Sorry for the unexcused absence, everyone. I’m out of town. I’ve just been in Portland, where something in the tap water had me considering becoming a Suicide Girl and listening to Wilco, and now I’m in San Diego, where something in the tap water is making me think I should listen to Sublime and 311 and get a tattoo on my lower back. Good thing I’m going back to Atlanta on Monday, where the tap water just makes me want to drink microbrews with stupid names and pretend to like bluegrass (I can resist the tattoo for a few more days). That shouldn’t be too bad, at least until I go back to New York, where the tap water just makes me think I’m better than everyone else.
Back to MTV.
After Tila Tequila I watched a show called The X-Effect. The premise on this show is that two people who used to date and are now with other people hang out at a posh resort for a weekend to see if they still have unresolved feelings for each other. Or to see if MTV can manipulate them into getting naked. How this works out is that MTV brings both couples to the resort, tells the two exes that they are going to be spending the weekend together at the place, sends their significant others (SOs) away in a car, then turns the car around and brings the SOs back to another room at the same resort, where they will be sequestered for the duration of the weekend and from which they will be able to spy on their mates in various ways.
For example, the SOs will be given the option of sending the exes a bottle of champagne in a bucket with a hidden microphone that will allow them to hear the conversation that takes place over the bottle. Or the two SOs will be given the option to spy on their mates from their room, but are forced to choose between hearing the audio or seeing the video, not both. Their room is also outfitted with a lamp that lights up whenever their mates touch, which the lamp knows because the exes are wearing bracelets that detect such things, bracelets they’ve been told are really VIP wristbands that will allow them to charge everything to their room (dumbasses). The SOs will also often be offered the chance to choose the activities their mates will participate in, with one innocuous choice and one “sexy” one, say bocce ball or a couple’s spa day, respectively. The deal is, though, that the SOs won’t get to watch them if they play bocce ball, but will if they go for the couple’s massage or almost-nude photo shoot.
The exes are set up for two days in obscenely opulent surroundings, given every accoutrement they need to create the most romantic (at least in the mind of someone who is into Beyonce) environment possible, and pumped full of booze and bad ideas, then put into compromising positions in which they think they have privacy. In each episode, just to give one example, the couple is told on their second day that the hotel is having some kind of problem and that their previous room, the one with the separate beds, will no longer be available. The couple will, however, be offered the honeymoon suite (har har har), which has just one big, fancy bed and some couches (to be used in the unlikely event that the exes should choose not to behave like amoral assholes).The SOs are given constant updates on the exes via a computer screen with a diagram of the honeymoon suite that indicates the location of their mates.
The SOs are locked up in a room that they can’t leave, lest they interrupt their mates’ activities, and are also pumped full of booze and bad ideas. They are constantly sitting together, drunk, watching their mates succumb to one degree or another to ridiculously manufactured temptations, and are forced to decide whether to push their mates even further (by sending them champagne or choosing a couple’s bathing suit photo shoot or massage lessons as their mates’ activities) so that they can spy on them or to trust them and not spy on them (which none of them do, whether because human nature won’t allow it or because it would make for a boring show).
And — surprise, surprise — the SOs often get pissed off and end up getting naked with each other out of spite and drunkenness.
When it’s all over, the SOs confront the exes. It’s usually at this point that the SOs tell their mates’ exes that they saw them or heard them behaving inappropriately but that it’s all good because “while you were with my girlfriend/boyfriend, I was with yours all weekend.” Mmmhmm! Then the couples meet and the borderline (or not-so-borderline) cheater makes the call whether to get back with their ex or stay with their current mate. You know, because the one who has been caught on video having acted a fool all weekend should be the one deciding the fate of the relationship, rather than allowing the person who has been betrayed to decide whether they want to stay with someone who has cheated on them and humiliated them on national television.
So basically, the goal of the show is to completely destroy as many relationships as possible by placing them under absurdly heavy strains that could never exist in real life.
In the first episode I watched the two exes didn’t get too crazy. I mean, the dude wrote his ex a poem about how he hoped they’d get back together one day and tried to manipulate her into sleeping in the same bed with him in the honeymoon suite by getting in it and giving her the couch, but nothing happened. Not so with the SOs, though. The dude, seeing that his girlfriend was resisting her ex’s advances, still decided to step up and… comfort the woman who had just heard her boyfriend recite a corny poem to his ex-girlfriend. She ended up getting into some lingerie and giving the SO dude a massage, which, of course, MTV showed us. At the confrontation, her poem-recitin’ boyfriend said he wanted to stay with her, but she told him to do one (good for her, but too bad she had to get used publicly by the other dude in the process). The other girl decided to stay with her current boyfriend, and he accepted, but he’d clearly cheated on her. The end result? Both women ended up looking like fools and the SO dude looks like a pimp (Gs up, hos down and shit). Shocking, I know.
