Friday, May 13, 2011

How Reality Television Can Save the World!

In a previous post, I mentioned how there is a well meaning Facebook friend of mine who finds it beyond appalling that I watch the Emmy-neglected Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise. Let me start off by saying that I don’t know this woman well, but I have friends who do, and we live in a small community, blah, blah, blah. This woman (bless her little heart) feels the need to scold me should I ever post about any single element of the show whatsoever. Each and every time. Apparently, she does not get my tongue-in-cheekness when I regale readers with my description of true love’s blooming like, well, a rose. (She also does not get ME, period, having once asked me if I subscribe to Gun and Garden magazine because she thought I’d really like it.)
Anyhoo, despite attempts to appear to the contrary, I can be a bit defensive. Or, rather, I let the defensiveness well up within me until I shake uncontrollably and give myself some sort of minor aneurism. Then I let it all release through a sweet, kind, neighborly little reply like, “Oh, I know. It’s silly, but it’s fun. [smiley face]” It’s like letting the air out of a hot air balloon by poking it with a straight pin. The defensiveness takes a while to hiss out that way.
Truth is, I love reality television. Whether it’s “reality” or reality, I love it and I will defend a big ole’ handful of shows, from said Bachelor franchise to the Hugh Hefner trainwreck and its spin-offs and beyond. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can be a snob. Like with books and music, there are some lines I simply cannot cross. Jersey Shore? Can’t do it (yet). Anything involving Bret Michaels? Not a chance. He slightly scares me. And although I can sing every word of Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise,” I shan’t watch Flava Flav go any further down the path of destruction and VD. The overexposure of drunkenness and asinine decision making has also led to the demise of my Real World obsession. May it rest in peace.
Legally, I cannot put a picture of "The Situation" here. This is a comparable situation.
But in more ways than I’ll bore you with here, Reality TV is, for the most part, perfect for yours truly--and, I’d argue--for most Americans out there, should they give it a chance. I love to travel, laugh, seek adventure, celebrate escapism, and (most significantly important to me) learn more about fellow humans on this little bitty earth. Reality TV puts all of that right in front of my eyeballs.
Take, for instance, last night, and the season finale of the world’s best reality show, The Amazing Race. I could go on and on about what makes this reality show a great reality show, but instead, I’ll give you a summarized play-by-play of musings (and all of these nuggets of wisdom are from just one episode):
  • Damn, those Harlem Globetrotters are hilarious. I would like to be their best friend.
  • Why do contestants keep speaking Spanish to the cab drivers in Rio? 
  • I thought Brazilian waxes are supposed to involve simply your nether-regions. Who knew that, in Brazil, it’s full body, including armpits?
  • Armpit waxing hurts.
  • Now the Globetrotter is doing the samba in a Speedo. Delightful.
  • CBS has to put a blurry line over the butt-cracks of thong wearers on the beach.
  • Rio is much prettier than I ever thought it would be. Oh, and they’re hosting the World Cup soon? How’d I miss that?
  • There’s a bike bridge that’s 7 miles near Miami? Cool.
  • Look how beautiful the water is in southern Florida. We should go there sometime.
  • Kisha and Jen, the sister team! They won! Raised by a single mother, they look forward to helping her like she helped them. Great, now I’m crying.
What does this list say, aside from the likelihood that I could benefit from a small dose or two of Ritalin? It says I learned something last night. Several things, actually, not the least of which is that Phil’s eyes have the ability to look straight into my heart. Like millions of viewers, I traveled all over the globe throughout the past few months. My fellow viewers and I saw cultures crazy-different from and similar to our own. We became a part of the workings of people that looked a little like us but spoke languages not understood. We learned logistical stuff (it’s possible to shop around lots of places for airfare and one should avoid taxis in India at all costs if you have motion sickness), and we learned something deeper (autism does not have to stop you from conquering fears or traveling to dozens of places). 
Have a disability? One contestant this season did; he is deaf, but he traveled all over the world and met all sorts of nutty obstacles head on with bravery and humor. I watched his mother be his friend, translator, and sometimes frustrated companion; in the process, I discovered a hell of a lot about what it means to love each other.
Project Runway, another fanTAStic show, has taught me a ton about creativity and artistry, what it means to be a struggling artist but never giving up, and the fashion industry, which I didn’t even know I was interested in before. It’s made my older daughter teach herself to sew; she now spends her spare time designing dresses and wondering which college programs have degrees in fashion, design, or merchandising (she’s 11). PR also gives me a regular dose of the beyond-brilliant Tim Gunn and led me to the amazing Project Rungay blog. [ed's note: just discovered this is now called Tom and Lorenzo: Fabulous and Opinionated] A previous devotee of Survivor, I now feel fairly equipped to handle life stranded on a desert island with nothing but a colorful scarf and a conniving villain at my side.
And the Biggest Loser? Don’t EVEN get me started. Sitting in my chair each week with a big bowl of ice cream in my lap, I’ve watched miracles of health and wellness unfold before my eyes. My husband and I look forward to each episode with (low-fat) relish, and yes, I typically cry. More than once. 
In fact, I’m fairly certain that if we got Kim Jong Il, Kadafi, President Obama, the ghost of Ganghis Khan, and Flava Flav all in one room for a marathon viewing of Biggest Loser episodes, we’d solve all the problems of the world. They would watch as Moses gives up his chance of winning the grand prize solely so Olivia, a woman he hardly knows, can continue on her weight-loss journey and ultimate gain the chance to have children. You see, HE knows what joy children bring to the world, because he has two daughters he loves; that’s why he’s on the ranch, for God’s sake, and he wants Olivia to know that same love.
[pause to reach for tissues]

