Our Fishers, Ourselves

Our Fishers, Ourselves

I guess it was probably 2005 or 2006. I was working at Vanderbilt and Tower Records was across the street, just within walking distance to stop and get a movie on the way home. I flew through all five seasons of Six Feet Under without even knowing how many seasons there were. When the last episode of season five came, Claire got in the car to drive across the country, and a montage started to play that showed how all of the main characters would eventually die. I felt sad, cheated, and blindsided. The show was over, these characters were gone, and I had seen none of it coming. I felt suddenly orphaned. By a tv show.

It’s roughly ten years later, I knew this was coming, and I feel exactly the same way. Like there’s this little part of me crossing its arms like an angry toddler and refusing to believe that any of it is happening. The only difference now is that I knew this episode was coming and I had the sense to queue up Bridesmaids to act as a palate cleanser.

I can’t remember what exactly I got out of the show ten years ago; I just remember a first impression of the show not being nearly as funeral-tastic as I expected it to be. I was disappointed, but I watched episode two just because I’d already paid for the rental for disc one. I eventually got attached, wondering what would happen next and developing a crush on Freddy Rodriguez.

This time, I was hit in the face with how well-written and how true to life the first episode was. Tehre were moments of hilarity that are only funny when you’re in your thirties and similar things have happened to you. You can see things in a show, but they don’t really hit home until you’ve lived them already. Any other way, and the writing is entirely too obvious, or the writing is subtle and you don’t really get what’s happening. David comes home from a tough day at work and Keith tells him to suck it up and everybody in the audience knows that David just wanted Keith to be on his side because we’ve all been there. Claire goes to art school and says things like “it’s not blue hair, it’s more like a comment on blue hair,” right before finding out that what kills you about art school isn’t thinking of projects; it’s trying your hardest and sometimes failing anyway. It’s competing for internships against your friends in a system built more on ass-kissing that work quality. It’s constantly wondering if you’re good enough. It’s taking some bullshit office job and wearing pantyhose and wanting to shoot yourself in the face every day while you secretly pray that no one from school finds out that you’ve sold out because you have bills to pay and no new ideas.

There was little part of me just dancing when Keith finally understands that David just wants a hug. When Claire finally meets a nice guy (even if he is a “republican frat boy who voted for Bush”). When Ruth walks though the woods imaging her self taking a shotgun to every man who has expected her to worry all about his needs and never about her own. Stella and her groove, with a shotgun in the woods.

I watched that show in 2005 as though it were a fun little soap opera to distract me from my life. I watched it in 2015 because each character was living out some part of my life, probably of everybody’s life. Ruth is the woman in us that wants to have her own life, but has no idea what to do with herself if there’s no one to take care of. Claire is our free spirit, the part of us that never quite feels like an adult and never quite knows what to do. Nate is the part of us that means so well, but sometimes screws up so badly. David is the part of us that has to keep it together, to suck it up, even on days when we just want to go home and find someone there handing out hugs. So often, the show hits the gross little parts of human nature that we all pretend don’t exist. We pretend so hard that those parts don’t exist that maybe we start to wonder if we’re the only person to have them. To notice them. It’s all done with such skill. When Ruth eats dinner alone, we don;t have to have her say “I feel lonely today,” (which would be ENTIRELY too self-aware and direct for the Fisher family). Instead, we get a wide shot of Ruth alone at the table, sadly cutting up a piece of asparagus, sitting solo at a table for four. Everything about the Fisher house seems sad, dreary, constrained, and passive-aggressive. The Fishers are the family that we all want to grab by the shoulders and shake while yelling “WHY don’t you just SAY how you FEEL?”

