Tuesday, May 19, 2009

People Will See Me and Cry

In case you’ve been reading Remembrance of Things Past lately, let me bring you up to speed on Jon and Kate Gosselin: either the husband in America’s Most Overexposed Family has a girlfriend, or he does not. Or maybe Kate Gosselin, patron saint for caponizing harpies everywhere, has been dating her bodyguard. Or maybe this is all just a ploy to make sure everyone is watching their show when it comes back on the air next week. The timing of the scandal lends credence to it being a marketing maneuver but if Kate has been faking her general air of shrill misery for the last season I'd pay to see her interpretation of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” In sum, they are probably wildly unhappy and are seeing this play out in the same format in which they have lived their lives for the past four years -- the public eye.

Kate even got the cover of People magazine for this sordid business which must have just driven the Kardashian family insane. In the event you haven’t read the article, here’s what Kate needs you to know: It’s Jon’s fault; he hates to participate in the speaking engagements; he’s never made as much money as she has; he’s constantly whining about how unhappy he is and she knows he’s choosing to feel this way. Also, she’s pretty certain he’s cheated. She, on the other hand, has been a blameless rock, soldiering on, creating the show which she’s only doing to provide for her children.

And how is this affecting the children? According to Kate, they’re fine because she’s doing major emotional support of them, talking to them on the phone in her spare time.

[God, I wish I had just made that up. I can only imagine the expression on her PR handler’s face when she came up with that.]

Again, according to Kate, the kids are fine because they go to a school where no one cares about the tabloids. We can assume her neighbors spend all the time in a check-out line reading the folic-acid content on their cereal boxes. We can also assume they don’t read People magazine either and that no one in the school is going to tell these children their mother thinks their father is an unfaithful, depressed ne’er-do-well. They live in Pennsylvania. Perhaps the school is mostly Amish.

What you don’t hear in the story, in any way, shape or form, is Kate saying “I wish I had never started on this stupid reality-show train.” Maybe she said it, and the reporter didn’t use the quote but I don't think so; it would have made a nifty tag line. Maybe she feels some great responsibility to not bite the hand that’s feeding her somewhere between $25,000 to $50,000 a week. Or maybe she has regrets in life but making her family a media commodity isn’t one of them.

Look at the following character traits:

Believing that you're better than others
Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
Exaggerating your achievements or talents
Expecting constant praise and admiration
Believing that you're special
Failing to recognize other people's emotions and feelings
Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans
Taking advantage of others
Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior
Being jealous of others
Believing that others are jealous of you
Trouble keeping healthy relationships
Setting unrealistic goals
Being easily hurt and rejected
Having a fragile self-esteem
Appearing as tough-minded or unemotional

No, this isn’t a casting call-sheet for the next season of “Real Housewives”. These are the clinical symptoms for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Of course, I’m not a doctor, not even on TV, and I know those shows are constructed for conflict and then edited to maximize the drama so I’m not saying all of those people are untreated narcissists. I tend to believe most of them were just garden-variety aggravating before getting picked for a show. But once they got on television some hellish mix of the producer’s encouragement and their own weaknesses led them to behave like five year-olds after back-to-back birthday parties. Because the narcissists are the most entertaining to watch and anyone longing for some kind of stardom has twenty years of reality shows from which to cherry-pick the best bad behavior, the results continue to draw a crowd.

“The Real World” was dumb, but like many dumb things it was remarkably potent. It began on May 21st, 1992 and was based on the simple premise that if you jam attractive young people with different views together in a confined space they will either have sex or kill each other; and either will be fun to watch.

[I find it interesting that one of the seminal reality shows was created because the producers realized they couldn’t afford to do a soap opera for teens.]

"The Real World" was wildly successful and ran all the time. Soon enough, there was “Real World: Los Angeles” and “Real World: San Francisco” and so on. It's still running. The show is a marvel of stock characters; Virgin, Christian, Trollop, Gay, Instigator. It’s Commedia Dell’Arte for the Clearasil set. And the kids watched and they learned. This reality-show format was creating its own language and, as with any language, it’s easier for the young to learn a new one.

I was twenty-four when the show went on the air -- the last generation who didn’t grow up with “Reality-television star” as a career choice. I have a friend who teaches high-school in a lower middle-class neighborhood and he told me fifteen to twenty percent of his students, when asked what they want to be after school, say “Famous.” Why shouldn’t they? If you’re attractive and loud enough there is no reason to think someone won’t hand you a show. In some ways, this is even more democratically American than voting. If you are convicted of a felony you can’t vote; I think a felony conviction slightly increases your odds of a reality show.

