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The Trashier, The Better or Why I Watch Stupid Shows on TV

Ottawa, December 2012
Ottawa, December 2012

I started watching TV, mostly when I’m feeding Mark or when I have no energy left for anything. I do love my baby boy and I can look at his cute little face and gaze into his eyes for hours—but fuck, I also need some entertainment. So when Mark is having his bottle, I often press the red “on” button on the remote.

I’ve never been much of a small-screen person. I grew up in France where we had five or six boring channels (that was before cable TV) and a tiny crappy TV set that was perpetually broken—when it wasn’t the antenna it was the remote control, and when it wasn’t the remote it was the colour settings. This is kind of ironic since my grand-father, my mother’s father, made a living selling the first TVs and various electronic equipment in the 1960s. He still fixes TVs (the old kind, not the “Japanese flat screens de merde” as he calls them) and has an entire room dedicated to small parts and half-broken (or half-working, I guess, to him) TV sets from the 1960s and the 1970s.

This was actually the root of our TV problems: my parents couldn’t buy a new TV set—that would have been quite offensive to my grandfather’s DIY skills. So whenever one of our second-hand TV sets was irremediably broken, my grand-father would supply us with yet another “new and improved” second-hand model. It usually took a day or two to figure out what was wrong with the new TV set… because there was always something wrong with it.

So all in all, I didn’t watch much TV as a kid and a teen. Instead, I listened to the radio or read books. I guess you could say I’m terribly boring—or a typical child of the 1990s.

When I first came to Canada, I switched the TV on again. TV programs are a snapshot of a country’s culture and I wanted to learn more about Canada and North America in general (we get all the Detroit channels in Ottawa). I struggled to understand most shows and series because my English wasn’t good but I did learn a lot of slang and improved my listening skills. I was alone and lonely and the TV kept me company at night, when Feng was working late shifts. I favoured reality shows because they were easier to understand (let’s face it, Paris Hilton doesn’t have such extensive vocabulary) and pop culture cartoons such as Daria or The Simpsons that I watched in France as well.

But there are way too many commercials and I quickly realized that no matter how many channels you have, they all show the same shit. I started watching my favourite shows (such as House M.D.) on my laptop at times that were convenient for me and without commercial breaks, and, once again, stopped watching TV.

And now it’s back on, twenty minutes at a time. I watch anything that’s one but I tend to switch to TLC, Spike or A&E because they feature short reality shows—I don’t want to start watching a movie midway through and never finish it. Besides, these shows allow me to stay in touch with the rest of the world. I discovered many weird programs, like Hoarders, Toddlers & Tiaras, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, My Strange Addiction, Tattoo Nightmare, Cops, Jail and all the “judge” shows in the afternoon.

The trashier the better. I am not sure why I take comfort in watching people suing each other’s, drunks getting booked into the local county jail, living rooms jam-packed with crap or dysfunctional families arguing over the dinner table—but I do.

Like a voyeur, I glimpse into people’s life for ten or fifteen minutes at a time and stare at the screen with a mix of awe, disgust and bewilderment. Toddlers & Tiaras: how can you drag your baby to beauty pageant contests… and why do these exist in the first place? Can anyone tell these parents to stop living through their kids and let them be kids? Hoarders: how can you turn your house into a garbage dump and argue that you just “lost control” when you have dead animals trapped under carton boxes of crap? I’m not even getting to Honey Boo Boo—this show is wrong on so many levels, from the TV prod making fun of a redneck family to the trashy parents exploiting their kids. And how about all the legal shows like Cop, Jail, Judge Judy? Why do people agree to make a fool of themselves on TV? Do they ever realize it could backfire when… oh, I don’t know, they apply for jobs? “Hi sir, you may remember me from TV, that was me punching an officer and pissing myself in the sobering up cell at the county jail!”

Who are those people?

I guess since I’m watching, I am a party to this trashy circus. I can’t explain why I am fascinated. Maybe I’m a sadist and I take comfort in watching train wrecks and dysfunctional families. It’s so easy to judge from the outside and to label people, after all. Maybe that is the point of these programs—to show a few weirdos to make us feel normal and sane by comparison.

One thing is for sure, America is a nation of entertainment and entertainers. And I’m complicit in these people’s fifteen minutes of fame and shame.

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