to be  realistic.

Sociologically, what does reality TV say about us as a society?  I should check to see if there's a course on the topic. I have room for an additional elective in the spring.


  1. I'm slightly addicted to TLC. I have been forever. I followed Jon and Kate plus 8 until the bitter end, too. Mostly because they're the local celebrities around here. My mom's best friend's niece was dating Jon several months ago, I'm not sure if they're still together, or not. I'm glad they were able to practically disappear, except for the random People's article about Kate that pops up occasionally.

    Mostly though, now, if I get a chance to watch TV, and there are no new Doctor Who's on the DVR, reality TV wise, I watch most of the same things you watch. I've never watched the Kardashian's, but my recent guilty pleasures are Breaking Amish (again, sort of "local" as my general area is crawling with Amish and it's cool to be able to point to the clips of Lancaster and know exactly where these people are coming from), Sister Wives, and Honey Boo Boo.

    I'm not sure what network it's on, but I've recently taken an interest in Pregnant and Dating. It's as absurd as it sounds, and it makes me bring out my soap box, proclaiming what is appropriate pregnant behavior, and what is not. I'm not sure why one would want to date while pregnant, but the show fallows 4 (I believe) women in strife trying to find "Mr. Right", while pregnant, obviously.

    The other show I've recently found, which I find to be more credible than the later is, I'm Having There Baby, which is based on a woman's decision to place, or not place her baby up for adoption. I used to watch Adoption Stories on TLC/ Discovery Health back in the day, and this is a nice nod to that. Generally, per episode, from what I've seen, it usually follows two different women every week who are deciding whether or not to keep their babies. One usually keeps the baby, while the other signs the papers. The reasons people give there children up are, at best, incredible. There was this one woman who gave up her baby because her boyfriend was going to be jealous of it. He was very vocal about his feelings of resentment towards the unborn baby, which eventually led to that decision. The woman had already had a child from a previous relationship that she was parenting. It's unlike Adoption Stories where you mainly followed a story from the adoptive parents perspective, IHTB mostly deals with open adoption in the US.

    Mostly though we watch Phineas and Ferb, thanks to Benjamin.

  2. I would probably watch anything I knew about that was local either to here or to my last area of rsidence. I'm ignorant enough, though, that such a program could be on and I could be unaware.

    "Pregnant and Dating" reminds me of an excerpt from the movie "Juno." The title character was hanging out with her best friend who happened to be male. Her father, played by an actor whose name I don't know, but was the tall guy who played the srink Dr. Skoda on Law & Order (the mother ship). Juno's father was trying to speak young people's language to get across to Juno that dating one guy whle pregnant with another guy's baby would be considered skanky, and he was not comfortble with Juno doing that, but he came across as incredibly nerdy (kind of like when my dad asked, "Are you going to trip the light fantastic?" when my date and I left for the prom my senior year) in getting his point across. It ended up that Juno and the boy did not have romantic or dating relationship, so everything was cool.

    My mom lived for a time in a twon in central California. In 1976, roughly half a busload of school children (25 or 26) was kidnapped, loaded into vans, driven around for many hours, either taking a very circuitous route or trying to confuse the victims as to where they were) then loaded everyone into a truckbed that had been buried underground in a rock quarry in Livermore, CA, less than two hours away.

    They made it out primarily because one kid who really shouldn't have been on that bus except that he had received an F in math for the final semester of eighth grade and his mom forced him to take summer school as a consequence, refused to just lie there until they ran out of air. (The poor driver, feeling the weight of everything, was having a mini-breakdown.) The eight grader who flunked math held up a skinny little sixth grade Mexican farmworker's kid, who was light enough to be held on the larger kid's shoulder's, yet strong from having done hard work. They found a two-by-four and few other tools and pried until they saw light. Before this point, the bus driver had collected himself, and was aiding their effort. Eventually, they had a hole large enough to get the kids and even the driver through. They lifted the skinny litle mexican kid through first. They had no idea where in the world they might be, nor whether they would see their captors with guns pointed at them.

    By the time they made their way out, it was nearly sundown, so most of the worker at the quarry were no longer there. What they saw was odd landscaping and un-manned insdustrial equipment, but they saw a portable office off in the distance. Someone was either working in the office or providing security for the place. The man recognized them, as their disappearance had become a national news story by that time. The authorities arrived, and the rest was history. (The owner of the roc quarry,incidentally, was the father of one of the three kidnappers.)

    Anytime anything related to that story comes onto the TV, my mother bolts to the TV and tells everyone else to be quiet so she can hear what is being said .

  3. They made a movie about that, didn't they?

  4. Yes, the did make a movie about it. The movie was made between five and ten years after the event because it took so long to get consent to protray everyone, which was easier than dealing with lawsuit -- and some of the peple were ready to sue at the drop of a hat. When the driver was approached to write a book, some of the parents filed a suit against him for failing to bring their children home safely that day. They couldn't bear to think that he might profit one cent off what had happened. No one was preventing them from writing books, but their perspectives might not have been as interesting or marketable.

