Do We Hate Women This Much?

My wife and I don’t have cable.

I view this as a good thing because gone are the nights of watching something just because it’s on.  (Oh, a 36-hour marathon of Law and Order, Extra Sassy Unit?  SCORE.)  If we want to watch something, we have to seek it out.  But it’s also a bad thing, because there are times when there is a serious dearth of decent entertainment to be had, and that time is the summer time.

Anyway, if you, like we do, get your programming on a streaming device, you know the glory of the commercials that you see five, six, twenty times in an evening.  The computer tailors ads to your interests and funnels them into your eyeholes, banking I suppose on the law of averages; if I see the ad enough times, I’ll just go ahead and buy / watch / ingest the damn thing.  One thing I won’t ingest, however, is the show on the advertisements of the last couple of weeks, Celebrity Wife Swap.

A brief sidebar.  As a creative type, I think — and it may be wishful thinking, I’ll grant you, but that won’t stop me thinking it — that Reality TV may have run its course.  It’ll kick around and thrash in its grave for a little while longer, and we’re certainly not done with the likes of rinkydink shows like Duck Dynasty or Pawn Stars, but the days of Reality dominating the discussion are over.  Recent ratings of powerhouses like American Idol and others tell me that.  The fact that a bizarre, quirky, what-seems-like-it-should-be-a-niche-diversion show like The Big Bang Theory can run the show when it’s airing tells me that.  But that doesn’t stop the Reality ship from setting out to sea again, like the Exxon Valdez transporting its load of hey-you-need-this-stuff-for-real on a crash course with your unsuspecting occipital lobes.

/soapbox on

I won’t be watching Celebrity Wife Swap, in the first place because it’s just another Reality show putting “ordinary” people in “everyday” situations and I have real fargoing life if I want to see that.  But this show has really struck a nerve with me, and I’ve not even watched an episode (I don’t even know if it’s a first run or if it’s back for another “unbelievable” season).  To be clear, it’s struck two nerves.  One: can our entertainment-obsessed society delegitimize women ANY MORE?  Two (and it’s a far lesser concern than the first point, but it still irks): it seems on the surface like the worst kind of celebrity worship extant.

Let’s start with marginalizing women.  It’s not bad enough that our “great” nation’s highest court has just placed the rights of intangible corporations above the rights of women, or that women’s roles in narrative entertainment are always viewed and evaluated through a male gaze, but now for your evening entertainment, we have Wife Swap, a show whose very title is working to shoot Feminism in the kneecaps in between adverts for spaghetti sauce and overpriced luxury sedans.  If you’re a regular reader of the blarg here, you know I’m an English teacher, and as an English teacher, I tend to fixate on language.  The way things are said matters.  Think about the LANGUAGE OF THE TITLE OF THIS SHOW.  Celebrity Wife Swap.  “Swap.”  What do you swap?  Property, first and foremost.  The searing I-can-hardly-call-it-subtext-with-a-straight-face subtext of the title says that YOUR WIFE IS YOUR PROPERTY.  Brilliant, I knew there was a reason I married my wife.  Now I remember, it’s because I got sixteen acres of land and a couple of donkeys into the deal.  Wait, no I didn’t, because it isn’t THE FARGOING DARK AGES ANYMORE.  The last time people were considered property in this country, I’m pretty sure there was a pretty significant disagreement over it, and that disagreement reached the conclusion that hey, no, people aren’t property.

To dig further into the entrails of this fetid carcass of a show title, what sort of property do you “swap?”  The kind of property that has no practical value to you anymore.  The toys that you’re done playing with.  The intrinsically worthless “collector’s items” that you’re hoarding for no reason other than that they’re “exclusive” or “limited edition.”  “Swap” is a word most at home between preteen boys and their baseball cards.  What’s that?  Dated reference?  Sharknado.  Um… Pokemon cards?  No?  Damn… look, the point is, you swap something because you don’t want it anymore.  So your wife is your property, and you’re done playing with her so your neighbor can have her for a while.  Brilliant, ABC.  I mean, the housewives that are watching this steaming pile of horse turds are probably past the point of redemption, so I’m not worried about them, but what about the next generation of women in this country?  That’s the message we want to send on NETWORK TV, of all things?  It’d be one thing if an obscure cable network were showing it to garner some viewers, but this is a broadcast network.  We have to do better.

The other point, here, is much more of a personal one, and it’s one of celebrity worship, which is one of the most useless forms of idleness and of opiating the masses that I’m aware of.  I understand a fascination with celebrities… to a point.  They star in your movies and TV shows, they run the touchdowns, they lounge around inheriting hotel fortunes.  Bully for them.  By all means, watch the celebrities in your movies and TV shows, watch them run the touchdowns, watch them do whatever the likes of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian do WHEN THEY’RE DOING THE THING FOR WHICH THEY ARE FAMOUS.  As soon as you start wasting your time worrying about what Ryan Gosling has going on in his personal life, you’re essentially saying that your own life is less interesting to you than the life of somebody you will never meet.  Ultimately, celebrities are just people.  On one level or another, their lives are as mundane as yours and mine.  When we (and by “we” I mean people who are not me, because I don’t go in for that sharknado) live vicariously through celebrity, we give up a bit of ourselves, and that is really, really sad.

