Posts Tagged ‘reality TV’
August 22, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
Lou Pearlman, the slippery impresario behind the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, O-Town, LFO, Aaron Carter, and about a half dozen other agreeably vacuous late nineties pop acts, has died in prison. Yes, the Lou Pearlman. The guy practically invented boy bands. I mean, he didn’t—he just ripped off New Kids on the Block—but he invented the most lucrative boy bands, and as he’d be the first to tell you, that’s the more major achievement. You couldn’t turn around in 1999 without seeing one of his acts: massively telegenic, deeply ordinary, somehow memorable. They had branded lip balms, bobbleheads, and throw pillows for sale. I know this because I spent a lot of time hating them. Read More »
June 2, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Ginsberg and Whitman have birthdays only three days apart, and it gets even weirder: they’re both American poets. The illustrator Nathan Gelgud has celebrated both of them by drawing “A Supermarket in California”: “I think of an English professor I had as a freshman … He talked about Leaves of Grass, and put so much importance on which version of the book I should read that I thought the actual title was Leaves of Grass Eighteen Fifty-Five … I heard later that the professor was arrested for having gone across the street and chucked corn dogs from the corner gas station at passing cars … Another eccentric who I think about when I think about Whitman is one of the other giants of American poetry—Whitman’s inheritor Allen Ginsberg … Ginsberg wrote ‘A Supermarket in California,’ a story about wandering into a grocery store in Berkeley, California and finding Whitman cruising the aisles, hitting on the grocery boys, and guiding Ginsberg out into the night.”
- Your favorite reality-TV star is really just a Jane Austen heroine. “Her female characters are defined by two primary qualities: their privilege and their powerlessness. Her writing focuses almost entirely on women searching for stability and status, deploying the very limited means available to them. Deprived of intellectual gratification or professional empowerment, they scheme, manipulate, and get bogged down in petty rivalries with each other. Their ultimate endgame is marriage, described by Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice as the ‘pleasantest preservation from want.’ That they do nothing of much more substantive significance (except, some of them, on rare occasions, be kind sisters or daughters) is their flaw, but also, as Austen portrays it, their fate. Isn’t it weird? It’s possible to imagine Austen, reincarnated with her bonnet and penchant for millinery, being moderately overwhelmed by the various cuts and colors of synthetic fabric worn by the contestants on The Bachelor.”
- A 1907 book of American superstitions confirms that we’ve always been a delusional people. And a morbid people, too, as these sample superstitions suggest: “If you kiss a baby’s feet, it will not live to walk on them.” “Never call a baby an angel, or it will die before the year is out.” “If a fire puffs, it is a sure sign of a neighbor’s quarreling.” “Carrying a shovel through the house—bad luck.” “If a white horse strays into your yard, one of the family will die.”
- Ever time-traveled? It’s so much fun, if you’re white. Mik Awake looks at what he calls the “bygone bigotry” that crops up in so many time-travel narratives, including, of course, Back to the Future: “Nothing flaunts white privilege quite like a time-travel story. But in those narratives, the subject of historical racism, if it’s handled at all, is often dealt with in a haphazard or obligatory way alongside other lesser concerns. Our protagonist usually has some specified mission of more pressing personal import, but nevertheless, the movies remind us, in self-defeating winks and nods, about how much progress we have made on the race stuff … Whether it’s Marty McFly in 1950s Hill Valley or Jake Epping in segregated Texas, the entire genre of American time-travel fantasy, with its chaos theory nerdery, butterfly-effect affectations, and desire to reshape the present, is irrevocably linked to the very real idea of white privilege.”
- Enough is enough. Let’s visit a volcano. John Perry went to the Masaya, in Nicaragua: “In December the neck of the chamber got blocked, but a few weeks later rock falls reopened it, exposed a boiling sea of lava. The conquistadors’ entrance to hell is visible once again. In the city, the emergency services regularly practice handling the after-effects of an eruption. Residents view the volcano with suspicion, and don’t trust the reassurances of scientists. Tourists can pay $10 to enter at night-time, peer over the crater’s edge from the adjoining car park and see the incandescent lava a couple of hundred feet below. Holding their noses against the sharp tang of sulfur, they can climb the eroded steps to Bobadilla’s cross for a better view of the hellmouth.”
