Some Thoughts I Had As I Watched About 45 Seconds of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? While Waiting for The Office to Begin Last Night
The game-show style pioneered by Who Wants to Be a Millionaire hasn’t gotten any less irritating.
Are You Smarter Than a Redneck? would have been a much better show.
This guy has the worst fauxhawk ever:
Like the Sun Going Down on Me
There are a lot of reasons why I’ve never watched American Idol, my dangerously low tolerance for execrable pop ballads being the main one. Watching this clip from the season finale made me simultaneously wish that I could watch the show and confirmed my assumption that I simply cannot. On the one hand, it’s an unparalleled opportunity for rubbernecking. On the other hand, this so filled me with plaatsvervangende schaamte that I was not just cringing, but actually squirming.
Now, Paris Hilton humiliating herself: That I can watch all day.
[VIDEO LINKS VIA DEFAMER.]
My Favorite Paragraph on the Frey Fracas
Oprah is Embarrassed. Don’t Fuck With Oprah. A Novel Is Something Different Than A Memoir. I Have A Headache. If I were to write a Memoir of my Drug Addiction, it would be called, I Smoked Pot And Sent A Silly Email To My Ex-Girlfriend, And Then I Watched Futurama For A While.
Bless You, Neal Pollack, Very Famous Author with Whom I Have Eaten Sandwiches.
From “Brutally Honest” to Just Plain Brutal: James Frey Gets a Spanking from Oprah
I wasn’t planning to write anything about James Frey and A Million Little Pieces, but watching his second appearance on Oprah has kind of encouraged me to organize my thoughts. It was a riveting piece of TV, mostly because we have so few opportunities in this day and age to view a public flogging. When Oprah said, “I regret that phone call”—referring, of course, to the call she made to Larry King defending Frey—it was kind of like watching Bill Clinton apologize for lying about Monica Lewinsky. It was almost that uncomfortable. My unease, of course, was nothing compared to Frey’s. These were among her first words to the disgraced author: “It’s difficult for me to talk to you.” I mean, the woman talks for a living. She’s talked to wife-beaters and teen sluts. She’s talked to Dr. Phil, for heaven’s sake. Ouch.
Frey might have been a little more discomfited had he not maintained a near-sublime state of disconnection. When Oprah asked him about The Smoking Gun, he replied, “I think most of what they wrote was pretty accurate.” It was like he was talking about something utterly unrelated to himself.
His cool, kind of stupid—turns out he’s quite the mouth-breather—detachment was an interesting contrast to the tough customer named “James Frey” he created for his memoir (I haven’t read it, but I’ve, you know, read about it). Of course, this may be because Frey is now a successful author rather than a recovering addict; during the show, he explained that he found self-aggrandizement to be a useful coping mechanism during his darker days. I think most of us can relate—Lord knows, I cherish my anecdotes of alcohol poisoning—but most of us don’t publish memoirs in which, say, a failure to take out the trash when mom asked turns into matricide.
Mostly, this episode of Oprah was a chance for her to say she was wrong, and then make Frey pay for it by sending him through a journalist spanking machine. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it, but the show really didn’t address the more interesting facets of the situation.
At one point, Oprah asked him whether or not his successfully suicidal girlfriend really existed, and Frey affirmed that she did—she cut her wrists rather than hanging herself, though. This turned into a brief conversation about whether or not other individuals in the book were fabricated or misrepresented, and Frey tried to make a distinction between characters and real people. Oprah wasn’t buying it, but he kind of had a point. Speaking as someone who has written some autobiography—I’ve got a little something in an anthology coming out later this year—I can say that, in order to craft an effective memoir, one has to turn one’s friends, relations, and self into characters, and one has to turn one’s experiences into story. This transformation is an aesthetic necessity. I’m not talking about making shit up—I’m talking about writing. I guess I’m saying that the people—the real people—in the memoirist’s life might be surprised by the way they are portrayed, and that the memoirist might be a little surprised by what the process of writing reveals, too.
