The Soup (E!, check your listings as they run episodes constantly) is doing its end-of-the-year clipdown, having culled what they think are the 40 most eye-roll-worthy moments on television in the past year. So far, they've aired the numbers 40-21 clips; the second half is coming tomorrow.
These clips are painful to watch sometimes, especially the reality TV. I don't like being reminded that there are people out there who have genuinely confused notoriety with accomplishment, and it makes me uneasy that their pathetic surrender of dignity is packaged and sold for profit. Reality TV can also be unsettling, because it reminds me how eagerly some people will buy into stereotypical roles if there's a perceived benefit to them.
It's easy to point fingers at narrative television sometimes and claim the writers are foisting outdated and unfair gender roles onto the audience and therefore, by extension, society. Reality TV pokes a lot of holes in the Big Hollywood theory, because the people who thrive on reality TV are the ones who are crafting -- and benefiting -- from a stock trade in stereotypes. And no, it's not all "I'm a victim of editing!" I've got pals who have worked as loggers -- the people who have to watch every minute of footage and tell you what happens -- and pals who have worked as producers, and they're all happy to swear that what ends up on the screen is, in fact, not nearly so eye-popping as what stays in the editing bays. What you see is what the people participating in these shows want you to see. They've made the calculation that sexism sells. And how ...
Exhibit A: The E channel's Kardashian franchise, where a collection of marginally-talented young women exasperate everyone around them as they fumble through a boutique business, a radio show (somewhere, Linda Werthimer just felt a chill go down her back and she doesn't know why) and a pay-for-play social life.
Exhibit B: Bravo's Real Housewives franchise, where collections of dubiously-groomed, dubiously-financed women attempt jobs in fashion design, entertainment and real estate and mostly fail. But there are catfights and lots of fretting over whether their men can continue to keep them in the manner to which they've become accustomed!
Exhibit C: MTV's Real World franchise, which has pretty much turned "girls making out for the sexual titillation of men" into a bingo square for Reality TV Bingo. At the risk of outing myself as older than the fossils in the Burgess Shale, I can remember when the show went for the "homosexuals are people like the rest of you, Bush-era America, so accord them the same respect and dignity you'd give anyone else." Now, it seems, lesbianism is a hot commodity, but the human rights issues apparently went to the grave with Pedro Zamora.
Exhibit D: ABC's The Bachelor and VH1's assorted "Find a Concubine For a D-Lister" shows, all of which center around the disturbing premise that a bunch of women have nothing better to do than hang around and compete for the attentions of someone who apparently has problems attracting people on his own -- or thinks nothing is wrong with the idea of "shopping" for a partner among a pre-screened pool of people who want to be on TV.
Let's make a resolution for 2010: Avoid the demeaning reality shows. Write the advertisers and tell them that you're saddened by their support of these shows, and ask if they really hold their customers in such contempt. Seek out the stuff where women aren't depicted as crazy, brainless eye candy. Is this something we can keep?