Reality TV scratches my id.
As even the occasional visitor to my well-appointed little lockdown ward knows by now, I indulge a fair few guilty pleasures. Some might even say I have more vices than virtues, though I think it just seems that way because I so often air my dirty laundry for your amusement, which is a compulsion of a different sort, but perhaps that’s a subject for another day. Among my filthy little secrets are insatiable appetites for swearing and the now-verboten Hostess Zinger (the sticky red coating over the Twinkie is pure bliss); my collection of Fleetwood Mac records; the admission that I like Grace Jones’s cover of La Vie en Rose better than the Little Sparrow’s original; and of course the fact that I have watched that dreadful 90s turkey Practical Magic about a hundred times. (I just love that scene where they all get trashed on midnight Margaritas and sing The Lime in the Coconut.)
Up until recently however, none of my little treats or crutches could really be classified as shameful (well maybe the Grace Jones business, but I’ll bet there’s at least one person on the planet who agrees with me on that score). I viewed them as the standard foibles of a reasonably functional member of the modern world. As guilty pleasures go, I reasoned, mine were all fairly tame. Now, however, I find I have finally given myself cause for concern, and that’s going some from a woman who whole heartedly exhorts others to serve ham salad finger rolls at parties.
Since I know the suspense is killing you, I’ll fess up. It’s reality TV. Though not a huge fan of the genre generally, I do follow Project Runway and Top Chef, and even occasionally look in on the Real Housewives. (New Jersey and Atlanta only — I can’t tell one California bleach job from the next, and the New Yorkers are all too familiar.) As a rule, I prefer the competitive formats to the biographical ones. I mean really, Kim Kardashian has marital problems and mother issues. Well who doesn’t? Eating bugs for money, modeling for morons or camping for cash? Who cares? No, my newest guilty pleasure takes reality TV well beyond the usual limits of both decorum and decency, into the territory I think of as Surreality TV, which is why, I suppose, it appeals to me. That’s right, you guessed it, I have developed a (borderline) obsession with Mob Wives of Chicago. Really, I just cannot get enough of this show. Look!
First of all, is it me, or do they all look like a bunch of cranked up trannies who just knocked over the make-up counter at Macy’s? Allegedly. The extensions, the Vegas makeup, the boob jobs and the sparkles all telegraph drag show to me. And who doesn’t love a man in a tiara? Whenever I’m watching the show, I’m also half expecting one of them to burst into “Son of a Preacher Man.”
I know it’s horrifying, and yet I cannot stop watching, so intense is the fascination. And before you go all violence-desensitizes-us-and-destroys-society on me, let me just say that it’s not like I’m watching Showtime for lord’s sake. This is on VH1, the regular cable channel that brings you a thousand hours of 80s music videos every week. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good indication that this show is in the right place in terms of its overall intellectual level.
Nora: “I’m gonna resume my father.”
Renée: “I think it’s exhume.”
Almost as tricky as spelling HUMILIATION.
I especially love the hapless therapist who clearly wants to run from the room and looks like she’d probably rather be counseling a rabid civet than a woman who routinely gets into extension-yanking, bitch-slapping, knock-down, drag-out fights with her “friends.” I may be wrong, but I’d be willing to wager Dr. Thing pops a little vitamin V before Christina’s sessions. I know I would.
Dr. Thing: “How are you planning to work that out?”
Christina: “With a BLEEP shovel.”
Sometimes, the wives are very funny — on purpose — as when Pia the stripper comments on Nora’s obsession with digging up her father’s body to prove that it is actually he (“The German,” who died in stir) and not some hapless hobo that the feds sent to the cemetery. Pia, who is clearly practical-minded, says, “It’s not like the man dug himself up and went to 7-11 and got a sandwich and a Coke.” No argument there.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. What is the possible appeal of something this grotesque? I’d say that there’s such a sideshow feeling to it that it is entirely irresistible, especially to those of us who grew up in more emotionally-restrained environments. Take me, for example. As the product of a New England culture that looks upon anything more than a handshake as an intimate act, I find these women mesmerizing. Among my people, the only time anyone gets whacked is when Bitsy agrees to Binky’s request that she wear a saddle over her flannel nightgown on a Saturday night, but these ladies threaten to kill one another on a daily basis. With shovels.
What can I say, it gives my id a workout. And everybody knows how important a limber id is. If you don’t believe me, just ask Big Ang.