So what’s the point?  The point is (and I’m conjecturing, here, because again, I’ve not seen an episode and I don’t plan to) that Celebrity Wife Swap is going to show you some of your favorite “celebrities” and put them in the ridiculous situation of stepping into another family’s life for a few days for the purpose of your amusement.  This is idiotic thinking of the highest order.  One family’s life is not like another’s, OF COURSE there will be conflict and misunderstanding and argument about what should be done.  It doesn’t take celebrity to make that situation any more compelling (and here I say compelling not in the sense that it’s actually compelling but in the sense that the network execs think we’ll just HAVE TO WATCH IT).  What, then, is wrong with putting celebrities in this situation?  Because it’s just an iteration of knocking down the other guy to make yourself feel better about your life, which is lazy and lame and sad.  “Oh, look at how silly *insert celebrity name* looks trying to deal with *other celebrity name*’s wife, MY LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THAT.  God, I feel good about myself.”  No.  Don’t.  Begrudging somebody their success is just being selfish.

You might argue that the show is just a bit of frivolous fun, that I read too much into it.  Maybe so, but if you want an idea of how screwed up a society is, look at what they do for fun.  Roman gladiator arenas, anybody?  Greek debauched wine-fueled orgies?  TV is possibly our nation’s greatest escape, and the things we PUT on TV and the things we WATCH on TV say a hell of a lot about us.  In short, if you’re watching the show, you should be ashamed, because you’re telling the network that this is the kind of thing you agree with.  That is, you agree with trading women like cattle and with watching the lives of other people rather than living your own.

/soapbox off

Interview With a Character

I was browsing around today, thinking about my novel and what I’m going to do with it, and I saw that my spirit guide, Chuck Wendig, had written a little piece about characters and how they drive action.  It’s perfectly obvious advice when you think about it, and it’s a model that I tried to adhere to in writing my first draft, but I wonder if I actually came as close to the mark as I believe I did.

To help me puzzle through that, I invited one of my characters here to talk it over a little bit.  Everybody, please give a nice, warm welcome to the fictional, frazzled, Andrew Remington.

(Andy enters to canned studio applause.)

Me: Andy, hi, it’s great to see you.

Andy: It’s nice to be seen.

Me: I’m really excited to have you here today.

Andy:  Well, I’m happy to be here.  You’ve had me through the wringer over the past few months, haven’t you?  It’s nice to have a bit of a break.

Me: True.  That’s my job as storyteller, you know, to give you a hard time.  No hard feelings.

Andy:  If you say so.

Me: Okay.  Let’s get right down to it, because I’m dying to pick your brain a little bit, you know?  Crack open the meaty bits and see what makes you tick.

Andy:  That’s a metaphor, right?

Me:  Yeah, I’ve been working on those.

Andy:  Okay, because I remember when you wrote about dropping the piano on that guy, and all of us in the book thought that was going to be a metaphor, but…

Me:  That one escalated quickly.

Andy:  Dry cleaning bills were horrendous.

Me:  That scene is probably not going to survive the first edit, if it makes you feel any better.

Andy:  A little.

Me:  Right.  So.  You’re a character in my book.  The first draft is done, your story is told for the time being.  What’s it like being you?

Andy:  Uhh, I’d have to say it’s a bit like living inside a ping-pong ball.

Me:  (Tapping note cards on the desk.)  Wow.  Um.  Wasn’t really expecting that.  A ping pong ball.  How do you mean?

Andy:  You picture a ping-pong ball, right?  Tiny, white.  Opaque.  Blows in the wind.  Yeah?  Say you could live inside of it, what would you see?

Me:  (Shrugs.)

Andy:  A whole lot of nothing, right?  You’ve basically just got the light and shadow outside of the ball and then somebody whacks you with a paddle and off you go, back and forth, over a net that you can’t really see, and you’re banging off the walls and knocking clocks over–

Me:  Like in the Great Gatsby.

Andy:  …yeah, not like that, really.  More in a chaotic hurricane of who-the-hell-knows-what’s-going-to-happen-next.

Me:  But that’s a good thing, right?  I mean, I’m supposed to keep the audience guessing to some extent, and that means keeping you guessing too, doesn’t it?

Andy:  I can see where yo’d think that, but let’s stick to the ping-pong ball.

Me:  Okay.

Andy:  The ball just bounces around from one side of the table to the other.  It has no will, it has no motivation.  It only goes where it’s told.

Me:  Uh huh.

Andy:  And, if you’re living inside of the ball, then it’s doubly so.  There aren’t even any windows to look out of to see where you’re headed, if you’re going in the right direction, or even if you’re making progress.  All you do is hang on until you get whacked by another paddle.

Me:  I see.

Andy:  If anything, living inside the ball, you’re completely at the mercy of the two giant dudes with the paddles.

Me:  Wait, there are giants now?

Andy:  Jesus, dude, stick with the metaphor.  Not actual giants.

Me:  Just testing you.

