About a year ago in an AA-style environment, I finally admitted to myself and my friends and henceforth the world that, yes, I am addicted to terrible television. OK, it's kind of nuts for me to be so, what with all of my awareness/complaints about the state of movies today (but then again, who isn't complaining, even if they're not entitled to such opinions.)Reality TV has totally screwed up the system and it's made us dumb viewers focusing on even dumber subjects... and I'm a dumb viewer. I know. I know, I can't help myself. I come home after a long day of work and all I want to do is glaze over and watch dumb shit. My list of favorite shows is long and extensive and deploringly idiotic, mostly punctuated by competition shows: Project Runway, Tabatha's Salon Bitchslap, Shear Genius, Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, I Want to Work for Diddy, Charm School, and my favorite, Rock of Love.
I think the secret to my adoration of these shows is down to something innately simple: they're funny as hell. Put aside everything and ultimately you do see the people involved as characters and boy are they funny. How can you not split sides at that chick on the first season of Rock of Love that had melons so big she looked like she had no room to breathe, or the girl/chef/designer that cannot take criticism if it meant they'd keep from falling into a lava pit (I'm looking at you Kenley!) As an extension of my constant habit of observing human beings like an anthro-psychologist, watching these people on TV is another glorious chance to learn more characters, and of course, be entertained by them. I went to a screening of "Showgirls" at a revival theater once and Rena Riffel spoke; the girl's gorgeous but my god she was dumb as a post. And it was amazing. I could have listened to her talk for hours. If that's my reaction to her, then I shouldn't be surprised that I'm kept glued to a couch when a Rock of Love marathon is on TV. I also like to see insolent and ignorant people (and children) get a deserved smackdown (thanks The Nanny, thanks I Know My Kid's A Star.)
I bring this all up because this week marks the second I have actually sat down and flipped to Paris Hilton's new show "My New BFF" on VH1 yesterday. Oh god. It's so bad. I cringe. It hurts. I just know that I won't be able to stop watching.
It primarily fulfills that first requirement of how to get Leetal to love you. Be a visual, visible, shining example of the worst of the world, so that I may watch and comment and loathe and glee in your pain. Because this culture of the new millenium valley-girl is on TV and not in my real life, I am safe and therefore happy to ridicule how you (the contestant) elongate every vowel in the English language and are unable to see how everyone is using you and you have no friends, and still manage to vainly attempt to defend your honor at every turn when, sorry honey, it was never there to begin with. What's different is that, like everything Paris touches (there SERIOUSLY IS a Paris Hilton Midas Touch, I'm telling you) it is unabashedly unafraid to be vapid and flimsy. It likes that it's only concerned with partying and elitism. It's proud to wear pink. Freakily enough, with this attitude comes a slight tone change in the show and the results are rather creepy. What the hell? While Rock of Love indulged in underscored sexism by the view of an observer who let the girls prove themselves idiots, My New BFF is completely encouraging of everyone's actions, actively participating in the hazing, the camera is the Burn Book incarnate.
It IS creepy and you know why? Because of the role model strength that Paris Hilton unfortunately holds. In the second episode, every girl proposed a toast to Paris and called her an inspiration and a role model and beautiful and a goal to genuinely set your life to becoming. And these girls are in their early 20's. Not only has Paris done nothing in her life to actually deserve her wealth and fame, she got it from infamy, sex, and stupidity (her show really is an echo of her...) What about MTV's main audience, the teens and even pre-teens? My New BFF showcases Paris and all of her minions as these heroes, and anyone who doesn't play along is a bitch or a virgin. I'm sorry but this kind of pandering to teens is screwed up. They're already judgemental enough, Paris Hilton's show is not a reflection but an exaggeration of that horribly immature high-school caste system but with no consequences, absolutely no grounding in reality, and offers a reward in the end, Paris's affection, entry into the Popular Crowd. If only there was some inkling that it wasn't just about being popular, that it was about being a personality-filled, entertaining, political, and people-savvy person. The direction of this show scares me a lot, and is part of a bigger problem that scares me a lot more: The Privileged Teen as a role model.
Privileged Teen entertainment is this obnoxious trend I've been seeing where all the entertainment to teens is about characters that are richer, stronger, and have more stuff than them, and take all of it for granted. Gossip Girl, My Super Sweet 16, the OC, 90210, Privileged... it seems to the networks that the only thing kids want to watch are shows about what they don't have, and because the characters are born in money and throw it around so, it gives the impression not of the American Dream but of American Entitlement, that we are all entitled to be rich assholes. Invariably, kids may start to think they are rich assholes, even though they may be in the poorhouse (thanks credit cards!). If kids feel they deserve to be rich and famous, instead of believing in the work that is involved, instead of saving the money from their Starbucks job in a savings account, they go and spend it on $500 sneakers and a $200 Jesus chain because that's what culture told them is more important.
I just wish materialism wasn't so hot on the American agenda. There is nothing emptier than the eyes of a contestant on My New BFF when she accepts that Tiffany ring Paris bought her, overdoses on Paris's fake praise, and calls it love.