Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My Favorite Things: Confession! Reality TV

(Note: I was completely foiled from posting this on Saturday! Lost the entire thing... had to start again today from scratch. What's up, Blogger?)

Generally, I do not like reality TV. I much prefer scripted series or documentaries. Last week, however, I found myself in not one but two intense discussions about reality TV as cultural phenomenon. Or just good ol' entertainment.

So this week I'm going to talk about  my reality TV perspective. Now you've been warned.

When Survivor "broke through" on TV and became the first "reality show" I noticed, I watched once to see what the fuss was about. Needless to say, it was obvious that Survivor, far from being like the Congressional session on C-Span, was heavily edited and driven by a narrative (one might even call it a traditional plot) while working very, very hard to look as if it was completely unscripted and impromptu. With "real people" rather than trained actors and "impromptu" or "authentic" events, Survivor actually did a great job of masking all the pre- and post-production work that went into making what must have been hours and hours of boring "real life" dramatic, mostly through manipulating (editing) the paranoia, jealousy, competitiveness, and fears of the contestants. Individual interviews allowed them to "reveal" their inner feelings, which were all focused on themselves, while group competitions introduced the "value" idea of each contestant, where each "tribe member" had to prove her/his worth constantly. Or manipulate others into letting them stay.

Oh, how I wish Richard III could be a contestant on Survivor!

My favorite reality TV shows are:
  • Clean House
  • Say Yes to the Dress
  • What Not to Wear
  • Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
  • Keeping Up with the Kardashians
This is actually predicated on the fact that I do not have cable TV and watch all my TV via Netflix or when at a friend or relative's home (at which point I become irritatingly fixed on their TV). So while I say these are my favorites, there are a lot of shows I have never seen or have chosen not to watch, although I may be familiar with them as a cultural phenomenon, like Big Brother or Jersey Shore or Dancing with the Stars. There are others I have seen, like American Idol and Cupcake Wars that are either "meh" to me or which I actively dislike.

So do with that what you will.

I've already written about Clean House here, so you can enjoy my love for this show and its experts. Yay!

Moving on. Say Yes to the Dress is another crazy fave. Why? It is packed with valuable lessons I can actually use (unlike Cupcake Wars: I already know tuna and wasabi will NOT make a delicious cupcake and that improvising on the day is usually a BIG mistake).

What can/did I learn?

First, take no one with you to the bridal boutique. Not your mom, not your sister, not your groom. NOT your mother-in-law to be. At least, not until you figure out what kind of dress you can a/ afford and b/ feel good about. (This was a lesson my sister knew instinctively!)

Second, a corollary: everyone has an agenda and it is often not about you... so you can make it about you or you can stop listening. Or find someone who really has your back and take them (and only them). Then listen to them.

Here's what I love-hate about this show. Brides who have no sense of their own style get beaten up by EVERYONE who loves spangles/seed pearls/froth/bustles or whose taste is driven by what the minister will think/what the guests will think/what Kate or Angelina or Pam Anderson wore/the cost (high or low)/what they wore on their wedding day -- not what is good for/looks good on you. Dad worries about cost. Mom worries about neighbors/relatives. Sister worries about whether you look prettier than she does. Groom worries about what his buddies will think of your hotness. Mother-in-law worries that you're not good enough for groom, and how dress will show that off.

Third, you can't make a tea-length, short-sleeved white dress into a floor-length, mermaid-shape with a bustle and long sleeves. If you want a mermaid-shaped dress, start with that. The brides who choose one dress and then, little by little try to alter it so completely it no longer resembles the original shape or style... adding to the cost and often creating chaos.

Unfortunately, we often make the same mistake about life partners or houses or jobs. Yes, we pick a laid-back guy and suddenly, spend lots of time trying to tailor him into a go-getter... pay attention up front! See what is actually in the mirror, not what you hope will become true.

Fourth, while we tell ourselves that the wedding day is for the bride (and it is, to an extent), I see so much entitlement and bad behavior from young women who think that means she is Queen for a Day... but Marie-Antoinette, not Elizabeth I--including the power to behead people, act rudely and outrageously without consequences, throw away huge amounts of money on a 12-hour event, act out ridiculous fantasies, and force everyone to acknowledge her as the complete center of the universe! Bad behavior/self-centeredness run amuck, usually reinforced by parents, friends, and siblings.

I don't get it. But it is kind of fascinating. And certainly makes me more aware of how I treat other people.

Fifth, similarly, pay attention to how people talk to you. Ugh, the relatives/friends/in-laws who talk so rudely to the bride! Hey, if your groom insults your taste in front of his mother, he'll do it again. If she insults your taste and he allows it, it'll happen all the time. If your maid of honor undercuts your choice with sarcasm that makes you feel badly, she's not your friend. It is sad and illuminating to listen in on these conversations as they revolve around money, taste, maturity, and the power dynamic.

Six, I just love to look at wedding dresses. I could probably get all these things from some other reality show, but this one combines them with dresses.

And when it works, the bride does look gorgeous and feels good about her choice... and everyone is happy, which is what is important. It's not the money, or the poofiness, or the show-off factor, but whether everyone leaves the boutique happy... and good to connect these to a consumer event that sometimes costs huge amounts of money (really?) and leaves everyone, even the saleslady, unhappy.

I couldn't watch it everyday... but yes, I love this show.

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