As part of their insanely exhaustive coverage of the Frey scandal, The New York Times ran an essay by Mary Karr. Not only do I feel like the hard-luck memoir maybe could have been retired after her The Liar’s Club—she so totally nailed the form—but I also think that Karr’s response was one of the more illuminating to come out of this sad episode. Here’s my favorite part
...I rejected the strong suggestion of one publishing executive that I include a touching goodbye scene with my mother. “But I don’t remember it,” I told him, and readers were left without what I’m sure would have been a narratively comforting farewell. Sometimes to forget an event may be the most radiantly true way of representing it.
Mr. Frey seems to have started with his perceived truth, and then manufactured events to support his vision of himself as a criminal. But how could a memoirist even begin to unearth his life’s truths with fake events? At one point, I wrote a goodbye scene to show how my hard-drinking, cowboy daddy had bailed out on me when I hit puberty.
When I actually searched for the teenage reminiscences to prove this, the facts told a different story: my daddy had continued to pick me up on time and make me breakfast, to invite me on hunting and fishing trips. I was the one who said no. I left him for Mexico and California with a posse of drug dealers, and then for college.
This was far sadder than the cartoonish self-portrait I’d started out with. If I’d hung on to my assumptions, believing my drama came from obstacles I’d never had to overcome—a portrait of myself as scrappy survivor of unearned cruelties—I wouldn’t have learned what really happened. Which is what I mean when I say God is in the truth.
Nan A. Talese, Frey’s publisher, tried to make a distinction between truth and authenticity that reminded me of a friend’s description of her senior thesis on the difference between history and heritage: History is a good-faith attempt to describe the past; heritage is what you get at Colonial Williamsburg. However, Talese was right when she said that “People do not remember the same way.” Oprah wasn’t interested in exploring this idea, but it’s an important one, I think. Throughout the show, Oprah kept emphasizing the value of truth, but at no point did she acknowledge that it’s not always easy to find. One doesn’t have to deny the existence of objective reality to argue that the truth is sometimes inaccessible, and that memory is subjective.
In any case, I think Oprah’s concern for the sanctity of the truth is not something she shares with all or most of her viewers, or all or most Americans. Rather, I don’t think people are disappointed to learn that Frey is a big, fat liar simply because we all cherish the truth as an absolute good. I think people are pissed because we all love a freakshow. We love stories filled with degradation and debasement, and we not only want writers to tell us these stories—we want them to be the story. The JT Leroy saga is good illustration of this phenomenon: Leroy’s books were bought and sold as fiction, but would they have been as successful—as beloved by hipsters and the literati—if people didn’t believe that these novels of a transgendered teen hustler weren’t written by a transgendered teen hustler? And, as we all know by now, Frey actually tried to market his manuscript as a novel, but he was only able to sell it as a true story. I don’t know what this says about us as a culture, but it can’t be anything good. As for Mr. Frey, I guess he’s got one thing going for him: At least he didn’t pretend to be Native American.
Adolescent Lust on Primetime TV
Goodness! What a relief to see Seth and Summer making out, if only for a moment. I was really starting to worry about those kids—Ryan and Marissa, too. They never seem to have sex anymore. I mean, they barely even touch each other. All they do is go on double dates and have hissy fits.
It’s not that I have a prurient interest in watching youngsters gettin’ it on. It’s just that their apparent abstinence this season was starting to feel either sad or bogus. I mean, when I was in high school, all my boyfriend and I did was mess around. Seriously. If his mom was at work, we would stay at his place. If his mom was at home, we’d take my Chevy Impala—big backseat—somewhere and park. Sure, we’d surface sometimes for a snack or, maybe, to go see a show or something, but sex was basically all we did.
I was contemplating this in a message to my pal Griffin, and it occurred to me that, with a couple of exceptions—Steve and Clare—the kids on 90210 were strangely sexless, too, unless sex was a plot point. Maybe it’s that the writers of teen dramas think that emotional Sturm und Drang and social intrigue is more compelling than hearty adolescent lust. Or maybe they’re too old to remember what it was like to be young and insatiable.
