Monday, June 8, 2009

Charm School 3 Episode 5: Credulity is Not Charming; and, How is "Bridezillas" NOT a Positive Portrayal of Women?

On June 3, posted an editorial titled "Reality TV Hates Women," in which the author claimed that, as you can probably guess from the title, reality tv hates women. There were a number of flaws with the piece, not even including the absurd idea that "reality tv," which is an entertainment genre, could possibly have a position on women. Being a fan of reality shows I was naturally put off by the nonsense of the author's claims, and thought about writing a stinging rebuttal. But it soon became apparent to me that it was a complete waste of time; the author rebuts herself right there in the second paragraph:

Thanks to this ridiculous programming, sexists everywhere can make a cogent case that women are weak, shallow, vain, stupid, gold-digging, desperate delusional bitches. Clearly, it's time we normal women got our day in court. For every 21-year-old knucklehead screaming because she wants faux ostrich feathers for her wedding centerpieces, I can put a million sane brides on the stand who somehow managed to get married without making fools of themselves. And I'm calling on at least one of the tens of millions of stay-at-home moms with IQs above 70 to rebut those "real housewife" dummies from New Jersey.

And that's the point. The characters who appear on "Bridezillas" and "Real Housewives of" are rare- that's part of why they're so compelling (full disclosure: I do not watch either of those programs, probably because of my natural distaste for the institution of marriage). Most women aren't threatened by the ways in which the women are presented on these shows, because they understand this fact.

That's right- snap! I just implied the author was weak.

(And just how "dumb" are those "real housewife dummies," anyway?)

If the author doesn't want to watch the "Bridezillas," or "The Real Housewives of," she can watch any one of the numerous "sane brides" who populate TLC's "A Wedding Story." For that matter, there are a lot of shows on TLC alone that present "sane" women who aren't "knuckleheads." How about Stacy London on "What Not to Wear"? Kat Von D on "LA Ink"? Michelle Duggar of "18 Kids and Counting"? Jen Arnold on "The Little Couple"? That's just one cable channel, and it's not even all their shows.

The author needs to learn to use her remote.

But there's an argument to be made that "Bridezillas" actually portrays women in a positive light (as positively as a woman who is pledging herself to one person forever can be portrayed). These are women who are planning what is arguably the most important day of their lives, and they want only the best. They demand the best. And they will not let anything stand in their way as they get the best. I'd say that being uncompromising in getting exactly what you want is a feminist ideal. "Bridezillas," therefore, is a deeply and profoundly feminist show.

Snap again!

Profoundly feminist.

The author concludes:

Why do we have to turn to fictional shows such as Damages, The Closer, CSI: Las Vegas, In Plain Sight, Saving Grace, etc. for portrayals of real women who can walk and emit coherent sentences at the same time?

The answer to that question is, You don't have to turn to fictional shows for anything other than to be entertained.

"Damages" is referenced a few times in the article, and it just so happens that I'm a fan of that show, so I can tell you that it stars Glenn Close as a ruthless lawyer who will do absolutely anything to win a case and protect her own wealth and business. She will even resort to murder. But, she can walk and "emit" coherent sentences at the same time, so I guess that's okay. "The Closer" is another show I enjoy, and I actually can't think of anything negative to write about Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda Leigh Johnson character (But I did find someone else who takes issue with one aspect of the character's portrayal). She did sleep with a married man once. Oh- she is neurotic about her sugar intake. But then, that's probably because society pressures women to be thin. However, "The Closer" has featured a number of episodes in which venal women commit murder to get their way. And then there's Brenda Leigh Johnson's new sister-in-law. Because she's played by Amy Sedaris she's cute and has a certain innate nobility to her. But she's also a flighty ditz who is credulous about the paranormal (she claims to psychic or something). That isn't positive.

And speaking of flighty ditz's who are credulous about the paranormal, this week on "Charm School," the "girls" had to face their fears; unfortunately, those fears were of things that do not even exist.