Reality TV may be mind-melting for some, but for me, when I was on chemo, that was exactly what I needed. Anything with drama or written words or a plot, much less something that made me think the eensiest bit too hard, well, it was off limits. For me, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. Maybe it wasn't my oncologist, but still. Now that I'm (mostly) back to my old self, Reality TV and I will never, ever part. 
At the World Leader Reality Show Peace Summit, tears would flow and hearts would open and everyone would discover that yes, Kendra was once a stripper but is now a mom and realizes what’s most important in life. They would see that people, although they may get really drunk and pee on themselves in unfortunate situations, are ultimately good. People would listen to each other. Political parties would work together more and point fingers less. Wars would end.
That said, I know that’s not reality. But I sure would tune in to watch.

This picture is here because when I Googled "peace," this came up and it creeped me out.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

That's So Inappropriate

There’s a word in the Lynch household that is used rather often. I wouldn’t have thought much of this word even a few weeks ago, but for some reason, its presence has buzzed around my ear lately like a fly-by gnat. Not annoying, but just enough to get my attention.
The word? “Inappropriate.” 
When my daughters used this word as littler wee-ones, it never failed to crack me up. Hearing a five-year-old use any word too big for her mouth is always fantastic, but to hear one say, Pop pop, don’t say ‘butt.’ That’s inappropriate . . . well, now, that’s pure adorableness gold.
Lately, however, I’ve noticed a difference, a shift in my response from adoring to slightly unsettling. I can't help but realizing that this shift comes right alongside my girls’ rapidly advancing maturity. For them, there’s a shift, too. No longer does That’s Inappropriate mean something forbidden, something wrong in their worldview. What it means now is something along the lines of I know that’s wrong or feels weird to me, but I don’t know why and I don’t think I want to know. Or maybe I do. Why are the grownups laughing? What’s going on with my understanding of the world around me?!
Take, for instance, our dog. A couple of years ago, my eight year old, giddy on the high of first-time puppy ownership, yelled for my attention. I found her standing in the den, giggling hilariously, Fergus the puppy going to town on her little leg. “Look, Mama! He’s hugging my leg over and over again! He loves me!”
Fast forward to present. Same daughter, now a goofy eleven year old, rough-housing with said dog, stops suddenly to chastise him for this (now, thankfully, infrequent) behavior. “Fergus! No! Bad boy. That’s totally inapporpriate!”
A line has been drawn: the line of understanding. It’s a thick, fuzzy, foggy line; it’s a big patch of dry sand, where footprints and sandcastles can’t exist, right next to the wet sand, plaything of youth. She knows enough now, thanks to her growing brain, sex ed, television we probably shouldn’t let her watch, and Pop Pop, to realize that there is something she just knows is not right. But she also knows enough to know that she has no idea what that is.
Inappropriate. Why such a negative word for such natural phenomenon? For me, with my daughters, I’ve been listening for it and swatting at it with my own attempts at understanding, and finally, finally, I’ve come to this: “That’s inappropriate” is an off switch; it’s the way to stop the conversation, the image on the screen, the dog humping your leg . . . and thereby stop yourself from thinking too much about something that just doesn’t feel right. In itself, it’s its own misunderstanding. If something is inappropriate, we stop ourselves from walking that thick fuzzy line, through the unpleasantness and toward understanding. “That’s inappropriate” keeps us safe.
For my daughters, for kids of all ages, that’s okay. That’s called learning your own boundaries, something we all hope the youth of the world can do. We give them permission to ease themselves into what is and is not appropriate because they are, after all, kids.
Sometimes, though, we have to give them a little shove. Recently, my older daughter was MORTIFIED when I took her bra shopping. Out of respect for her (and soul-numbing fear that she will somehow read this post), I will not go into details, but I will tell you that she pretty much summed up the entire two-hour experience with a big, fat That’s Inappropriate, symbolized by a whole bunch of eye-rolls, several minor yells, and a full-on sprint away from the counter at checkout. I was there, though, to help her realize that no, it’s not inappropriate. It’s life. It’s growing up.
How did I do this? Well, I pulled out the only weapon I really ever carry with me: humor. I tried to make her laugh at herself a bit, loosen the mood. When it didn’t work, I got the eyerolls. But when it did, I got the shy smile, aimed toward her flip-flops, that demonstrates both processing and acceptance.
And no matter what, I got a kick out of it all. Sometimes, you’ve gotta just make yourself laugh. So when she was hiding out about 100 yards away pretending to get water at the water fountain, I waited in line for the older gentleman to ring up my size 32AA bras. Once, I caught her peeking up at me. That’s when I reached both hands to my chest, made little circles with them, and mouthed, “She’s getting her boobies,” quite dramatically. Of course, she didn’t realize that he wasn’t even looking at me. That was my little secret for the moment. I told her later, after I had stopped laughing at how funny I was. 