The next episode was pretty heinous. I’m willing to bet thousands of dollars that the two exes were from New Jersey. The dude was losing his hair (despite an exceedingly low brow), had an obvious steroid problem, and was really into ribbed shirts. The woman was that special shade of orange that only Jersey tanning salons seem able to create, had hair that looked like it’d been bleached weekly with 90 volume peroxide for 7 or 8 years, and wore clothes that would make Christina Aguilera say, “She looks so trashy.” They should never have broken up. It’s all good, though, because they ended up having sex in a bathtub, which their SOs got to watch. After doing a couple’s bathing suit photo shoot, that is, which might have been the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. The dude basically grabbed the woman from behind by the hips like he was about to mount her, then bit her on the ass. Freeze frame!
The SOs spent the whole time being drunk and pissed off, but it all worked out at the confrontation. The dudes met on a pier, where I was really hoping one would throw the other into the water. (Close, but no cigar.) The SO told the ex that he’d seen him making out with his girlfriend on camera, but that it was cool because he’d spent the weekend making out with the ex’s girlfriend in a hot tub and, “you know, sleeping with her, everything.” The best part was that the ex, even after being told he’d been busted cheating on his new girlfriend, got all possessive and pissed when he heard that she’d been doing the same after seeing him do so.
When the couples met back up, the exes chose to dump their new mates and get back together. The SOs didn’t give a fuck, though, because they liked each other better than they had liked the other two. No sour grapes at all. True fucking love.
What an asshole party, right?
MTV is teaching us about love. I often wonder whether pop culture trends create, reflect, or reinforce social trends. I don’t hang out with enough gym enthusiasts to say for certain, but I think MTV’s version of love might mean that, if they haven’t already, human beings are losing the plot. If the kids being raised on MTV today pick up what the channel’s producers are laying down with regard to intimate relationships, we’re all going to die. People are going to end up hosing around so much that they all get AIDS, and those who don’t are going to kill each other in jealous rages or kill themselves once they realize they’ve wasted their youth having sex with creatine and Botox abusers.
But even if that doesn’t happen, how responsible is it to put people in the positions MTV puts people in on these shows? I know that people sign up for these things knowing that there’s likely some drama in store, but it often seems like a pretty bad bargain for the participants. I wonder if, when these people sign up for the show, they’re aware of the fact that the producers consider the destruction of their relationships to be the ideal outcome for the episode. It seems clear that most of them just sign up just for the chance to be on television, but I doubt that all four participants in a given show expect that they’ll be trading in their relationships and dignity on that opportunity.
MTV does the same thing in this show that they do on A Shot at Love: they sequester the participants, don’t allow them to get enough sleep, keep them drunk, and play on their emotional vulnerabilities in order to create the most explosive outcomes possible, whatever personal hardships that may entail for the participants. Has anyone gone home from one of these shows and offed her/himself? Has anyone gone home and assaulted or nearly killed his/her partner? Has anyone gone home and found her/himself unable to deal with the emotional consequences of what happened on the show and the fact that it was broadcast nationwide?
Does MTV pay psychologists’ bills for the show participants who need professional help to deal with the aftermath? Of course not. They make the participants sign releases absolving MTV of any responsibility for what occurs after they get done orchestrating catastrophes in people’s lives for profit. MTV doesn’t give a fuck about the people they manipulate and use to make money, nor do they give a fuck about the impact of their product on their audience. I love the free market.
This shit is just so fucking mean-spirited. I don’t get excited by seeing people suffer. I admit that I like to watch Party Heat and Cops sometimes, but the situations drunken rednecks on those shows find themselves in are all of their own making. MTV — and the other networks responsible for reality TV — on the other hand, are intentionally manipulating circumstances to create emotionally abusive situations, situations that often exceed what the average person would be able to process and handle with any sort of equanimity. In the process, they’re feeding the public’s desire for ever more sensationalistic bullshit and simultaneously creating new standards of depravity and recklessness among the most impressionable of audiences: adolescents.
I’m not going to argue that the people who participate in these shows are innocent bystanders and that MTV is solely to blame for their suffering, but it is wildly irresponsible of MTV to willfully destroy intimate relationships and then present the depraved behavior they’ve managed to push people into to the teenage public as a matter of course, or even as some kind of ideal. Complete disregard for the feelings of others, extreme selfishness, and totally unreflective promiscuity don’t seem to be out of keeping with MTV’s version of “love.” I don’t know whether that’s any shittier than the unrealistic and shallow (and gender role-reinforcing) picture of love of fairy tales, but I do know that it sucks.
That we’re supposed to rejoice at the reunion of lovers after they’ve been dry humping people outside the relationship for a weekend is pretty fucking insulting. But not only that, it’s boring. You always know what’s going to happen on an MTV show: the “hottest” (female) and least ethical (male) one wins, whatever the prize happens to be (no matter how ambiguous the value of the prize – can one really be said to have “won” when one gets the opportunity to continue a relationship with someone who has been making out with someone else all weekend?).
And that leads me to… Date My Mom.
To be continued…