MTV, All is Forgiven

During the first season of Ashlee Simpson’s show, the copyright notice read “Copywrite 2004.” God, that made me laugh. And they left it that way for the whole season. It’s fixed now, but it’s the kind of thing that just summed up for me the whole Ashlee Simpson phenomenon: that everything about her career is not quite thought through, not quite checked for obvious errors, and that the mistakes are inconsequential anyway, because no one will notice or really give a shit if they do catch it.

It’s fixed now, which makes me a little sad.

This weekend, though, I caught both the new Making the Band and Lizzie Grubman’s show and I am happy with MTV once again.

There is an old story that, if you watch the Sopranos, you have heard. It goes like this: a woman is walking through the forest and she comes to a river that she needs to cross. Also at the edge of the river is a snake (or a scorpion) and the snake asks her to carry him across the river, because it’s too far for him to swim.

She refuses. “You’ll bite me,” she says.

“No,” he assures her. If you take me across the river, I won’t bite you.”

This goes on for some time, her saying that he’ll bite her and him insisting that he won’t. Finally, she decides to be nice and take him across. When they get to the other side, he bites her.

As she’s dying from his venom, she says, “You said you wouldn’t bite me!” and he says, “But you knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”

Watching both Making the Band and Power Girls reminds me of that story. If ever two shows revealed everything unseemly about celebrity, it’s those two. The arbitrary decisions, the egos, the butt-kissing, the general stupidity, it’s all out there on full display. And yet, the only way I can understand the popularity of these shows is if most of the viewing public is willfully blind to what’s actually going on and caught up in the “glamour” of it all.

Take Lizzie Grubman’s show, for instance. If you have two ounces of common sense, you can see that working for Grubman would be a nightmare. Everything about her is forced. She’s failing at fake pretty. She’s failing at cool boss. She’s yelling at her “girls” about being too caught up with wanting to be a celebrity, and yet she’s walking the red carpet. She’s taking credit for launching people’s careers, at the same time she’s passing those people off to her peons.

Her employees have to work long hours for little pay (most of them seem to have two jobs) and they have to work with and for people with enormous senses of entitlement.

But are these girls bitter? No.

And why not? Clearly, because they’re idiots. In the episode I saw, two of them lied to Grubman on camera. Dude, everyone knows that if you’re going to lie to your boss, do not leave film evidence that proves otherwise.

So, working long hours at a thankless job with a woman whose sole joy seems to be reminding the world what favors she’s done for it, while also working other jobs because she’s not paying you enough to live on, is okay because you get to hang out with stars.

And what are these stars like? Are they smarter, better, more talented, prettier than the rest of us? To judge by the cast of Making the Band, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ In face, they all appear to have come out of whatever Frankenstein’s lab gave us Ciera and Ashanti. They all have that same look, the long, straight hair, the low pants, the pretty, but unremarkable faces. But more than that, they all seem to think that they’ll just magically become stars without having unique talent.

What’s most telling is that many of them seem to get that they need to stand out in some way. But rather than being the best singers they can or the best dancers or best team leaders or whatever, they seem to be trying to make sure that their “character” is well-defined. One is “the girl whose mom is dying.” Another is “the girl who can’t dance.” A third is “the girl who’d rather be a solo artist.”

And the thing is, if any of them had watched the last couple seasons, they’d know that the character Puffy is most looking for is “talented, humble, grateful, and self-possessed.” In other words, people who remind him of what he thinks of himself.

This, I think is the most hilarious unintended consequence of MTV’s brand of reality tv: that there is now a generation of people who think that it’s not just that everyone will get his 15 minutes of fame, but that everyone, no matter how unremarkable, deserves that 15 minutes of fame–me included.

Yesterday, I was trying to talk the Man from GM into quitting his job and going into the custom vehicle business. I was telling him how Jesse James only had to get a show on the Discovery Channel to see the price of his bikes sky-rocket.

If the Man from GM went into, say, custom SUV-building and got a show on Discovery, I volunteered to be responsible for stirring up trouble and giving him someone to fight with.

He thinks that the things we fight about are too obscure for most people to give a shit about. I don’t know. Our three longest fights have been pretty ordinary. He’s still pissed that I told him I was a vegetarian the first time I met him (fourteen years ago), even though I’m not. I’m unhappy that he tries to play grab-ass with all of my friends.

But the thing we fight about most often is my propensity to tell everyone about the time he came to visit me in North Carolina and how I gave him a stack of towels to use during his stay, one for every day, if he wanted, with the only rule being that he could not use the pink towel in the bathroom. On the last day of his visit, he came out of the bathroom, with my pink towel wrapped around his waist.

I was at the kitchen table, and the roommate he’d been hitting on all weekend was at the sink, but turned towards me. The Man from GM walked into the kitchen.

“Is that my towel, you motherfucker?” I asked (see, how is this not good reality tv drama?). “I gave you three fucking towels of your own.”

“God damned,” he said, “Do you have to be a bitch about everything? You want it back? Here.”

And he whooped off the towel and handed it over to me.

My roommate’s eyes got very wide and then she started to shriek. Then, she threw her hands over her face and turned towards the sink, still shrieking.

At this point, I start to laugh, and the poor Man from GM is standing there, arm outstretched, towel in hand, buck naked and turning bright red, because the last thing anyone wants is for a person he thinks is nifty to start shrieking and hiding her face when he gets naked.

Still, I think he handled it as gracefully as one can, wrapping the towel back around him, and heading off down the hall.

Yes, we’re too old to fit MTV’s demographic, but I’m thinking that Discovery might be right up our alley: The Engineer and the Hermit who Antagonizes him.