Dunno. But here’s what I do know: If Seth and Summer are going to forego the carnal free-for-all that is college, they really have got to start doin’ it again.
“Women in business don’t cry, my dear.”
I watched the first episode of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart because I heart Martha. (Judging from their opening-day outfits, I think that the show’s contestants heart her, too. If you were to cut a swatch from each seafoam green skirt and Wedgwood blue necktie, you would have the beginnings of a Living feature on decorating with color.) I watched the second episode on the chance that it might be more entertaining than the premiere. It wasn’t, really, but I’m not sure that it’s the show’s fault.
I could not be more bored with reality TV. In fact, it’s not even just that I’m bored with it; it’s also that I’ve grown to find it embarrassing. The connection between reality TV and reality as we know it was always tenuous, but now it’s like the genre has transcended any attempt at verisimilitude. At this point, everyone who participates in reality TV has—presumably—consumed a great deal of reality TV. Contestants have learned how to be a reality-TV character, how to act like one is not acting. It makes me feel both weary and uncomfortable.
Even so, this show intrigued me because I would like to be doing what these reality-show contestants are doing. I don’t want to marry a millionaire, I don’t want to undergo a bunch of endurance tests on a desert island, I don’t want to be an ultimate fighter, but working for Martha Stewart is kind of a dream job. What this show is making me realize, though, is that working for Martha Stewart means working with people, and people are a pain in the ass. This show is reminding me just how much I like working from my kitchen home office.
Primarius, the “corporate” team (like you couldn’t tell they were corporate from the painfully cheesy, “aspirational” name they invented for themselves), has, so far, done an admirable job with the assignments they’ve been given. I cringe when I hear such words as “focus group” and “outsourcing,” but those suits really have got their shit together. I still wouldn’t want to work with them, though—I really do cringe when people use business-speak, and business people don’t like that—and watching their efficient, organized operation makes for incredibly uninteresting television.
The “creative” team, Matchstick, is a bunch of crybabies and contrarians and prima donnas, which means, of course, that they producers give them at least twice as much airtime as the competition. I realize that conflict is the goal of reality TV, but conflict is only as entertaining as the people involved in it, and this is nothing more than a bunch of emotional toddlers having temper tantrums. Jim—this show’s Puck—isn’t intriguingly nefarious or delightfully wicked or even hilariously offensive: He’s just a tool.
It’s a shame the producers cast an idiotic, coked-up (OK, probably not, but he certainly does give one the impression) douchebag to sow discord, because they have access to someone many members of the viewing public already love to hate: la Martha herself. The show really only comes alive when she’s on screen, and I think we’d see some Dynasty-style melodrama if she interacted more with her would-be protégés. On last night’s episode, one loser tried to distance herself from the latest Matchstick fiasco by telling Martha that she was so ashamed by their performance that she wanted to cry. Ms. Stewart rewarded her with a positively icy look and smoothly replied, “Cry and you’re out of here. Women in business don’t cry, my dear.”
It was chilling. It was real. It was a very good thing.
“That's a pretty wild accusation coming from a giant leprechaun with gerbil wings.” Seth Sonderling interviews Tammi Littlenut
Bon vivant, man about town, elite Scorpio: My friend Seth is all these things—all these things and much, much more. He’s also a columnist over at the Used Wigs, and it’s in that capacity that he recently interviewed Maria Thayer, the actress who portrays Tammi Littlenut of Strangers with Candy, on screens both small and big. This is a must-read for SWC fans, folks with a redhead fetish, and anyone who enjoys eavesdropping on two clever conversationalists.