A friend of mine once asked her eleven year-old what she liked about the sitcoms geared towards her age group. Her daughter answered, “They show me how to be a teenager.” My friend rewarded this cogent and mature answer with a long mother-daughter walk and a very boring lecture. But the girl was right. Television is one of the places our children visit on a regular basis to figure out how to be adults, and reality television is telling them that throwing tantrums in public is a path to success.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m sneering at myself, “Quinn, you flagrant hypocrite. You of the self-centered blog, self-centered Tweeter, self-centered entire stinking book, how are you different than these people who long for shows dedicated to themselves?” Here’s my justification for separating me from them: my art, such as it is, is the writing. I write about myself because I’m too timid to go to a war zone and write about that. And I keep doing stupid things I think might be entertaining to read about. If you are on a reality show, it’s understood that you need do nothing more than exist. You might be a would-be rapper, or clothing designer or best friend to Paris Hilton, but in the end your finest creation is you, behaving badly in front of a camera. That is more than enough.

Americans have always thought themselves to be special. In 1630, John Winthrop told the Puritans who were about to disembark from the Arbella and form what became the Massachusetts Bay Colony, “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.” We still expect eyes to be upon us. It’s just that almost four hundred years later, the city on the hill is now an underdressed woman with bleached teeth and a camera crew demanding of a nightclub bouncer, “ You have to let me in. Don’t you know who I am?”

I do. She’s a cardboard city on a hill, a Potemkin village in the suburbs of the American dream.


Blogger Judy said...

Oh, Quinn. This was GREAT.

I wish you would call Kate and give her an earful.

Although, I don't think she listens to anyone but her inner-ATM.

2:24 PM  
Blogger badrhinogillett said...

The difference between your blog and book and Kate is that you didn't give birth to a cash cow. Any mention of Daughter is only to illustrate something comical about yourself.

Kate looked at the children she is supposed to provide for and decided that they could provide for her instead.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm not a big fan of reality TV. I've never seen a Real World anywhere, nor have I ever watched John & Kate. I've never even seen them on talk shows. But I sure have read a lot about then on blogs and nothing nice is ever said when discussing them. She sounds like a real shrew, he sounds like a weak, henpecked slacker.

But your narcissistic personality comment? This is why my son and I LOVE Big Brother. I watch it every summer and I cannot believe how shallow the people are, and now narcissistic they are. It's a riot, although totally formulaic. When they have a REALLY good player, like Dr Will or Dick, and the house is totally shaken up my their manipulations it's actually like watching a psych experiment in action.

I also watch Amazing Race, but that's more for the geography than anything else. I live vicariously through that show.

3:17 PM  
Blogger Lefty said...

Well put!

This is the second time today that John Winthrop has come up. Hmm...

I'm guessing you've read Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates (not that you'd have to in order to quote Winthrop).

Thanks for this.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Glenda said...

I've been hooked on reality TV since "an American Family", a documentary about the Loud family on PBS - must have been on in the early 70's. Kate has managed to parlay her fame into free trips for the family and lots of personal appearances for her. Their lives have changed - and not in a good way. I still enjoy watching other TLC families - The Roloffs, the family with 18 kids (yikes) and the family on "Table for 12" don't seem to be preening for the cameras. At least not yet.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Lene Andersen said...

Wonderful post!

I'm pretty up on reality TV (watch Survivor, The Amazing Race religiously), but I still don't know who Kate and Jon are. Somehow, I've completely missed their part in the last 4 years. From your description, I'm glad I did.

5:28 PM  
Blogger Dodi said...

This is probably one of my favorite of your blog entries.

(Do you ever watch "The Soup"? Last year he made a joke about Jon and Kate Plus Eight having a spinoff called 'Jon minus Nine'. Funny at the time.)

6:51 PM  
Anonymous FurBabyMom said...

Great post Quinn. Thank you for logically and succinctly putting into words the feelings of irritation and annoyance I have been feeling recently about Jon and Kate (they seem to be everywhere lately). I'm just disgusted that their exploits sell magazines and things...but then again when it comes to Hollywood nothing much surprises me. It's the Gosselin children I feel badly for, growing up in such an unnatural and unhealthy environment. I predict much psychotherapy is in store for these children when they try to navigate adulthood.

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

okay, it was a few posts back, where you wondered if there were others like you? in the fostering of pets (especially cats), no way, but it my disbelief that we as TV consumers lap up this garbage that Kate Gosselin throws at us each week...absolutely!
She (and her 'style') just frighten me in a way that makes me very uncomfortable. The best I can do is just to say, "she's just not nice." And she's (they) are raising those sweet kids. Yeek! Jon just cowers. And stays out of her way...
a fabulous post!

3:06 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

Great post! You hit all the nails on the head!

4:42 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

Quinn, there is a vast difference between including Daughter in your writing, and using your children as your meal ticket.

Oh those poor Gosselin children! They would be far better off having a mother more like yourself; one who taught her child such values as kindness, tolerance, thoughtfulness, and the importance of giving of herself (in volunteerism etc).

You are right on the money about all this reality television.

By the way, can't wait for the book! Reading this blog has given me countless hours of just plain fun!

6:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems more and more that people are rewarded for bad behavior.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Melanie said...

This was really mean. I usually love your blog, but this was just really, really mean. I can't remember reading something of yours that was so hurtful to one particular person before. Especially someone going through a difficult time. Way to kick her when she's down.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

BRAVA!!!I need say nothing else.