This week's episode starts with the rain. This is such a rare occurrence in Los Angeles that it seems obvious that it must have been nature's response to Brittaney Starr's expulsion last week. But as far as last week's Most Charming, Natasha, is concerned, the fact that "the skanktourage" (Ashley and Brittanya) remain in the school is the real injustice. She wants them out.

Remember when Natasha and Brittanya were best friends? That is, before they started to learn to be "Charming."

She wants them out so bad that is causes her to speak irrationally: "[Ashley] looks like Darth Vader. With her helmet hair she wears [like a?] helmet; then she has a f*cking forehead from hell."

Natasha claims that Ashley resembles Darth Vader.

But I don't think Darth Vader has that many tattoos.

Marcia, having lapped up Natasha's anger, returns to the room she shares with Ashley and Brittanya, and starts smack-talking them to their faces. Brittanya wants to "kick her ass," but shows admirable restraint. She's in "Charm School," after all; and she's got that court date. Kicking a fellow student's ass might look bad to the presiding judge.

Marcia: "Please, girl. You need a Sharpie to fix those eyebrows."

Ashley: "Double chin."

Today's commandment is "Thou Shalt Face Thy Fears." That is an excellent commandment, and everyone should face their fears. Some people fear flying, so perhaps they'll have the women take a short airplane ride (to Vegas). Some people fear alcoholic beverages, so perhaps the women will be encouraged to drink? Some people fear taking their clothes off in public- maybe we'll see the women engage in their usual professions?

As La La says, "If you let fear get in the way, it can hold you back, and you'll never reach your full potential in life." This is true.

The women are then subjected to something called Dr. Allison Arnold, who has, we're told, "worked with the US Olympic team" (we aren't told how- she might have been a janitor), and is internationally known as "The Fear Liberator," which sounds like the name of a supervillain. Should fear really be "liberated?"

Left out of "Doc Ali's" list of credentials was the fact that she was a regular on the VH1 show "Scott Baio is 45...And Single."

The session that follows is distasteful.

"Fear is mostly created by your mind," The Fear Liberator tells them. This is heartening news for some of the women, who might have been unsure the could create anything with their minds. Anyway, that fear leads to the creation of armor, by which I assume she means mental or spiritual armor, not actual armor as worn by knights. In other words, Fear can cause you problems. The Fear Liberator apparently spends several minutes explaining what La La already told them.

And what are the womens' fears?

Remember: this is distasteful.

Brittanya is afraid of- she laughs nervously- not being there for her son, going to jail, and not being a good enough mother.

Those are all valid fears for her. She might go to jail (for assault?), and there's a very good chance that she is a terrible mother. It would not surprise me.

The Fear Liberator tells her that "the fighting- that's not who you are." Do the guest speakers at Charm School actually watch the shows before they come on? Or is she simply lying to Brittanya to make her feel better?

Brittanya starts to cry.

K.O. is afraid of losing her twin brother. He is the only biological family she has. That is serious. Her parents have passed away, and she and her brother were adopted.

The Fear Liberator: "So do you think your life is worth living without him?... So just being K.O. isn't worth anything?"

Again, The Fear Liberator hasn't seen the shows before, or she might realize that K.O. is not this woman's actual name. Her name is... um... something else. So, no, being K.O., the character she plays on VH1 reality shows, probably isn't worth anything. Especially when compared with her fear of losing her twin brother.

The other women are forced to walk up to her, hold her hand, and tell her something they see in her.

Baybaybay is afraid of being murdered by a stalker. Holy crap. Baybaybay carries a gun. That is scary (the stalker- not the gun. she should carry a gun, if she's being stalked).

But The Fear Liberator wants to try something. She has Baybaybay lay on the floor, the other women stand around her, and The Fear Liberator rubs her forehead and tells her to "turn some of her fear over to God."

The women then lift her up above their heads.

Baybaybay is then told to repeat, "I commit to life," over and over.

How this is supposed to help her deal with the very real problem of having a stalker is not explained. Is The Fear Liberator implying that somehow Baybaybay's actions, or lack of actions, in the past are somehow to blame for her having a stalker? If only she'd "committed to life" this creepy man wouldn't be following her around, threatening her?

The Fear Liberator really is a supervillain.

