Thursday, August 28, 2014

What Reality TV Has Taught Me

Nature shows used to be  my idea of reality television.  I grew up watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, and while I never enjoyed it when the lions ate the antelope/warthog/water buffalo, such fare helped me to understand how the real world worked.  The real world, I learned, was the mind numbing boredom of watching lions sleep and or groom each other, punctuated by messy moments where something was lunch.

Since animal shows were a vital part of my childhood, I introduced my son to Animal Planet and National Geographic as soon as possible.  Monster Bug Wars was his favorite, but he also enjoyed Meerkat Manor reruns.  The entire family also enjoyed watching Gator Boys, Call of the Wildman, and Finding Bigfoot.  My husband and I watched Steve Irwin back when we were dating; we bonded over our agreement that the man was insane to stick his bare hand into a rattlesnake hideout. We weren't always about the animal shows, either. Ghost Hunters was a hit for awhile, as was the extra-hammy Ghost Adventures.

Before Zane came along, my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed season five of American Idol, because the singers were actually good back then, and we enjoyed the performances. We also loved the train wrecks--people completely clueless that they were tone deaf, people with an overinflated confidence in their abilities(as if just anyone can pick up a microphone and belt out a smokin' hot Whitney Houston number), and those odd people who were allowed to audition just because they looked weird enough to get the producer's attention. Along the way, however, we started to notice that most of those auditioning on camera were the train wrecks, not the contestants who ended up on the show.  

Reality shows have changed over the years, and not for the better.  There are many shows on these days that beg the question, "how far is too far?"  I read about these shows, such as the one where people go on dates while naked, and I wouldn't be surprised to find that alcohol and other substances were involved in its creation. I'm not sure that I want my son to learn the lessons that I have from these reality shows. Here is some of what I've learned:

It's what you look like.  Did you ever notice that there is never an ugly person on some of these reality shows? Everyone looks plastic, manufactured. Even the geek shows, such as Comic Book Guys, make the stars put on a clean shirt and trim their beards.  The Bachelorette, all dressed and pressed, doesn't show up to meet a room full of overweight nerdy guys from the IT department; she is greeted by a room full of gorgeous man meat, especially cleaned up and dressed for her.  Where on earth does that ever happen to the average woman, and can I get a ticket to that place, just to see what it looks like?

Andy Warhol was right.  Everyone gets their fifteen minutes, in the form of a reality show. Anybody can use their cell phone to film someone doing something stupid these days. Some of the shows I've seen advertised have led me to believe that there's a producer waiting in the produce section of the local Walmart, consent forms in hand, cameras at the ready.  That is the only way some of these reality stars could have possibly been "discovered". 

It's all about the drama. Television is all about the drama. That's why television exists in the first place. Every moment on television, something has to happen, or we lose interest.  Even Seinfeld, a show purported to be about nothing, was often about something happening, or at least the character's response to the something. The opposite is true in real life, where nothing happens for long periods, punctuated by the occasional dramatic moments.

Bad manners are entertaining. That has to be the only explanation for some of the behavior I've seen.  Kids say rude things to their parents, or throw huge tantrums. Men get drunk and film their escapades and laugh at the injuries of others. Girls get into cat fights, throwing their shoes and cursing like sailors on shore leave.  The only reality show that reveals the consequences of such behavior in the real world is Cops. If I had imitated the behavior I see on television, I would have been grounded for the rest of my life. At least.

It didn't happen if you edit it out of the scene.  Most reality footage ends up on the cutting room floor.  If it's boring, or doesn't build up the drama, it is cut, plain and simple. Animal shows are the worst, because most animal lives consist of three activities, two of which are eating and sleeping.  Watching things sleep usually puts most people to sleep, so *snip*!  Wouldn't you just love to be able to do that sort of editing in real life?  There would be entire years that I would just want to *snip* right out of my life, and not just because of my poor fashion choices.

Stereotypes? We gots them! Ernie Brown, the star of Call of the Wildman, is called back woods.  He has maybe seven teeth in his head, and he lives in a house that does not appear to have indoor plumbing.  He is a stereotype of the ignorant Kentucky man who lives off the land, but has a heart of gold.  Honey Boo Boo is a stereotype.  The Housefraus of the various Counties are ridiculous stereotypes of the rich wives who have nothing better to do all day long but go to the salon or do lunch. Real women, whatever their income, have a lot more to do with their time. 

Truth is not required.  Many of the dramas that occur on reality shows are fabricated, if the drama doesn't happen on its own. Want some action?  Throw two women who hate each other into the same room!  Know people who are suing each other? Make sure they run into each other in the lobby of the courthouse!  Even the great Walt Disney did it; the myth that lemmings commit suicide as a group began when Disney filmmakers needed a dramatic shot, and drove a bunch of poor lemmings off of a cliff. I'm pretty sure that if the creators of Finding Bigfoot could bus in a primate to stomp around in the woods, they would, just to see who noticed.

Finding Bigfoot is all about fun, and I can say that nobody except the stars seem to be hurt by what they do.  The same can't be said for other "reality" shows.  What sort of message does The Bachelorette send to young women about their bodies?  How many people see American Idol and believe that all they need to make it is to be outrageously crude or pitiful?  How will the couples who meet on Dating Naked describe their romantic beginnings to their children? 

