Monday, June 9, 2014

Dreams with Product Placement

My youngest sister is twenty now, but she's been watching reality TV pretty much her whole life. Well, not watching, really. She's in college right now and I'm living back home too, because of reasons. The moment she gets home, she turns on the TV and lets it play in the background for hours. Just a constant background noise of shrieking and chattering and crying. We don't even live in an English-speaking country and I swear that if I hear the phrase "and I was like, oh my gawd" one more time I'm going to hurl.

It doesn't seem to bother her. It bothers me, all this manufactured drama and cruel pageantry, but when I say something about it, it's just TV, gawd, don't be a mom, mom.

See, I made the huge mistake of commenting on this stuff earlier. I wasn't kind about it. She took it very personally, like I was calling her out for being sexist, racist, classicist and consumerist instead of the producers of these shows. I unintentionally set her up to agree with everyone else in my family who think that women should be women (whatever that means.) She and my mom have labeled me an extremist. It hurts down to the marrow of my bones, but what can you do?

So I don't comment anymore. She's a grown woman, she can watch whatever the hell she likes without my permission or comments. For the last year or so though, I do keep finding things to do in the living room, just to see what she's watching. Sue me. That's my baby sister. She's all grown now, but fuck you if you think being a big sister stops when they go to college. With a mom who's staunchly anti-feminist, I just want to know what sort of stuff she gets pumped into her head for over nine hours a day.

It's not pretty. Here's some of the stuff I've seen during the last year or so of totally inconspicuously lurking behind the couch.

(Content note: physical violence against women, female bisexuality for male consumption, ableism, consumerism, chivalry, slurs of all kinds, discussion of cultural indoctrination. Illustrated with Youtube clips)

It's a show called Millionaire Matchmaker. I know which one it is because I remember being baffled at the eponymous matchmaker before. What she does is she helps very rich people buy poor people to love. It reminds me of those animal rescue shows she also watches.

"Nothing too high-maintenance," the pudgy guy with the mean grin says, rattling off his list of requirements for either a new dishwasher or a new woman, I'm not sure. "I just don't need any drama, you know?"
The matchmaker nods sagely. She does know.
"I'm looking for someone who won't distract me. Kind of like a Stepford Wife."

This can be arranged. The matchmaker deals in Stepford Wives. They are her bread and butter.

"He is confident and knows what he wants," she comments in an interview segment. "And women respond to that."

There's this person called Snooki. I'm not a total recluse, okay? I know who she is. She's that woman everyone hates because she partied a lot and then she had a baby and the whole internet blew a gasket at the audacity of this woman daring to have a baby. I don't know what else she's done. Maybe her show is about rescuing Labrador puppies from abusive homes and then raising them to compete in underground puppy-vs-alligator fighting rings, I don't know.

We got a highlight reel of all the best Snooki moments. The announcer kept telling us to hang on for the ultimate Snooki moment of them all. After fifteen commercial breaks (and a lot of covert hanging around on my part) I finally got to see it: a man punched her in the face. Just a full-on, closed fist, all-his-weight-behind-it punch in the face. She fell on the floor and didn't move. We didn't get to see the context either. They just played the moment where he punched her so hard her head snapped back over and over, just an endless series of closed fist punches to this tiny woman's face until it cut to her on the floor, crying.

I just had to look it up, because I just couldn't believe I'd actually seen that. But yeah, sure enough, it happened, and people thinks it's hi-larious, and this video is the top result on Youtube. If you can't watch it, the entire content is just that one moment on repeat. Set to the Mortal Kombat theme song, so the punches match the beat. When that fades out it's just the sound of her sobbing. The description reads: "For us sick bastards who enjoy watching that retard Snooki fall to the floor in anguish."


Youtube employs actual goddamn robots to carpet-bomb any content owned by Viacom (hint: that's roughly all of the content) and will ban your account if you try to upload too many copyrighted clips. But this is okay. Totally okay.