    The family with four girls on the bus might have had a good bid for a book deal, but they were humble people who were terrified by the whole thing and wanted all publicity to go away. They were polite to reporters,but said, "Please, just leave us alone. We don't want anything else to happen to our kids." There were eleven kids in that family, and it was always the older kids speaking becuse dad was off in whatever part of the country offered work, and mom spoke limited English. My mom knew them, and most did very well ended up in middle-class existences. Of the four girls in the family who were kidnapped, she doesn't think any were ever in any trouble.

    These children were given very little in the way of counseling. Someone paid for all of them to have a trip to Disneyland, and that was supposed to make up for evrything. A psychlogist whose name I won't mention right here but will tell you later because I don't want to generate any hits and she's become famous in the world of psychology becauseof this, did a study. The point of her study was essentially whether or not a lifetime of decent parenting could essentially be undone with one horrible twenty-six hour event in a child's life. her conclusion was that yes, it could be. (She was taking a tremendous leap of faith, my mom said, when she assumed they all had a lifetime of decent parenting. My mom knew one of two sisters on the bus whose dad routinely hooked up with women who beat his daughters. Other children in that bus had similar fates if not worse, I would suppose. The law of averages would tell you that, statisiclly speaking, one or two was probably sexually molested.)

    Being in the psychological field and having known a lot of the victims at least by sight (although she attended the country school from where the incident actually happened as opposed to the little town's district, paradoxically enough, from where most of the children actually came) she was slightly less acquainted. (My mom has analyzed the bus route thorughly, and though she thinks she would have ridden that bus had she attended sumer school, she believes she would have been dropped off before the kidnapping unless they routed the bus oddly.) They all fed into the same high school, though, where she attended for two years before moving to Nebraska because it was much easier for her dad's work situaiton. The little rural school offered the only summer school in the immediate area and opened it up to the "city schools" kids to make it viable to run with enouh kids to make it break even financially. My mom was of the right age to have been in summer school -- she would have been around ten -- but it wuld have taken the Green Beret to get her there, and she knew how to stay out of her mother's hair.

    My mom thinks the lady who did the study essentially got it right, because those kids, however normal their adult lives would turn out, were not without their demons. (Are any of us without our demons, though, my mom asks?) Also, some went on to have alcohol and drug problems, maybe a few relationship issues and problems with the law as well. My mom contends that this would have happened to some of them in the most affluent areas, and this was not an affluent community.

  5. She thinks one girl, with whom she keeps in occasional contact who is about her age, got it right whe she (the girl was an only child, making it worse) said that she essentialy got over it, but that her parents never did, which in a sense slowed her own ability to get over it. The girl said it was harder by far on her parents than it was on her even though they weren't buried in the underground truck bed. My mom says, as a parent, that she relates completely. She'd much rather spend the time buried underground herself than wonder where either Matthew or I was while we were buried somewhere.

    My mom talked to the particular lady, and even talked to some of the kids as young adults and older teens to help a professor who was teaching one of her classes who was part of a longitudinal study when my mom was getting her master's, and the lady otherwise would have had no access to anyone involved without knocking on doors herself. My mom said it made her feel dirty to use her connection to be any part of it, but she couldn't afford to say no to the professor and wishes she'd kept her mouth shut about her connections to the town.

    My mom thinks the kidnapping amplified everything. What was going to be, was, except even more so. Those who would be successful were maybe more successful. Those whose families had problems continued to have problems. Parents who made a bigger deal of it to their children than needed to be made of it (yes, it was a HUGE deal, but it's not always in the best interests of children to act like it to them)and used it as an excuse everytime the child had a problem in school and elsewhere, had children who paid a price for it. Those who were especially poor and didn't have the means to make too much of it probably had the fewest problems. Most of those who got their lives together (and many would not have even if the event had never happened) found mainly that they are, themselves, overprotective as parents.

    The oldest kid -- the one who shuldn't have been there -- may have had the roughest time of it. He was from a family of professional cowboys whose dad was on the road a lot. His mother presumaby carried tremendous guilt for his having been there in the first place, although chances are they would have suffocated underground without him to initiate the process of digging their way ut and ultimately to be successful, as insufficient batteries were in place to ventilate the place for much longer. When the kidnappers culdn't get through by phone to place ransom demands, because phone lines were jammed, they were afraid to go back and check on the victims. That, too, is ironic, because had enough batteries been in place, the man and the boys would not have been able to dislodge them because of their sheer weight.

    Anyway, the by's mother, who had to be the primary parent, didn't really know how to parent him after that, or at least my mom said. She thought she was being a good parent by makng him go to summer school when he failed math not becaus of any deficits in that area but because he had been lazy. most of us would say she was being a competent parent by making good on her warning.

    As much as she was afraid for his safety as all the parents were for their kids, she didn't say no at times when she should have, which may have made his forays into the world of alcohol and drugs all the easier. She was guilt-ridden and didn't now how to handle it, as would few of us. The last I heard, he was on the professional rodeo circuit and was clean and doing OK. I think he knows his presence saved many lives, but still, he wouldn't have gone to school that day or to summer school that year in a million years if he could do it over again and had any choice.

  6. My experience with reality TV began and ended with The Osbournes. They were funny!

  7. I should have quit while I was ahead and let the Osbournes be my final venture into reality TV as well. I can't say that my life has been enriched by anything else of that genre that I've seen since.