Ashley is afraid her son won't be able to be proud of his mother. She wants to be someone he can look up to. She tells The Fear Liberator that when she was a child she decided she would do whatever it took to not be poor. "And, that's why I dance. I'm not proud of it."

The Fear Liberator is using her evil powers of intimidation to make Ashley forget that she brings happiness, and makes a lot of money to support her son, from dancing. She should be proud of it.

Bubbles is afraid of Psycho Men. Turns out, as a child, she was sexually abused. That, too, is very serious. Bubbles needs the help of a qualified therapist to help her to get over the fact that she has trouble trusting people in general, men in particular.

The Fear Liberator has Bubbles sit in a chair and asks the other women if they can relate to her "on some level." What does "on some level" mean? Have any of you watched any "Afterschool Specials" about abuse?

Baybaybay says she feels like "a bag of crap" for treating Bubbles badly in the past. "I see why she is the way she is, and I should never have penalized her for that."

The Fear Liberator has the other women come up "and just simply support her." They do this by standing around Bubbles' chair and touching her. How that is supposed to help her get over the very real pain of dealing with abuse is, again, not explained.

Is exploiting tragedy charming?

"I don't want everyone to know," Bubbles says. "I don't want anyone to feel bad." One of them replies that "We don't feel bad," which is a lie. Bubbles will now be defined by the others in these terms. She was abused.

As Bubbles cries, The Fear Liberator says, "Let it out. It's okay, this is about healing." I would be more inclined to believe her if she weren't a supervillain who was helping to exploit these women for a television show.

Natasha's biggest fear is not being in control. She doesn't keep in contact with family members because she cannot control whether they live or die, and she doesn't want to be close to someone who's just going to die on her. In short, Natasha's fear is that she is not God.

Regarding people: "I hate 'em," she interviews. "People are crazy." Now we're back on track, and Natasha is once again in the running for my coveted "Most Charming" award. People are crazy.

As if to prove Natasha's point, The Fear Liberator says that, because she ultimately fears death, she is dying right now. Dying more than anyone else, because she's not really living. "Because you're keeping your heart guarded." She then tells Natasha to address an empty chair as if it were the dying Natasha. Natasha isn't buying The Fear Liberator's bulls hit, and refuses. The chair, after all, is empty.

I think Natasha's Most Charming for the second week in a row. La La, on the other hand, purses her lips and scribbles in her notebook that Natasha's not trying hard enough.

How charming is it to just blindly accept the advice of a supervillain who rose to fame as Scott Baio's therapist on a VH1 reality show? How charming is it for the headmistress and deans to force the students to expose painful secrets about themselves on television, and those who don't play along run the risk of losing the $100K?

Marcia's afraid of getting hurt. How does she cope with this? Well, she drinks.

The Fear Liberator tells her to commit to "standing your fear without alcohol."

Marcia promises to leave Charm School if she drinks another drop of alcohol, doubtless upsetting the producers.

Risky fears letting everything out. "Why relive it?" she asks. She has spent this time watching the other women break down in tears as they exposed their traumas, and she's seen the damage it can do to a person when she re-opens old wounds. Most especially, when you re-open those old wounds for Scott Baio's supervillain therapist.

"I been through it all. Everything," she says.

Risky might be Most Charming.

La La lies and says, "I think Doc Ali deserves a big round of applause." What The Fear Liberator really deserves is to have her license revoked, if indeed she has any license at all.

Now that they've had the women talk about real, actual fears and traumas, the women are taken to Linda Heights Hospital, which has been closed for 15 years. As La La tells them, "A lot of crazy stuff has happened in this hospital." That might be true. "Many many people believe that it is now extremely haunted." That is most definitely not true. No place is haunted. It is not charming to believe that buildings are haunted. Now would be the time for La La to point this out. "Now, we know that it is impossible for buildings to be haunted. There is no such thing as ghosts," she should have said.

She did not say this.

This week's commandment should have been "Thou Shalt Not Be Credulous."

It was not.

There is no such thing as ghosts. The film "Ghost," with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, was fiction.