Andy:  Right.  (Gives me a serious side-eye.)  So, the … perfectly ordinary non-giants with the paddles.  They can put spin on the ball, they can slam it, spike it…

Me: I think those are volleyball terms, actually.

Andy:  Do you want to hear this or not?

Me:  Sorry.  But you’re saying you live inside the ball, so you don’t drive the action?

Andy:  It doesn’t feel like it.  It feels like the villains in the story, you know, they’re the ones with the paddles, just smacking the rest of us around the whole time.

Me:  Uh huh.

Andy:  And I understand that as the protagonists, we’re supposed to take some hard knocks.  I get that.  But all the same, it doesn’t feel right for us — and by us I especially mean me — to get smacked around for the entire story.

Me:  I see.

Andy:  Give me a turn at the paddle, you know what I mean?

Me:  I mean, I have to disagree with you.  You’re the one who makes an inadvertent call to a muse to set the whole thing in motion.  You’re the one working against a deadline for the whole story.  You’re the one who finally, ultimately, overcomes the whole … well, let’s not spoil it for anybody reading, but the whole series of THINGS, right?

Andy:  You’re not wrong, but… look.  You’re right.  I do things in the story.  No question about that, okay?  But let’s just take a few examples.  I mean, the gangsters jump out and take the rest of us hostage… who bails us out?  It ain’t me.

Me:  No, you’re right.  That was —

Andy:  Then the whole business with Harold and the … erm, how can I say this without uh…

Me:  The theft?

Andy:  Yes, the theft.  He steals a THING.  It’s gone.  He’s gone.  Who finds him so we can continue the story?  It ain’t me.

Me:  I see what you’re saying.  That was the other —

Andy:  And then, finally, we go to the big showdown, yeah?  And Anthony and Julia are running.  They’re about to escape.  But then they get stopped.  By whom?  It ain’t —

Me:  You, yeah, no, you’re right.

Andy:  You see what I mean?

Me:  I think so.

Andy:  Do I have agency, is what I’m driving at.  I mean, pardon the pun, “driving,” but it’s not like I’m driving the story, it’s like I’m along for the ride.

Me:  But those moments you’re talking about, that’s where your supporting characters get a chance to shine, right?  Like, you’re driving the bus through a post-apocalyptic burned out city, right?  And they’re leaning out the windows with RPGs and machine guns shooting off the zombies and blowing up the obstacles in your path.

Andy: Okay, I see that.  That’s a nice image, by the way.

Me:  You liked that?

Andy:  I did.  Sounds like a good idea for a story, actually.

Me:  Yeah?

Andy:  Call it “Murder Bus” or something.  But, to get back on track, honestly, you’re not wrong.  And I see your point.  But I feel like there are moments — and, maybe I’m being selfish here, but I do mean momentS, plural — where, you know, it should be me with the rocket launcher.

Me:  I see.

Andy:  Smeared with the blood and the smoke and the entrails of the enemy, right?

Me:  Entrails?

Andy:  Metaphorical entrails.

Me:  Uh huh.

Andy:  At least one or two moments like that, where I get to shine.  I mean, far be it from me to tell you how to write the story.  And — I can say this, because I’ve lived it, now — I think it’s a pretty good story.

Me:  Thanks.

Andy:  It works out all right for me in the end, after all.

Me:  Hey, spoilers.

Andy:  Oh, come on.  It’s a comedy, it wasn’t going to end with a funeral or anything.

Me:  Or is it?  (We share a conspiratorial look.)  No, it doesn’t end that way.

Andy:  So yeah, it’s a good story.  I just feel like … man, how to say it?  I shouldn’t be a bigger part, exactly. You’ve got me on virtually half the pages.

Me:  Probably more.

Andy:  Probably more, right.  I’m tired, you know?  So not a bigger part, but maybe a more pivotal part.  That’s what I’m looking for.

Me:  Okay.

Andy:  If the story’s a big wagon wheel, I should be the axle it turns on.

Me:  Right, no, that makes sense.

Andy:  Just a suggestion.

Me:  So tell me, what’s it like working with the muse of comedy?

Andy:  Oh, she’s great, you know?  Really, um… what’s the word…

Me:  Funny?

Andy:  I was going to say inspirational, but that would be a little bit cheesy, wouldn’t it?

Me:  A bit on the nose.

Andy:  She’s funny.  Very funny.  A quick suggestion, though?

Me:  Oh, sure?

Andy:  Maybe there’s room in the story for a scene where we, um… (leans over and whispers in my ear)

Me:  (whispering back) It’s not really that kind of book, though.

Andy:  (Shrugs.)  It was worth a try.

Me:  Well, Andy, this has been enlightening, I’ve really enjoyed having you on the blarg.

Andy:  The what?

Me:  The blarg.  It’s a… it’s a kind of a joke.  You know.  Blog.  But then it’s a blog, so it’s kind of… argh.  So.  Blarg.

Andy:  Is that supposed to be funny?

Me:  (sighing) I don’t know.  (Stands.)  It’s been a pleasure.

Andy:  Yeah, likewise.

Me:  I’ll see you in a few weeks when I start the edit.

Andy:  I’ll bring the lube.

Me:  Andrew Remington, everybody!

(Canned applause.  Slow fade.)