It’s like the show spends most of its five seasons making us watch these people be unhappy. Part of us KNOWS why they’re unhappy because we see the characters doing things that we do. Maybe that’s why we want to shake them and yell at them. We’re frustrated with them because they are reminding us of ourselves. But all hell breaks loose in season five: Ruth finally gets sick of everybody’s crap, David stops sucking it up, Claire finds a path, and Nate? Nate can’t seem to stop screwing up…so he dies, his death being the catalyst of change for everybody else, the “Ned Stark’s rolling head” that sets everything else in motion. Eventually, even the house changes. Even the house gets happier.

So, have I spoiled this entire show for you by telling you (sort of) what happens? I don’t think so. I came into this viewing knowing exactly what was going to happen, and it didn’t change the value of the experience one bit. If you’ve never watched this show, you might want to check it out now. Hell, it’s on Amazon Prime.

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The Biggest Loser Makes Me Feel Conflicted.

The irony of this whole thing is that I started watching The Biggest Loser on Hulu because I needed something to watch while I ate dinner. Being all caught up on RuPaul’s Drag Race and Vikings, I thought “hey, I used to watch The Biggest Loser…”

It’s just that, since those years ago when I watched the show and found it incredibly positive in comparison to other reality shows (granted, anything is more positive than Flavor of Love or whatever idiocy is going on with The Bachelor), I have read a few blogs written by former Biggest Loser contestants. There they were, saying all of the things we all secretly knew to be true: feeling manipulated by producers, feeling pressured to lose more and more weight, gaining weight back after they no longer had the eyes of America keeping them on the straight and narrow…it was just another reality show after all.

Still, I feel like this season’s treatment of the “child ambassadors” (a bid to bring light to the issue of childhood obesity) is remarkably kind. The kids get Skype calls from the trainers and occasionally visit the ranch to coach contestants in a challenge, but for the most part, they get to go about their lives. They get to go from being bullied to being The Kid From TV. That might come with its own set of problems, but having a TV crew show up to document a donation of thousands of dollars’ worth of gym equipment probably really IS going to help in the “people calling you a fat ass in the hall” factor. I’d like to think that the kids will come out of the experience feeling healthier and like someone somewhere thinks that they matter enough to send a TV crew to talk to them.

Jezebel.com disagreed with my naive optimism, immediately denouncing this move, saying “because adults shouldn’t be the only one running on treadmills until they puke.” In fairness, the blog was written before the shows even aired, but maybe…well, maybe Jezebel should have shut the hell up until they has a chance to see the thing against which they were rallying. Then again, jumping straight from speculation to poorly-researched sarcasm and anger is something that Jezebel does pretty frequently. Jezebel can be terribly entertaining, but must also be taken with a grain of salt.

Maybe The Biggest Loser shouldn’t have involved the kids. Maybe some horrors come out of this show. But maybe some good does, too. Maybe someone out there will finally be inspired to feed kids more vegetables or go on a family bike ride. Maybe a generation of kids will be inspired to be horribly neurotic about their weight. Hell, I don’t know.

See, that’s the point. I don’t know. Neither do you, nor does Jezebel.

As conflicted as this show makes me feel, you get out of it what you choose to get out of it. For me, I choose to see it as a group of people supporting each other in doing something that they all wanted, begged to do. No one is forcing them to stay on the show. I see it as an inspiration, a reminder that donuts are evil (delicious, awesome evil), and a message that people can change (if they want to…you are certainly not required to want to be skinny) and don’t need surgery to do so. If Jezebel wants to see it as “nothing more than a circus sideshow,” run by evil producers, watched by evil people who are watching solely to point and laugh, and participated in by sad, desperate fatties…maybe that’s just a mirror into what lurks in the heart of that particular Jezebel writer. As for me, I see people who are willing to work their butts off to make a change that they want to make, and that’s not such a bad thing to watch while eating dinner.

Back in St. Olaf

My relationship with cable television is a strained one. Most channels are frequently “temporarily unavailable” due to massive amounts of digital noise. I have accepted this situation as a way of life and usually just watch Netflix through my computer. If I were paying for all this, I supposed I’d be outraged, but I’m not. Outraged, that is. Or, frankly, paying.