Was I being inappropriate? Me? Never. Was I perhaps teaching my daughter a slight lesson about messing with me in public? Maybe. Truly, though, I was trying to help her cross through that foggy line and emerge on the other side with understanding as the souvenir. The trip seems lighter with laughter.
As grown-ups, I propose we strive to constantly re-evaluate what we consider inappropriate. For some (ahem, me), political discussions seem inappropriate. So do religious ones. I know why. It’s because I get too nervous about discussing a point in which I’m not well-versed for fear of being called out, not knowing my shit, not having a valid point. Certainly, I could benefit from the understanding that broaching these inappropriate topics could bring. Probably. Maybe.
Earlier this year, I had the overwhelming honor to communicate and work briefly with David Jay. David is a photographer who is slowly and powerfully gaining world respect and recognition for his SCAR project. SCAR stands for Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality. His is a series of moving, passionate, and real photographs of women who are on the other side of breast cancer. And they have the scars to prove it.
I had stumbled on David’s photographs in the same way I stumble on most of life’s truths: on Facebook. It’s hard to write about the effect they had on me, not because I’m quiet about the emotions they brought (and continue to bring) to the surface, but because, for a long time, I wasn’t quite sure what those emotions were or how to describe them. Here was a man who was putting to print the most secret, private part of me, for to share these photographs with people--as I felt compelled to do--was to show them myself naked. Literally and figuratively. Walking around without breasts had become a whisper of who I was, my own absolute reality. David’s photographs ripped off my clothes and invited others to click “like” at what they saw.
Or to be confused. Or surprised. Or, even, afraid.
After my surgery and subsequent healing, my own daughters, after all, had no longer been able to be with me when I undressed. A nudist by nature, I was profoundly altered by their response to my naked body. Nights spent putting our pjs on together were no more; instead, if they saw it was time for me to change, they practically ran to their room, often shutting my door behind them, lest I forget to do so myself. They are little and could not, therefore, be casual about their aversion. My younger daughter, nestling with me in my chair one night and resting her head on my chest, told me she missed my breasts, that I was too boney and not comfy anymore. The same daughter, with her trademark full-disclosure honesty policy, instructed me once to change clothes in our hotel room bathroom, alone, away from them. She waved her hand in my chest’s general direction and explained, “That’s just creepy.”
These things crushed me for more reasons than I could count. I was less of a woman to my girls. I was a mystery. I scared them.
That is, until months after I first discovered David Jay’s photographs. On this particular night, I was re-examining his extensive collection on line. One by one, I clicked through the photographs, until I slowly became aware that someone was looking over my shoulder. It was my daughter.
“What are you doing, mama?” she asked, quietly.
“Looking at these amazing photographs.” Long silence. “Do you want me to stop?”
“No,” she said softly, so I continued on. Eventually, we reached a photograph of a beautiful woman, arms stretched high over her head, that revealed her penetrating eyes and double-mastectomy scars.
“That looks like you!” my little girl practically gasped. I agreed, and we sat there in silence until my other daughter came over, timidly, ready to see, too. They were safe there with me, computer screen in my lap, and they saw something new in that woman who looked like their mother.
A few days later, getting in my comfy clothes for the night, I gave my usual precaution to my little girl: “I’m getting ready to change, honey.” Our unspoken agreement was yes, it's okay for you to leave now.
“That’s okay, mama. I don’t need to go.” So she stayed. And we talked, and we giggled. And neither of my girls has looked away since.
David Jay’s photographs have been deemed by some as inappropriate. They are too real, too honest, and show too much. There are nipples. There are lack-of-nipples. There are the curves of a woman’s shape. There are the glaring absences where a woman’s shape should be.
This winter, while working on a writing project with David about SCAR, I discussed as much with him. The topic came up as he explained that only on-line articles ever showed his work. Not one print piece had ever shown a photograph. As one Italian journalist put it, her editor chose not to include the images in the story about SCAR because “he says the images are too much strong, that he makes feel bad.”
Despite the hilarity of the accompanying translation problems, his statement says a lot about what we, as grownups, see as inappropriate in the world. For kids, facing the inappropriate may be scary because they’re learning something that they didn’t know before. Growing up is, after all, scary for us all. It makes feel bad. But it’s best that we all do it, no? Was the Italian editor afraid of that blurry line, the one that allows us to cross into understanding? Did he turn the switch to “off?” I think he did. Luckily, my daughters did not. They were pretty damn brave. 
And I am pretty damn grateful.