Smile Politely

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

I don’t even know how to begin describing what went on between me and my TV this past week. 

I was all set to write the ultimate authoritative column on Jon and Kate Plus 8 for you — a column so brimming with wisdom, insight, and finality that nothing else would need to be said about these two ever again. You would’ve liked it, I promise, and the sheer brilliance of it would’ve have forced all other media outlets to halt all coverage of this topic (and I know you would’ve liked that). The editors of People magazine would have exclaimed with certainty, “Amy Lingafelter said everything that needed to be said in the best way possible. We can rest now.”

But alas, last Monday’s epic divorce announcement episode seems like it happened years ago, and last week ended up being, for better and worse, a banner week for some necessary television-watching. From divorcing reality show couples with far too many children to the death of the man with the best beard in infomercials (you know how I feel about infomercials) to the oft-referenced “Rule of Threes” when it comes to celebrity deaths (R.I.P. Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon and yes, number 4, Billy Mays), crazy things happened in this universe last week.  Insanely crazy things, like, I still can’t get my head around the craziness of some of them (including my healthy and informed decision to begin watching Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance). Arguments could be made about the newsworthiness, relevance, and humanity of some of it (um, Jon and Kate), but I spent some serious emotional time being informed of many crazy things by my television this past week. So I guess the ultimate topic of this column is media oversaturation. I was completely riveted and oversaturated. I want you to know:

  1. I can’t write the ultimate authoritative column on shared experiences, and I don’t know that I can say anything eloquent or original about what it “means” to be a member of a generation of Americans, but Michael Jackson was, from start to finish (and to be fair to the art, will be forever), an experience I shared with a whole bunch of people I don’t even know. How we all experienced his life and death is interesting to me. It’s either a great example of the trickiness of human memory and emotion or a psychiatric problem, but I can remember almost every single televised moment of Michael Jackson’s adult life and remember my life at the same time. I have never not known Michael Jackson. He’s like nursery rhymes or Santa Claus — I don’t remember learning about him, I just knew. And I know I’m not the only person for whom seeing the premiere of the 18-minute long “Bad” video on MTV is an important life-anchoring memory. Sha-mon. And his ultimately sad life, the televised news of his death, the coverage, Anderson Cooper and the biographical bits rehashing it all (okay, truth: I had completely forgotten the Lisa Marie Presley marriage until I watched TV nonstop for 10 hours on Thursday), the speculation, the actual airing of his videos on MTV last Thursday, the inevitable backlash against the coverage — all of it became one more giant weird shared experience as well. As in, where were you when you found out Michael Jackson died? Huge talent. Messed-up mind and life. Great argument against childhood stardom.
  1. Which hopefully is not a portentous segue into the craziness that was launched at the beginning of last week by Jon and Kate Plus 8. (I cannot recap the entire Jon and Kate saga for you in this, my abbreviated brilliant diatribe, but I bet you probably already know everything you need to know about it.) The children on the TLC show are definitely stars: hyper-recognizable and so cute and interesting and the ultimate reason for the show’s success. That they basically have not known a life without reality TV camera crews seems like an argument for continuing the show — even if they’re being exploited, wouldn’t it almost be an even bigger disruption to their lives to stop making the show in the middle of their parents’ divorce? Ugh. I won’t lie, I loved the show initially and I do feel like a demon for it. And the train wreck that the adults on the show have created presents me with some thorny issues regarding my complacency in, well, the failure of their marriage. Just because people want to see what happens doesn’t mean they should see what happens, right? I am a huge fan of Michael Apted’s Up series (poor, tragic, weird Neil is in this clip), which, beginning in 1964, follows a group of children as they age, checking in every seven years starting at the age of 7. (Two of the kids are photographed above at age 14.) On a much smaller fame scale (and with the ability to drop out of the project with 21 Up), the kids (now well into their 50s) in this documentary series have had their entire lives televised. They’ve had to answer for and explain their successes and failures to a camera. Most of them have been very honest about how this fact has shaped their lives (seriously, I couldn’t recommend a work of art more — go rent the Up series, please). I might be giving Jon and Kate Gosselin (and TLC) too much credit when I compare the two shows, but Jon and Kate Plus 8 might end up being a very worthwhile rendering of what it means to live your life, the crappy parts and all, in front of a camera. Or, it could just be purely exploitative and evil. 
  1. And, in much less overwhelming TV news, “exploitative and evil” is definitely an appropriate segue into my brief championing of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, a superb dancing-competition-reality-show (oh, whatever) that features regular people that can actually dance, as opposed to ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, which features celebrities like Marie Osmond that might occasionally surprise you with their ability to sort-of dance. SYTYCD’s Cat Deeley is the hot feel-good British reality TV host of the summer. As a coworker of mine likes to note, the judges (Nigel Lythgoe and the certifiably insane Mary Murphy) actually say helpful things to the contestants, unlike another Fox show we know so well. SYTYCD might just be my ticket to a happy summer in which I glean a little more knowledgeable about street dance versus jazz versus ballroom versus whatever.

I won’t be writing about TeeVee for the month of July, watchers. I’ll be teaching summer school English and listening to “Man in the Mirror” and fainting into the arms of Security over and over and over again. July is the cruelest month, breeding all kinds of self-reflection, you know. I’ll see you again in August. Make that change.

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