I pay for 10 channels. “Ghetto cable” for which you have to specifically ask if you wish to receive. However, I now have full basic cable, thanks to corporate laziness and underpayment of Comcast’s tech staff. When the “ghetto cable” filter/blocker breaks, techs usually just remove it rather than go to the trouble and expense of replacing it.

So, I have full basic cable, but my box is a piece of crap that I dare not attempt to replace. Besides, I don’t have time for much TV, so I don’t care. Until 11pm, when I need something to fall asleep to.

It was a dark and stormy night. I couldn’t even get USA or E!. Times were hard, people. I got desperate. I went…over 100. The channels over 100. The wasteland of sports, Jesus and telenovella.

A choir of angels. A ray of moonlight. Perfect reception on the Hallmark channel, and…a Golden Girls marathon.

I have spent the last week reliving my days in the Belmont dorm, when Lifetime had Golden Girls and Designing Women on an endless loop. Reliving such stories as “Rose thinks she kills men because they keep having heart attacks during sex,” “Blanche hits menopause,” and “Sophia becomes a nun.”

The scary part now is that these women who seemed so old when I was a kid are now younger than my mom. I can’t stop wondering if Dorothy’s clothes were all from the same store, or if some misguided costumer MADE all of them. I mean, we’re talking about huge quantities of cowl necks and drapey shirts. The sheer volume of the stuff suggests that it had to have been handmade, possibly by one clothing label, possibly one named House of Zbornak. (Frankly, I’m surprised that no one has written a blog solely on this topic, replete with screen shots. I looked.)

And the shoulder pads! And who actually uses the word “lanai”? And why was there never a “very special” Golden Girls where one of the characters gets diabetes from too many 3am cheesecake eating sessions? Dorothy could have a massive coronary and keel over into a pot of Sophia’s 14-hour sauce.

And the wicker furniture.
The horror.

I leave you with some choice images and a couple of links.

Pals and Confidants Meme blog on Tumblr

Whitby Shore

If you live under a rock or think you’re too high-brow to watch any show sponsored by Flirty Girl Fitness, you may not have heard of Jersey Shore. The concept: a group of ridiculous Italian-American stereotypes (self-proclaimed Guidos and Guidettes) go to the Jersey Shore for the summer. Drunken fights, drunken sex, drunken application of fake hair, drunken cooking, and drunken sun tanning ensue. Also, there is some drinking.

As you can imagine, this is a stroke of genius on par with Rock of Love, except that Rock of Love never had a character who referred to his six-pack abs as “The Situation.” The question on my mind is whether the success of this show is going to lead to a series of caricature-based shows. More specifically, does this mean that MTV is going to offer up a show featuring ridiculous goth characters? People who answer only to Raven, Nightshade, and Lestat? Will the house be decorated in velvet and drippy black candles? Will episodes consist of the characters going on blind dates with other goths, discussing why New Order is (or isn’t) goth? Will Erzebet and Cullen hook up in Cullen’s coffin?

Well, probably not. Why?

1. It’s not 1988.
Back in the eighties, someone might have made a reality show about us. Now, we’ve been around so long that we’re seen as kind of a non-entity. Goth has gotten mushed together with emo and general rock. You and I know the difference, but the average person doesn’t. In fact, that average person probably thinks that goth ended twenty years ago and that anyone who is goth now is just some rebellious teenager or some person who’s stuck in the eighties. Nobody cares about us anymore . Thank God.

2. We’re too self-aware.
The fun of Jersey Shore is that none of the caricatures on the show seem to be aware of how ridiculous they are. The rest of us get to sit around and laugh at them, and they run around thinking that the amount of product in their hair is perfectly normal. Goth people would, most likely, spend half the show making fun of themselves (“Yeah, my name is actually Christy. WTF?!”) and spend the other half of the show making fun of each other (“Seriously, Cullen? A Coffin?”). It’s no fun to make fun of the fat kid when the fat kid beats you to the joke.