"she deserved it beeing in his face and yapping like the idiot she is. ANYBODY deserves that. but we are all upset cause she is a girl! If she is gonna mouth off then take the hit Bitch!" 
"Do what the man has been doing for thousands of years punch the woman, punch her!" 
"I feel bad for that poor guy that caught the guy's fist on the nose"
"No INNOCENT woman should get punched, but snooki is far from innocent, she was  drunk and waay to close to the guy and her hand was in the guys face. also cursing and insulting him didn't make anything better. what the guy did was not right (hilarious, but not right), but both parties were in the wrong."
"I think that I'm talking for everyone here when I say that I love your video and I'll subscribe me to your channel <3 xxxxx"

Kind of summons the specter of recent events, doesn't it?

"Tell me about yourself," says the man with the scary eyes.

He's sitting across from and talking to a young woman in full-on vampire goth regalia, fangs and everything, and I'm kind of digging her style. Geek ladies represent! She relishes that question, I can tell.

"Well," she says. "I'm twenty-four years old, I'm a cashier, and I'm also a vampire."

Record scratch! Horrified look! Smash cut to a talking head segment with that man!

"I'm going to have my work cut out with that one," he grins. "If I'm gonna teach her how to snag a man, bitch gotta dial the crazy way the hell down."

Cut back to the woman.

"I like clubbing," she goes on. "My friends like the vampire scene too and we go out like this, it's a lot of fun..."

Cut back to the talking head tapping his finger to his temple, eyes crossed, while a cuckoo sound effect plays.

This. I watched all of this. All of it. Not just this clip. The entire show. So did my sister.

"People get plastic surgery all the time," she shrugged. "They just put it on TV. They can get surgery if they want, who cares?"

"If you want to be with me, I need to know that you don't take yourself too seriously," a bisexual girl in the promo declares. "So for the next challenge..."

Cut to two bisexual women giving each other whipped cream bikinis and licking them off again while a bunch of bro-dudes drool in the corner, inches away from masturbating like bored monkeys.

I'll be honest, I don't have any freaking idea what's going on here. All I know is that I'm not coming out to my family, never ever, because according to my sister these bisexual women are just faking it for attention. Nope. No sir. Give me a coffee maker and an internet connection and I'll be so snug and comfy in my dear old closet.

(I looked it up for this post, but I seriously have no idea what show this was. It's not that I couldn't find a show like it, it's that I found way too many like it. Can I have some pillows and maybe a bucket for my closet? I'm going to be here for a while.)

It's the Millionaire Matchmaker again! This time, she's setting up a date for a former NFL player called Matt "Hatch" Hatchett. He's African-American, and for a split second I wonder if we're going to acknowledge how racist this show and every other reality show is. Just for a second. I'm not that hopelessly naive.

"What do I look for in a chick?" he repeats the producer's question. "In a girl?" he correct himself, and I kind of like him now. I'm going to watch this entire episode.

"I would like to date someone who has a career of her own," he goes on, another first on this show as far as I know. "I don't really care what she does, just someone who is ambitious and has her own thing going on. Definitely someone like that. Someone with a big personality who makes me laugh."

The matchmaker... team... matchmakerettes listen without comment to this useless information.

"I like someone who's short..." Matt goes on.

"How short?" the matchmaker pounces. "How short is short? Like, give us a range."

This, you see, is information she can work with.

Matt then proceeds to unknowingly flip the matchmaker's bitch switch. The phrase "chivalry is dead" coming out of his mouth makes the matchmaker bristle like a wet cat, and it's almost funny how angry she is at the thought of Matt not wanting to condescend to his prospective date. She snaps and barks that he must, he must do these things, he must be chivalrous or he will definitely end up alone. Those are her exact words. Matt just grins and shakes his head, and now I want to date the guy. Talk about looking great by contrast.

She's just not having any of it. It's a little unsettling watching her work herself into a rabid frenzy at the thought of this man wanting to treat a woman like an independent adult. Forget about setting this guy up with the woman he wants to be set up with, you know, like a matchmaker does. She genuinely hates Matt for this, calls him a clown and an attention seeker to the camera as well as his face, and I sort of want you to see what happens next for yourself.

I have never seen such toxic, oozing sarcasm in my life. It's a thing of beauty.

"That's greeeeaaaaat. *eyeroll* Chivalry camp. That just where I wanted to be today."

God bless you, Matt. I hope you find a really nice woman who also isn't a time traveler from the fifties. The fourteen-fifties.