June 1, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- My father always said, Son, if you’re gonna play golf, you should only do it under the influence of a psychoactive Schedule I substance. I rebelled against him, so I’ve yet to try it—but of course someone has, and of course that someone is Hunter S. Thompson, who teed up with George Plimpton and Terry McDonell. Terry writes: “My plan was to get Hunter to write a piece for the premiere issue of Smart. George was there to interview him for what he planned to be the first interview for the Art of Journalism series for The Paris Review. Hunter said first we had to play golf … Hunter had a twelve-gauge shotgun in his golf bag and we had Heinekens in a cooler on the cart—also a fifth of Chivas, a fifth of Jose Cuervo, limes, a fifth of Dewar’s (for George), and an extra cooler of ice. ‘Here,’ Hunter said, holding out three white tabs of blotter paper with an unfamiliar red symbol on them. ‘Eat these.’ He put one on his tongue and stuck it out at us. I took my tab and did the same back at him. When George said he wanted to concentrate on his golf, Hunter licked the third tab. ‘Ho ho … last of the batch!’ ”
- Today in things that may or may not be professional wrestling: everything is professional wrestling. “With each passing year, more and more facets of popular culture become something like wrestling: a stage-managed ‘reality’ in which scripted stories bleed freely into real events, with the blurry line between truth and untruth seeming to heighten, not lessen, the audience’s addiction to the melodrama. The modern media landscape is littered with ‘reality’ shows that audiences happily accept aren’t actually real; that, in essence, is wrestling … When we feel ourselves becoming too consumed with mastering the language of whatever unreality is currently holding our gaze, it might not hurt to consider the overarching forces subtly directing our attention and prepare ourselves to step back if we’re not comfortable with benefiting less than they do.”
- You don’t even have to drop acid to enjoy walking on Carl Andre’s art. It’s a quiet pleasure even if you’re sober: “By positioning his artwork on the floor, Carl Andre put art in our path, and he put us in the art … His sculptures, like 144 Pieces of Zinc, are meant to be walked on. In a way, this act demeans the work. You cannot walk across a Carl Andre grid without feeling that you’re stepping on it, both literally and figuratively. Many people refuse to tread on it out of a general reverence and respect for art … I walk across it because I like how it generates a little current of guilt. No matter how many times my heels click on its gray metal surface, it feels disconcerting. Andre makes us question our museum behavior. He entreats us to look down and feel a sense of contact with the floor and materiality of the piece; he also gives us a small surround or enclosure in which to stand and take in the rest of the room. When we stand on an Andre piece, the art defines the self.”
- Colin Stokes looks back at the work of Arnold Lobel, whose children’s books offered a subtle celebration of same-sex love: “Lobel, who wrote and illustrated the Frog and Toad series, was born in 1933 and raised in Schenectady, New York … In 1974, four years after the first book in the series was published, Lobel came out to his family as gay. ‘I think Frog and Toad really was the beginning of him coming out,’ [his daughter] Adrianne told me … When reading children’s books as children, we get to experience an author’s fictional world removed from the very real one he or she inhabits. But knowing the strains of sadness in Lobel’s life story gives his simple and elegant stories new poignancies. On the final page of ‘Alone,’ Frog and Toad, having cleared up their misunderstanding, sit contently on the island looking into the distance, each with his arm around the other. Beneath the drawing, Lobel writes, ‘They were two close friends, sitting alone together.’ ”
- Jason Shulman takes long-, long-, long-exposure images of movies: he captures entire feature-length films in single photographs. “The images vary so wildly, that’s the remarkable thing about it,” he says: “and they’re also quite didactic. You can learn something about the director’s style from this kind of kooky translation: you can learn that Hitchcock deals with people, for example, Kubrick deals with composition, Bergman deals with … I mean lots of Bergman films are kind of moody and psychological, much more so than other films. So it’s odd that in one exposure all of these things, although very subjective, kind of come through.”