3. We’re not good tv.
OK, so we dance funny. We wear too much makeup. We don’t own sensible shoes. We carry parasols. But we would never be caught dead doing cartwheels in a bar, wearing just a thong (this actually happened on JS…and it was awesome). We would never get in a physical fight because someone accused us of being on steroids (roid rage!). And we would never, ever, wear a shirt made by Affliction.

4. We don’t get THAT drunk.
Goths are catty. A goth bar is so totally not the place to get sloppy drunk and make an ass of yourself, because you have to see those same people at that same bar forever. As a result, this helps us keep ourselves in check…or at least at helps our friends keep up in check.

It’s possible that producers could use their Santanic powers to find eight completely ridiculous people if they scoured the globe enough. They would do the usual prodcery things: pelt the cast with 24/7 bright lights, provide endless free booze, provide a script if things got too boring…but I think we’re safe. Remember, no matter what happens, there’s always someone more ridiculous than us. As long as Furries still exist.

Goths on TV: Castle

Ah, Halloween time, the time when shows that your mom would watch do Halloween-themed episodes. In years past, I was blissfully unaware of these things since I don’t watch said shows. Now, such things are snagged by my well-meaning Tivo and its “vampire” and “goth” playlists. In short, every episode with either of those two words gets recorded, for better or worse.

On a recent episode of “Castle,” which appears to be some sort of even-more-questionable version of CSI, Mr. Castle finds a body. In a cemetery. With a stake through its heart. Quick, everybody! To the Mockmobile!

The episode starts with Castle talking to some girl who apparently lives with him. She’s sitting on the couch reading a thick book prominently displaying the title “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Was “Twilight” to obvious, or not public domain enough? At any rate, that sucker has to be the longest version of Pit and the Pendulum to ever be published.

In order to track down the vampire stake killer, Castle and his partner go to a goth store to speak with the man who “made Brad Pitt’s veneers for Interview with the Vampire.” The informant gives them the name of the staking victim. Anyone care to hazard a guess at the victim’s “vampire name”? Give you three guesses. Vlad? Nope. Raven? Nope. Crow? Jackpot!

Crow’s name turns out to be Matthew, which Castle and his partner find out when the speak to his ladylady, who’s showing them around his apartment. Three guesses on decor. If you guessed “velvet, crosses and candles,” you win. Apparently, Crow learned everything he knew about vampirism from some InstaGoth web site…which may help explain his name.

The landlady says Crow’s girlfriend had “long, black hair to her tush.” Castle’s partner responds as though this is the most unpredictable description of a goth chick she’s ever heard. “Long black hair??” I’m envisioning a scene where Castle and partner arrive to the goth club, only to realize that description fits 80% of the girls in the room.

Surprise! The girlfriend (her name is Vixen) has a website called the Den of Iniquity. While checking out the web site, a policeman states that he used to date a vampire girl. They broke up because she wanted to have sex in a coffin.

Naturally, the guy gets the goth club info from this old girlfriend. Within the first 5 seconds of being in the club Castle and partner are hissed at (you heard me) by a guy in full Crow makeup. I’m not saying Crow makeup doesn’t happen…I’m just saying that it wouldn’t happen at a club exclusive enough to have a secret location.

Rule 1: Friends don’t let friends dress like The Crow.

Rule 2: Boots before corset.

As Castle and partner walk through the club, Castle is groped by several females. He’s a good-looking dude, but I’m betting those chicks are trashed. Goth chicks do not grope normal-looking strangers. Goth chicks stand in the corner and wonder why the frat boy is in their club, whether he’s going to pull out a camera and whether they’ll have to kick his ass.

Castle and partner go into the VIP room and meet Vixen, who is busily sucking on some girl’s wrist. The presence of that guy who looks like The Crow gets explained when we find that even VIP Vixen has shit drawn on her face.

Rule 3: Don’t draw shit on your face.