Ashley believes in ghosts. La La could have said that Ashley has nothing to fear from ghosts, because there is no such thing as ghosts. Perhaps instead of The Fear Liberator, Charm School could have had one of the ladies of skepchick come and tell the women that there are plenty of real things to be afraid of, but ghosts do not exist and it is therefore a waste of time and energy to believe in them, and fear them.

They did not do this.

At least the author of the editorial has a choice, if she wants to women positively portrayed on a reality show, she can just flip over to one of the myriad other shows besides "Bridezillas" and "Real Housewives of." For those of us who loathe "paranormal" or "ghost hunting" shows, there's not much in the way of skeptical alternatives. "Penn & Teller's Bullshit!" comes to mind, but after that, uh, well, "The X-Files" had Scully, but that show' been gone awhile.

The women are sent into the "haunted hospital" (I think that was a Scooby Doo episode, right?) and given a series of boring tasks to perform (closing windows, gathering rat traps, closing doors). The gimmick is that they perform the tasks in the dark, with eerie lighting, and with cameras attached to their chests, so we get dramatic nose upshots.

That said, Marcia and K.O. had a funny strategy for dealing with "the ghosts" (which I need not remind the reader do not exist), which was to cuss at them. "F*ck you, b*tch!" Marcia screams at nothing at all. Marcia, having just made a promise to not drink for the duration of the show has begun shouting obscenities at empty air. Poor Marcia. Engaging in the behavior of excess drink, with none of the benefits.

Newly sober Marcia shouted obscenities in an effort to keep the ghosts away. If they were male ghosts, her plan did not work. Also, ghosts don't exist.

I have to say, if the "Ghost Hunters" used vulgarity to chase away ghosts, I might watch that stupid show.

Ashley has a panic attack, and Natasha goes down to the basement to rescue her. Natasha is still Most Charming.

The two teams completed all tasks, but because Natasha had to rescue Ashley, the Pink Team wins. That means that Ashley, Natasha, Risky, and Bubbles are on the bottom and could face expulsion. Bubbles, Ashley, and Natasha are the bottom three.

Perhaps the women of "Charm School" should have been forced to eat "Boo Berry" cereal, to truly face their fear of ghosts, by consuming them. Bonus, just for the "Charm School" women- this box features "Boo Hooters."

Ricki calls La La and Stryker, the two deans, into her office to help her decide who to send home. La La tells Ricki that some of the girls made some real breakthroughs with The Fear Liberator. Bubbles had a big moment, as did Ashley. Ricki says, credulously, "From what I'm hearing, Doc Ali has an amazing way of working with these girls and getting them to bring out these issues that they need to address, and I am really so impressed with the progress they've made."

Stryker, who seems to be useless, points out that Risky and Natasha opened up the least. And I suppose this is why I could never be a dean at "Charm School." I consider that fact to be a point in their favor. Ricki and La La and Stryker might think that "getting these issues out" is noble in itself, but I think that everyone deals with trauma and pain in different ways, and there's nothing wrong with being hesitant to expose your deepest fears and pains to a supervillain on a reality show.

"A necessary part of this process is to be open," Ricki says pompously. "And, someone who's not willing to face their past will never change."

Natasha did say during her time with The Fear Liberator that she wasn't ready to talk to herself in the way that The Fear Liberator admonished, but that does not mean that she's not willing to face her past, or to be open. It might just mean that she has enough sense to wait until she is alone with a qualified therapist. Or, hell, it might even mean that she doesn't have any "past" to "face" at all.

Ricki lies to La La and Stryker when she says, "Guys, you did a great job. Great work as always." They're both fairly pathetic, although La La is head and shoulders above Stryker.

Before the expulsion, Bubbles explains to Ricki that she faced her fear, because there were rats in the basement of the hospital, and she did the thing that she was supposed to do. But she is unable to make it all the way to the end of her compelling argument without breaking down.

Ashley doesn't know why she is in the bottom three. Bubbles voted for her because she didn't do as well as Risky. Natasha voted for her because Farrah's not in Charm School anymore. Ricki believes in her, and doesn't expel her. She's also the best remaining character from Rock of Love Bus, but I'm sure that doesn't figure into Ricki's thinking.