Wouldn't you like to see that on television?  I'd call that show Embarrassing Life Stories Explained to Children. I think it'd be a hit.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Product Review: The Bubba Cup

We use travel tumblers or mugs quite often at our house.  I use one for the water that I drink throughout the day. My husband uses one for his coffee every morning as he is heading off to school. I usually fill one with water for my son as we are heading out to soccer practice.  Travel mugs are made to keep whatever drinks they carry hot or cold, and are also meant to keep the drinks from spilling all over the place when you are driving.  They make life more convenient, and they are environmentally friendly, replacing paper cups or plastic bottles.

As I've said before, summers in Texas are hot.  Probably not as hot as Death "Fry an egg on the sidewalk" Valley hot, but that's a matter of opinion.  It is simply impossible to keep any cold drink cold in the heat of the summer.  The drink in most travel mugs might stay cold for about thirty minutes, until the ice melts, but it is most likely to become lukewarm in second when sitting on a patio or beside you at the pool. Lukewarm tea certainly doesn't taste as good as the iced kind, not to mention the bacteria that starts to multiply in that warm environment.  Most of the travel tumblers we have just cannot keep up with the heat, and I'd resigned myself to only the daydream of a nice cold drink on a hot summer day.

Until I met Bubba. 


We took a travel sized Bubba, pictured above, with us to Fort Worth.  In the morning, I filled the mug with ice and water, and it ended up sitting in our hot car in the inferno that is a Texas summer for around six hours.  When we finally got back to our vehicle, I had no hopes of a nice cold drink, but I was sweaty and parched.  Imagine my surprise when, not only was the water still cold, but the tell tale sound of ice was sliding around in the cup as well! 

You might have met Bubba in his giant sized Keg incarnation, but there are other sizes and styles to fit anyone's fancy.  I have not tried this mug with hot coffee yet, but the instructions say that hot drinks will stay hot.  The only kvetch that I have with some of the Bubba cups is that they are hand wash only, which isn't really that convenient for me.  However, the price is reasonable, and if a person wanted to purchase several mugs, it would be possible to wash all of them at once. 

Nobody from the company paid me for this post.  Nobody gave me a free mug, either, although I wouldn't be unhappy to receive one.  I just like the product, and I'm sharing my happiness.  If you're in the market for a travel mug, look for the Bubba brand. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Adventures before Coffee

The other morning, as I sipped my coffee, I was scrolling through some posts on the Book of Face(thanks Lance!).  One of my friends had posted "It's confirmed, I'm going to be a mommy!" as her status. After the usual immediate stab of deep seated envy(sorry--I just can't help it), I dutifully typed my congratulations in the comments and moved on. 

At least, I tried to move on. My friend later sent me a private message informing me that she had been playing the BREAST CANCER AWARENESS game.  And I lost. My irritation was pre-coffee in its intensity.

These chain things--posts, statuses, letters, emails, whatever--annoy me. Every time I see one of those long rants followed by the requisite "97.4% will never repost" lines, I want to punch someone.  If I don't post, I'm uncool, or evil, or just a very bad person? Is that what you're implying?  Should I feel guilty for not wanting to spread this particular virus? Are we still in middle school? Should I start wearing the same hairstyle and the same clothes as everyone else, too?  Because I think that I still have a few t-shirts from the 80s buried in my closet. 

And breast cancer awareness?  Really? We still need to make people aware that there is breast cancer?  People are practically beating us over the head with ads about breast cancer!  Since breast cancer is the most heavily advertised cancer out there, I am pretty sure that even  babies are born  already aware of it. So why the need to "raise awareness", in a ridiculous "secret" game, no less?

Because I lost and commented, I was now required to choose one from the following and post it as my status:

1) Darn diarrhea 
2) How do you get rid of foot fungus 
3) No toilet paper, so goodbye socks 
4) It's confirmed, I'm going to be a mommy/daddy 
5) Just won $900 on a scratch card 
6) I just found out I've been cheated on for the past 5 months....... 

I was supposed to post one of the above without comment.  The private message ended with the admonishment, "Don't be a spoiled sport, play along with the game".  Which fired up my irritation a second time, and made me want to say unkind things in addition to punching someone.  Again, I'm a bad person if I don't play along with a horrible game? A game involves reciprocity.  To call something like this a game should mean that the person should have a choice to say "no".  As in "No, I will not pander to some vague peer pressure that says that I have to post some random comment in order to avoid social condemnation."  

My rebellious nature wanted to just not pick anything, to blow the entire thing off.  However, in my quest to have a social life, I  have a need to be nice to people who have been nice to me. I sat for at least five minutes staring at my phone, until my husband asked whether I was having a seizure.  Then I had concerns about the people I would upset, based on my choice.  My mother-in-law would send me a 40 page email regarding diarrhea treatments if I posted that status.  My family would lose their minds with concerns about my health if I announced a pregnancy.  Nobody on Planet Earth would believe that Larry would cheat on me.  The scratch card was out.  Foot fungus? As if.

After another five minutes of agonizing,  I posted the one about the toilet paper, deeming it the least obnoxious.  I figured that was the end of that.  I had no plans to do more than that. If anyone commented, I wasn't interested in making them play.  I would fulfill the barest minimum in a passive aggressive attempt to rebel without completely rebelling.  I have issues, and I'm not proud of them, but that was that.  I filed away the entire episode under "Stoopid Things I Do", and promptly forgot about it.   

Then I got a text from my dad.  "Why didn't you have any toilet paper? We brought you a case last week when we went to Sam's, didn't we?"  

New house rule:  No looking at the Book of Face until after lunch.