Castle and partner ask “do you know somebody named Crow?” As realistic response: “uh…which one?” or maybe “oh, that douche?” Vixen’s response: “sure.”

Castle, partner, and “Used to Date a Vampire Chick” Guy go to the home of a suspect. Do they find him sleeping in a coffin? But of course. Does he start smoking when sunlight hits him? Yep. Wait, what?

Forensic Lady ends up telling us that Suspect Guy (who bears a striking resemblance to Rob Zombie) has an allergy to sunlight…which apparently causes him to SMOKE when sun hits him? Don’t nitpick, internets.

We have a second victim! A werewolf! Looks light Allergic to Sunlight guy is innocent, since werewolf and Crow were killed by the same person during the day.

Turns out that Crow witnessed his mother’s murder and werewolf guy knew about it or his family knew or…oh, what the fuck.

Turns out it was Crow’s dad’s second wife who killed the first wife. Then, she killed Crow and werewolf guy because they were going to find out.

Castle (who may or may not be attempting a British accent) ends up going to a Halloween party as Edgar Allan Poe. Maybe people from Baltimore sounded British in the 19th century?

It’s all fun and games…

until somebody gets dismembered and stuffed in a suitcase.

You all know by now that I’m a huge fan of Vh-1’s reality shows. Oh, the fun of watching a bevy of skanks vie for the opportunity to contract “famous herpes,” instead of the same “regular people herpes.” It’s all good, crazy fun watching women who have postponed their careers in stripping to fly to L.A. for some camera time in hopes of crossing over into actual stardom. Nobody on any of those shows ever become legitimately famous, but you have to milk what you can milk while you can milk it, I guess. Besides, if you do really well, you may get your very own Vh-1 show. Perhaps one where Vh-1 provides you with what you most desire: rich men who will buy you things.

Then again, there could always be a clerical error. You could end up with a future murderer amongst the suitors. You could make him a finalist. Then, purely hypothetically, after you don’t pick the would-be murderer, he could go on ANOTHER Vh-1 show and win the grand prize.

Megan goes on Rock of Love 2. She “loses,” but her penchant for bikini wearing and bitchy behavior lands her a role on…

I Love Money, where she loses, but makes a bitchy enough impression to end up on…

Rock of Love Charm School, where she continues to carry a chihuahua and state her career goal as “Trophy Wife.” At the reunion show, Megan flings her bitchiness at Sharon Osbourne. Sharon yanks out a chunk of Megan’s hair, prompting a lawsuit and putting Megan’s next show in peril. Vh-1 (allegedly) says they’ll continue on with the show if Megan drops the lawsuit. The lawsuit disappears, and in its place we find…

Megan Wants A Millionaire, where Megan is given a selection of suitors from which to choose. One of the more attractive (yet manipulative and douchey) contestants is Ryan. He reportedly ends up becoming a finalist but “losing.” He then gets cast on I Love Money 3 and wins the grand prize.

You’re never going to see it, though.

Sometime in between filming Vh-1 shows, Ryan had time to meet a swimsuit model, marry her, kill her and multilate her body in hopes of making her unidentifiable. He forgot one little detail: breast implants have serial numbers.

The body is found in a suitcase, Ryan becomes a “person of interest,” flees to Canada and then hangs himself in a hotel room.

Vh-1 is denying responsibility because, while they bought the show, they didn’t make the show. The 51 Minds production company made the show, just as they made many show for Vh-1. As for how the production company could have missed Ryan’s history of domestic violence charges, I’m guessing that was the “clerical error.” If, by “clerical error,” you mean “our intern played Pet Society instead of actually running the background checks.” As for the concept of 51 Minds being a company that just licensed a show to Vh-1, perhaps we should run down their portfolio which consists of (and ONLY of) Vh-1 reality shows:

Charm School
I Love Money
I Love New York
Flavor of Love
Rock of Love
Real Chance of Love
For the Love of Ray J
The Surreal Life

This may be the event that makes Vh-1 say “hey, the train is derailed…we can’t do this anymore.” This may be the event that puts the 51 Minds production company out of business. Then again, this may be a hiccup that will be forgotten as quickly as “Back Flip Mike” from Daisy of Love. Nobody knows, but 51 Minds’ casting company, Iconic Casting, is looking for people for For The Love of Ray J 2 and “The Entertainer” of Love just in case.