Bubbles and Natasha are left. As Ricki pontificates, Bubbles percolates. She needs to stand up for herself. Tearfully, she tells everyone "I want to feel that confidence to speak up and I'm speaking up now!... I'm starting to change and I know I can change even more!" She says all this in the voice she hopes to one day use to do voice over work for cartoons.

Natasha's not here for the money, she says. She could stay at home, she doesn't need the stress.

Well, she's not going to have to deal with it anymore. Natasha's expelled.

"I don't need to change?" she interviews. "Why, so I can let people like Ashley and Brittanya in my life? I'm fine by myself."

Natasha is this week's Most Charming, and will be sorely missed.

Natasha in happier times, surrounded by her fellow "Rock of Love Bus" contestants.

The Fear Liberator pic source.
Darth Vader pic source.
Ashley pic source.
Marcia pic source.
Brittanya and Natasha in bed pic source.
Ghost pic source.
Boo Berry pic source.
Natasha ROLBus pic source.


A.Jaye said...

Ah. Natasha. I can't remeber the link for a clip of her in what is a legal profession. But I can't take her seriously. Not even when she refused to play the reality game of 'confess and cry'.

I'm shocked about B3. A stalker and a gun? She should use the thing. Hey Ricky, remember in RCOL when Chance said Bubbles had a 'cartoon' voice. Next thing you know the moron wants to work in the movie industry as a 'cartoon' voice. It wasn't a compliment bubbles. No one is ever giving you a SAG card.

You know why I like Brittanya? In RoL she said she wasn't smart. In CS£ she says she knows she's hot.

How many women do you know with such self awareness?

Ricky Sprague said...

Yeah, I want to like Brittanya, but I would really like to know some specifics about what she's been accused of, and why she's in legal trouble. I have only so much "like" in me, and I don't want to waste it on someone who's assaulted someone for no good reason.

A.Jaye said...

I'm going to do some research on that. And hope I don't come across of a picture of her without makeup.

shampoo said...

If you ever wanted to feel as if you were truly in danger from ghosts, there would be no better way than what they did to these girls in this episode. It is not necessary to actually believe in ghosts.

That big, dark, partially disused hospital full of fictional problems is all that would be needed after you strip off all the defenses of the participants by making them reveal their greatest fears.

I know what Marcia did seems really silly. But, it was an excellent strategy. The cursing and yelling made her feel strong. If she feels strong, she's not so overly sensitive to the weird environment. And that's going to be a weird place... I have seen pictures of the inside. Parts are used for filming and parts are abandoned.

I think you made a good point that there were other things they could've done that would have been more productive and better for the mental health of the girls.

K.O.'s name is Roxanne, I think.

Ricky Sprague said...

I agree with you, shampoo. Not all the women were quoted as believing in ghosts to begin with. And I have no doubt the abandoned hospital with no lights, and rats scampering around would scare me, too. What I found especially irritating was the manipulation of the contestants earlier in the day, with the "tell me what you fear" "therapy," and then sending them to this "haunted hospital" that night.

It's almost as if they're not really trying to help these women at all!

Plus, I am sick, sick, sick of all the "haunting" and "ghost hunting" type shows that are on right now. I know they're popular- maybe that's what really bothers me. But watching people wander around in darkness while lit with some eerie greesnish light, occasionally saying "Did you hear that?" is not my idea of compelling television.

shampoo said...

I don't like how they judged risky's lesson. to me, it seemed that she was trying to tell them without saying it. she may be going through.

I think with baybaybay it was so when she's safe, she can let go of some of her worry. but until this guy is dead or locked up, she will be scared.

they manipulated the girls so bad that poor ashley screamed like she was being murdered. she was afraid of the building. as soon as she saw it, she didn't want to go in there. maybe she gets lost in large buildings, who knows.

after the lesson, i'm surprised everyone did as well as they did. even poor bubbles who had to deal with "rats" and a "body." will she still be as empowered when someone tells her it was all fake?

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