What You Can Watch Tonight Instead of the State of the Union Address
Connie’s Valentine’s Gift Picks on Home Shopping Network
The Holy Rosary With Mother Angelica and the Nuns of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery on Eternal Word Television Network
A Face to Kill For [starring Crystal Bernard!] on Lifetime
The second half of Easy Rider on AMC
“Rock Star Kids” on The E! True Hollywood Story
Hot Girl-on-Girl Action on Primetime TV
Night after night, I sit in front of the television (Ted and I just traded in my 13-incher for a Jumbotron; Lord, it’s glorious) and ask myself, “Where is all the hot girl-on-girl action? Don’t they know everything is better with hot girl-on-girl action? I’d watch The King of Queens if I thought there was any hope of pretty ladies kissing.” Then I sigh, and watch another rerun of SVU.
Thank goodness, it looks like The O.C. is moving in the right direction. Us Weekly broke the story that Marissa would be smooching on saucy bartender Alex in their December 27 issue, and I thought that last night might finally be the night. It was not, but scenes from next week suggest that it’s imminent.
While I certainly—obviously—look forward to the actual consummation, I have to say that the closing moments of last night’s show were sweetly sexy. There’s nothing more delicious than adolescent anticipation of action—no doubt you can still remember it like it was yesterday—and, with same-sex coupling, there’s an extra frisson. Here’s the thing: When a boy and a girl are sitting on the sofa, watching a late-night horror movie and sharing a blanket, 9 times out of 10, making out is a foregone conclusion. It’s going to happen; it’s just a matter of when. But, when it’s two chicks, who knows?
I’m not much of a fan of Mischa Barton (or Marissa, for that matter), but she did a fantastic job of projecting confused arousal and arousing confusion. With nothing more than wide-open eyes and a tilt of the head, she suggested a feverish interior dialogue: “Oh my God! Is Alex puttin’ the moves on me? Oh my God! Do I want her to put the moves on me! She’s turning her head. Is she going to kiss me! Oh my God! I am totally going to kiss her back! Oh, she’s just smiling at me. OK, well, maybe if I slide over a little, and lean towards her…”
Well, it was all very adorable, and delightful. I hope that The O.C. lets this relationship play out for more than one or two shocking episodes, and I hope that other shows take note. All I’m saying is, I watched the first episode of Medium, and that show would benefit mightily from some hot girl-on-girl action.
If you just glanced at the article on Festivus in last Sunday’s New York Times, you probably thought it was just a cutesy little Styles piece on how real people are actually celebrating the holiday invented on “Seinfeld,” and you wouldn’t know that the actual origins of the holiday are far, far stranger and more wonderful than Frank Costanza’s tale of a pre-Christmas fistfight over a doll. Herewith, I reproduce the salient excerpts:
The actual inventor of Festivus is Dan O’Keefe, 76, whose son Daniel, a writer on “Seinfeld,” appropriated a family tradition for the episode. The elder Mr. O’Keefe was stunned to hear that the holiday, which he minted in 1966, is catching on…
“It was entirely more peculiar than on the show,” the younger Mr. O’Keefe said from the set of the sitcom “Listen Up,” where he is now a writer. There was never a pole, but there were airings of grievances into a tape recorder and wrestling matches between Daniel and his two brothers, among other rites.
“There was a clock in a bag,” said Mr. O’Keefe, 36, adding that he does not know what it symbolized.
“Most of the Festivi had a theme,” he said. “One was, `Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?’ Another was, `Too easily made glad?’”
His father, a former editor at Reader’s Digest, said the first Festivus took place in February 1966, before any of his children were born, as a celebration of the anniversary of his first date with his wife, Deborah. The word “Festivus” just popped into his head, he said from his home in Chappaqua, N.Y.
The holiday evolved during the 1970’s, when the elder Mr. O’Keefe began doing research for his book Stolen Lightning, a work of sociology that explores the ways people use cults, astrology and the paranormal as a defense against social pressures.
Festivus, with classic rituals like familial gatherings, totemic-but-mysterious objects and respect for ancestors, slouched forth from this milieu. “In the background was Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life,” Mr. O’Keefe recalled, “saying that religion is the unconscious projection of the group. And then the American philosopher Josiah Royce: religion is the worship of the beloved community.”