A&E: Making Monday Suck Less

Once upon a time, Mondays were thing to be dreaded. They marked a return to work (or school), put an end to the fun of the weekend and, for most people, meant that drunken fun was over for another five days. Then, A&E gave us Intervention, Obsessed and (starting August 17th) Hoarders. Monday changed completely.

For those of you unfamiliar, Intervention is pretty much what the name implies: forty minutes of “documenting the addiction,” also known as “showing someone doing crazy shit,” followed by an intervention. The last five minutes always tell what happened after the intervention while some annoying song performed by “public domain Jayhawks” plays.

Obsessed chronicles people who have OCD, trichotillomania and panic anxiety; people usually exhibit a trick-or-treat bag of crazy. Anxiety disorders usually travel in packs, so it’s not unusual for one person to start off with anxiety, move on to hoarding things, and then develop agoraphobia and depression caused by their shame of said hoarding. The people on the show volunteer for cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves exposing people to the very things they fear in order for them to build up a tolerance. Inevitably, the people freak out, and “good tv” is made.

So, what’s another circus sideshow? This isn’t all about people getting drunk on mouthwash or pulling their hairs out one by one. These days, sideshows are a dime a dozen and A&E’s lineup would really have to amp up the crazy to compete with…well, just about anything on Vh1. (Sidebar: when did Vh-1 become Vh1? Did the hyphen contain all of the music videos?)

The real draws behind A&E’s lineup are the people behind the stories. “Lady is an alcoholic” isn’t nearly as interesting as “lady is the perfect PTA mom who snaps, can’t handle it, and becomes an alcoholic.” It’s interesting because, on some level, we can see ourselves or our friends. We see the impact that unattainable expectations of perfection have on women. The aforementioned alcoholic lady says “I’m beautiful and happy, I’m beautiful and happy!” everytime she leaves the house. The drunk guy next door drinks because he watched his father figure die in Afghanistan. The anorexic girl at school is punishing herself because she’s reliving guilt she feels about being molested. I’m not saying that having “issues” makes it OK to sell your kid for crack. I’m saying that the story of addiction is much more interesting when you can look at a crackhead and see somebody’s sister. Intervention makes the addicts human rather than just a sideshow.

Most of the people on Obsessed are portraits of what can happen to any of us if blindsided by the unforeseen. The sky over all of our heads is filled with pianos. Every second of every day, your phone could ring and you could be notified of someone’s death. You could be permanently disabled every time you get in a car. North Korea could finally decide to nuke us.

What happens when one of those sky-pianos falls on someone who is blindsided or a little short on coping mechanisms? They develop little habits. They check locks. They tap things three times. While they know in their rational minds that tapping things isn’t going to stop the sky-pianos, something in them says “you’d better tap this, just in case.” While most of us can avoid becoming a crackhead by just not doing crack, the “oh my God, I can’t control life and that scares the crap out of me” misfire in your brain could happen any time. We watch Obsessed because we can see our past selves, our possible future selves. If nothing else, we can understand why the people on the show do what they do. As hard as it is to feel empathy for someone who could sell her own kid for crack, it’s that easy to feel empathy for the lady who is psychotic about baby-proofing her house after losing a child to SIDS.

By paying attention to people we don’t know, people on tv, we can better understand the people we DO know. Watching other people is a huge part of how we learn, even if it’s usually along the lines of “do we pay at the table, or go to the cash register?” Watching people around us connects us. It makes us more empathetic. It keeps us human.