June 8, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
Readers of the New York Times may have noticed a recent story about a new Czech reality show. In the tradition of Victorian House and other total-immersion programs, this one sticks modern people in another time—specifically a 1939 “remote mountain farm” in what was then the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Hilarity does not ensue. As the article explains,
There, they must not only survive the rigors of rustic life with dated appliances and outdoor plumbing, but navigate the moral and physical dangers of life under Nazi rule.
German troops (played by actors) kick down their doors in the middle of the night. Local villagers betray them to the Gestapo. Food is scarce. Conditions are crude.
Everything about this show sounds distasteful, certainly. Besides the obvious objections, the basic flaw in these time-travel shows—the assumption that you can switch off modern mores along with central AC—seems doubly true here. Reading about it, I was reminded of when my father and I had gone to an exhibit featuring artifacts from the Titanic. To enter, we’d had to show a “boarding pass,” and they’d made us pose for an obligatory picture together at the top of the stairs they’d re-created, just like Rose and Jack in the movie. Read More »
November 3, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
If I need to, I can date my periods of depression by the corresponding enthusiasms for terrible TV shows. Enthusiasms is maybe the wrong word: let’s say commitment to.
Now, at the best of times, I can be sucked into watching almost any show—give me a marathon and I’m yours for the next twenty episodes, and I genuinely mourn the passing of Most Eligible Dallas—but when I think of the other times, the bad times, my devotion had a different quality: resigned, enervated, yet obsessive. It was sort of coaxing a tepid crush out of boredom; with a little care and a lot of time, you can create something that approximates a genuine interest.
And I was willing to put in the time. There was my relatively respectable Upstairs Downstairs fixation after I moved into my parents’ house after college, when I’d spend my days crouching by the mail slot, waiting for the red Netflix envelopes to arrive with my fix. Even now, I see those weeks in 1970s BBC yellow. Less defensible was the obsession with the Australian soap McLeod’s Daughters, which could only be watched (a) during the day and (b) on Lifetime. This one crept up on me. Did I enter a McLeod’s Daughters contest to try to win a trip to the outback? Maybe. Let’s just say that when the booby prize, a faux-silver cowboy-boot key chain, arrived in the mail, it felt like a wake-up call.
But by any measure, the nadir came in the summer of 2005. I know the date because it was the one and only season of Wayne Newton’s The Entertainer, which aired on E!. Wayne Newton’s The Entertainer was part of the spate of copycat programs that followed the early success of American Idol, and the talent-show premise was similar. Ah, but here was the twist: The Entertainer was not restricted to singers—it sought to give exposure to all kinds of Vegas-style razzle-dazzle. As such The Entertainer was composed not merely of singers, but of ventriloquists, magicians—sorry, “illusionists”—and comedians, too, all vying for the grand prize: opening for “Mr. Vegas” himself. (Apparently Wayne Newton is called that, though I’m not sure by whom.) Read More »
July 30, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
My father is a great TV watcher, and he keeps me abreast of the state of American television. Recently, he urged me to watch the U.S. reboot of the British reality show Married at First Sight, which, as the title suggests, introduces two willing strangers at the altar and marries them, albeit with the input of shrinks, matchmakers, sexperts, and various other professionals.
“It’s fascinating,” my dad assured me.
“I don’t want to watch that,” I said. “To see people either that lonely or that desperate to be on TV would only make me sad.”
“There’s that, of course,” he conceded, “but when you think about it, that’s how your great-grandparents met. And I’ve often wished I could arrange marriages for you and Charlie.” I prudently decided to not interpret this as a dig at any of our romantic partners. I suppose he wasn’t wrong about the matchmakers, but it does seem that, with parties of identical upbringings and cultural mores—not to mention not much premium placed on modern marital happiness—the shtetl varietal had a somewhat easier time of it. Read More »