But then I look at my sister, and I wonder what she's thinking while the matchmaker goes into violent rage-fits at the audacity of this nice man wanting to treat a grown woman like a grown woman, and I wonder how she feels about "men being men and women being women," about women who order their own drinks being shrews (shrews!) who will take over your life, if she knows that it only looks like Matt now agrees because of sloppy editing and obvious frankenbits, and I wonder if I'll ever be able to trust this very important person in my life whom I love so much with who I really am.

Flavor Flav, who unrelentingly refers to women as things and objects and refuses to learn their names, instead giving them nicknames, refers to identical twin women as "Thing 1" and "Thing 2."

I'm disturbed that my sister isn't disturbed.

"I have a lot of debt," a mousy young woman explains in Dutch, in a timid voice. "My unemployment benefits aren't enough to cover my expenses for me and my kids. So I'm not sure I can justify buying all these expensive clothes."

Cut to a stylist alternately berating her for her drab thrift store wardrobe and singing the praises of the expensive brand boutique they're in.

"You look like you're on unemployment," the stylist snaps. "You look cheap. You can't be looking at price tags, you have to be thinking of you! What do you spend all that money on!"

"Rent, school supplies, groceries..."

"Well then eat less!" the stylist chirps as she keeps draping couture clothing over her like a mannequin. "You'll be fashionable and skinny!"

Cut to a commercial for the clothing brand we just watched.

"It's important to take care of yourself," the stylist goes on to explain to the camera. "Nobody cares about you feeling good on the inside if your outside looks like that. Your clothes should reflect who you are. So I'm going to teach her to shop like she deserves."

I don't feel like I'm an extremist for noticing these things and for worrying what over a decade of this stuff has done to her. Her boyfriend keeps picking her up. Just putting his arms around her, pinning her arms to her side and picking her up. She hates it. She tells him not to fucking do that, without even a trace of mirth, and he doesn't care. Keeps doing it. A couple of weeks ago she was disappointed and cranky because an exam hadn't gone well. He kept telling her to smile, because she's prettier when she smiles. When she didn't, he physically grabbed her jaw and forced her face into a grimace. I didn't plan to do anything, I just kind of gasped and slapped his arm. Got a bit of an earful for being too extreme again. But I don't like seeing my sister restrained, grabbed and forced to smile by a guy who comments on every movie we watch by giving us a list of which women he finds sexually attractive. I just don't. Because I'm a feminazi.

Two or three years ago she wanted to be a stage actress, have lots of animals and travel a lot. When last I checked in, she wanted to get married as soon as possible in a big ceremony "like on [rich people wedding show]" and wear a brand dress "like in Say Yes To The Dress."

Okay. Do that then, I guess. Whatever's in your heart sis, and go with my blessing. But it's kind of, you know, a little worrying. A little weird. I know you grew up, dreams change, you're adulting like a champ, but it's sort of strange to me that your own personal dreams have been replaced with the discount dreams presented wholesale on these shows that you've been watching since early adolescence. I think it's weird that your dreams come with integrated marketing.

It's easy to mock reality TV shows. Too easy. Suspiciously easy. They're made to be mocked, because if we cynically laugh at them and the dumb people on them, we don't have to take them seriously, we don't have to recognize the fact that these shows are brimming with every ism in the book, crass commercialism that has turned TV into one big long commercial and a meat grinder for everything social activism has ever accomplished. If you laugh at it, you're exempt from taking it seriously.

Looking up these youtube clips was absolutely grueling. Titles, description and comments celebrating women getting beaten and humiliated, laughing at "bitches" crying, every single PoC being called slurs, teenage boys getting together to drool over bisexual women making out for their entertainment, just a never-ending parade of lechery, mockery and cruelty. I know I shouldn't be reading Youtube comments, but you know what? Me not reading them doesn't mean they're not there.

Youtube isn't some dingy little hate forum. If they can somehow arrange for robots to crawl millions of clips for the further glory of their lord and master Viacom, maybe they can fucking get their shit together and not play host to the worst kinds of bigotry the internet has on offer.

I'm done laughing at it. This shit is too serious. Over ten years of this stuff, at a rate of about three hours a day. I'm not going to make any grand and sweeping statements about what that's done to her perception of the world. But I'm damn sure it's done something.

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