7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Melanie - KG isn't down. She's using a "bad" (and also completed crafted) situation to her advantage. It's keeping her in the public eye and on the public's tongue. I don't feel bad for her or JG at all...I feel bad for the kids.

And Quinn, I love this blog. I watch very little "reality" television, figuring I live in reality..why do I want to watch it on TV? Though I do love the Real World and The Hills...but I'm pretty sure that's not reality.

Keep up the great writing. (Did you know KG grew up in a trailer park? And that she hadn't been on a plane until her honeymoon? She's taking hold of her 15 minutes to the best of her ability.)

8:05 AM  
Anonymous sarawr said...

Thank you, very much, for making me think.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Kar said...

Quinn, well said. The Dionnes would no doubt agree- http://tinyurl.com/pz33u9

8:26 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

I just cannot quit on this one.

Wbere exactly is the government in all this? Usually, I lean towards the libertarians (not enough to actually know how to spell it), but, there certainly need to be laws about how often these children are in front of the cameras.

Where can they flee to when they just want to be left alone?

Not home!

Everything that has ever been on that show will follow those kids for the rest of their lives.

I, for one, and happy to know that MY potty training was not recorded and watched by millions.

Apparently, Pennsylvania has no law protecting it's most vulnerable little workers.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Pamela said...

Great post.

I remember, years ago, seeing a show where Diane Sawyer was interviewing a serial killer and I remember thinking: have we gone down so low as a nation that we are putting killers on TV for entertainment? When someone mentioned this to another journalist, that person said that this wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for the fact that people want to see it.

I use to watch “Survivor” and I still, occasionally, catch “The Amazing Race”. I have never seen “Real World” or “Big Brother” or "Jon & Kate". I’ve recently heard of a new reality show starting this summer which has celebrities on an island and people at home can vote as to how they want those celebrities to be tortured. Can you say that we have gone down to crud level? What about the show “Who’s My Daddy” (actual show title may not be correct) which was on Fox or WB a few years ago. The reality show was about a young, adopted woman who had to find her real dad by picking from a slew of several men. I don’t think it lasted because I don’t remember hearing about it later.

The fact is if we as a nation were not watching this stuff, then it wouldn’t be on TV and that is what I find fascinating.


7:20 AM  
Blogger Dawn Maria said...

This post makes me feel validated Quinn. I wrote about the Gosselins on my own blog just days before you did and I had a link to the narcissist site. So now I know great minds think alike! (That's yours and mine, not Jon & Kate's.)

Kidding aside, I think the heart of the issue is whether or not your personal life should be the source of your livelihood. Parents shouldn't need help from the kids to pay bills or hire a personal trainer. I hope someone pulls the plug before those kids are too damaged.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous The Preppy Princess said...

Lord, what an amazing post, you articulated perfectly what millions of people are thinking. Perhaps their beliefs are not as well defined as your post, but similar sentiments nonetheless.

Maybe it isn't even millions of people, just a couple hundred thousand, there's a dreary concept.

And while we're not as familiar with your work as we would like to be (and intend to become), we're fairly comfortable your work and Kate's are not even in the same solar system.

BTW, your recap/update/explainer has saved us any investment of time to hear her side of the story!

Hope your weekend is spectacular,

5:13 PM  
Blogger Narya said...

I have no clue at all who the Gosselins are (and I'm probably happier for that, by the sound of it).

I was more taken by the "learning to be a teenager" comment--because what I was learning from TV but more (MUCH more) from my family was how to be an adult. Of course, I'm old (50), and the market for teenage-specific stuff was structured very differently. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it's difficult to teach kids how to be (responsible, trustworthy, honest, etc.) adults if the people around them aren't actually displaying that behavior.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Tracey said...

Yes. Beautifully put. Adding you to my rss reader when I get home!

8:42 AM  
Blogger Jakarta Rocks said...

Fantastic. I only allow 1 hour of tv a day, but I have a 10 year old. I will be more wary about the "hannah Montanas' that influence her......very thought provoking.

10:51 PM  
Blogger Melodee said...

Great post.

Also, that list of character traits? That's my sister. I only just realized there was a name for what she is recently.

12:48 AM  
Blogger Perpetually perplexed said...

Aughh, Jon & Kate, what a complete mess, awful, uncomfortable and a shame. Those kids will grow up, they will watch the episodes and wonder whyTF their parents allowed/encouraged/wanted/enabled that to be filmed.

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As if Jon and Kate don't provide enough viewable narcissism, today (5/30) I read this headline on MSN: "Report: Nadya Suleman confirms reality TV deal"

report link: http://tv.msn.com/tv/article.aspx?news=411830&gt1=2810

Now, THOSE poor children! Aarrrgh!! That woman as a mother scares the heck out of me.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey...weren't you Kristi McNichol's sister on that show "Eight is enough" or"Family Ties" or some family show? You were great!

11:46 PM  

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