Thursday, December 29, 2005

Redemption TV

I have always preferred Japanese reality TV to its timid American counterpart. Years ago I saw a program in which two men with
no common language (one was Japanese, the other a Cantonese speaker from Hong Kong) were blindfolded and flown to a foreign country. Their mutual task: get to Stockholm by any means but air transportation. They had been dropped in (unknown to them) South Africa, which is particularly dastardly when you think about it.

The American version of this — The Amazing Race — was a complete failure of imagination by comparison. And never mind the bikini girls dunked in vats of hot water — what about
the brilliant Don't Do It, Electroboy in which a young man is placed in a room and must provide for himself by winning sweepstakes? The chubby young man's first win was a pair of women's panties. And not a bad win it was, as he began the program with nothing but what was necessary to enter the sweepstakes.

That's my kind of makeover: naked Japanese guy wins a pair of panties. Seeing some marketing assistant get a $500 haircut, not so exciting. But now that I've witnessed the taping of exactly that kind of show I confess to a certain fascination. I'd tell you which show it was if only I knew. I don't know and sort of don't want to. It was just an odd coincidence that they happened to tape part of an episode in my bar a few Sundays ago.

Concept: young lady goes through breakup, is depressed, then is rescued by friends and reality TV pros; gym, hair, makeup, dress; she then has her coming out party at my bar, dancing away a wild Friday night to live music.

Only it was Sunday afternoon, still light even at this time of year. Easy enough to make it look like Friday night, to make a handful of Makeover Girl's friends look like a crowd. Easy enough to hire a band for the afternoon.

What wasn't so easy was to get Makeover Girl's two closest friends to say something, anything, appropriate to the program or even coherent. These additional marketing assistants were dressed just as you might be for a wild Friday night of dancing. Well, maybe not as you might be, but as a 20-something marketing assistant living in New York might be. The first — Makeover Girl's best girlfriend — was sporting some sort of hydraulic Wonder Bra and as assets-forward as that was she found it necessary also to talk about her breasts, as well as those belonging to her friend.

I hope that Amy is wearing something tight and rocking her ta-ta's ... because that's something we both have ... ...

There was no script. If only! But there was a great deal of coaching. Okay, tell us what you think Amy will look like when she gets here ... What do you hope she will be wearing? ... Okay, say something about her "depression sweatpants" ... What about her makeup? Say something about her makeup. And, Okay, what else about the ta-ta's?

I hope that Amy is really rocking her ta-ta's ... because that's something we both have ....... and enjoy!

Next up was Best Friend's boyfriend. How do you hope Amy will look tonight?

I hope Amy's up off that couch and ... umm ... dancing like wild ... umm ... having a great time!

Okay ... tell us what you hope she will look like. And say something about the sweatpants.

Oh ... I hope Amy is out of her sweatpants and ... I hope Amy's taken a shower ... I hope she looks more like she used to in college ... and she's ... umm ... out of those sweatpants!

I found these performances after a
while to be kind of touching. These people wanted to be on television so badly and so desperately wanted to please the director and producer. It was at this point that I realized that this was not a reality TV show, but a hyperreality TV show. What made it "real" wasn't the fact that they were "real people." What made it "real" was that it was on TV. This was Jerry Springer for college graduates: makeovers instead of paternity tests.

We were at this point still waiting for Amy to arrive. The producer made efficient use of time by taping Best Friend and BF's boyfriend's reactions to seeing Amy before they had seen the results of her makeover. This was when the serious product placement began.

Okay, tell us what you thought when you first saw Amy.

Umm ... okay ... Ohmigod! Amy looked fabulous! Ohmigod! And her hair ... her hair was great ...

Her hair by Michael Angelo ...

Right. Ohmigod! Her her by Michael Angelo looked so amazing! And ...

Say something about her dress.

Right. Okay. Ohmigod! Her dress! Amy looked so hot in her dress ...

Her dress ... Marc by Marc Jacobs

Right. Amy's Marc by Marc Jacobs dress was so hot!

And so on.

During all of this I had to contend with a very rude woman, someone I took to be one of Amy's friends, someone who had already had far too many makeovers, all seemingly applied atop one another. She was just too ... too much makeup, too many items of clothing, too many hair products, too loud a voice. It should not have been my concern that she ruined take after take by talking at an obliviously high volume, but this sort of thing bugs me, so I tried to nudge her into consideration. Once the takes were taken, Wendy chatted me up.

Wendy: So, is this bar always closed on Sundays?
Trey: Actually, it's never open. It's not really a bar at all. There's so much TV and film going on in the West Village now that several production companies chipped in and built this place just as a set.
Wendy: Oh! So ... you're an actor?
Trey: Maybe you've seen my Amaretto di Saronno commercial? (gestures to imaginary customers) Di Saronno martini, Di Saronno sour ... Di Saronno on the rocks.
Wendy: Oh my GAWD!

Wendy played a major role in the rest of the program. It was she who introduced Amy upon her arrival. Wendy was told to enter the bar, take one step forward and say Hey, everyone! Here's Amy! Wendy took not one step but six or seven and walked right past the camera before delivering her line. Incredibly, she did this three times before getting it right. She also managed to flub the band's name four or five times.

Eventually Wendy's tasks were completed successfully and Amy and her friends pretended to have a wildcrazyfun time dancing Friday night away on Sunday afternoon, which is probably exactly what they do on Friday nights, too. Amy was confident with her Michael Angelo hair and Marc by Marc Jacobs dress and came right up to the bar to get a "cosmo shot and a Corona Light," for the time had come for the band to pretend to ask Amy to sing a song with them. She belted out Summertime and I mean she belted it. It was if she had saved every bit of breath for this one moment. Maybe she had. Amy's TV moment. She's a star. This is reality.

I'm pretty sure that Amy's performance was not intended to conjure thoughts of the Frankfurt School in any way, but as I heard her answer the musical question, What if Minnie Ripperton had gone to Syracuse on money from her dad's Buick dealership, all I could think of was Adorno: "At the last, soul itself is the longing of the soulless for redemption."

That's it. It's not Reality TV, it's Redemption TV.

Oh, and Wendy. She turned out not to be a friend of Amy's at all. She turned out to the be the host of the show. She turned out to be the person who is paid $20,000 per week.


Blogger Mr. H.K. said...

Happy New Year, you two!


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