Episode 15 – Toddlers & Tiaras

 

This week’s discussion: Toddlers and Tiaras, Season 7, Eps. 1-5. Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Judge Faith, Season 2, Eps. 1-7.  Watch it on Amazon Prime Video. Watch it on YouTube.

This week we tackled the infamous TLC show Toddlers & Tiaras.  JS begins with an apology to our listeners and declares it the worst show he’s ever seen, whereas Mike offers a somewhat qualified defense of the show (though definitely not the people – who are the worst).

After our recriminations and the usual recap of concept and structure, we delve into the show’s point-of-view and how it is reflected in its editing choices.  We also discuss the topics of beauty and gender standards, how these pageants sexualize minors, ritualistic nature of beauty pageant culture, the links between beauty pageantry and social conservatism, and the role of social class and economics.  Of course, we continually return to how troubling this is as well as finishing up with an exploration of whether this show has any redeeming social value or is merely wallowing in salaciousness.

Show Notes and Links

1:31 / Introducing this week’s show (with bonus apology from JS)

2:21 / JS thinks this is the worst show he’s ever seen

2:52 / Mike explains why he didn’t think this was the worst (although the people are); mentions Monica the Medium and Keys to the VIP

4:41 / The concept of the show

7:08 / This isn’t the first ‘rodeo’ for many of these families

8:08 / Talking about the exception: single dad at first pageant

9:28 / Covering the awards ceremony (and the ridiculous award names)

10:40 / These parents don’t accept second place

12:00 / Delving into the pageant judges and directors

14:15 / Segueing into the show’s point-of-view; Mike mentions Bridezillas

14:52 / The editing choices were revealing

16:41 / Money is a frequent topic

17:13 / The motif of bribing kids with sugar and caffeine

19:33 / Parsing the difference between disapproving of the parents and the pageant

20:36 / Mike was rubbed the wrong way by many of the judges’ comments

22:27 / Mike’s theory of why the pageant footage is edited differently

24:02 / Talking about the intended audience; see our Finding Bigfoot episode for our take on the decline of educational cable channels

25:09 / Show possibly geared towards mothers; contrasting the appeal of the show to Snooki and JWoww: Moms with Attitude

26:53 / How this show could potentially appeal to ‘pageant moms’

27:19 / Transitioning to a discussion on what this show says about beauty and gender standards

28:08 / The artificiality of the beauty standard was revealing

29:04 / The problematic message of adult beauty pageants is even more amplified when it involves children who cannot meaningfully consent

31:24 / The two objections to child beauty pageants: consent and sexualization

34:12 / The ritualistic aspects of child beauty pageantry; Mike makes a possibly melodramatic comparison to ‘female circumcision

36:17 / JS poses a question to Mike

37:38 / Coming back to traditionalist gender roles and the Southern regional aspect (Correction: one was also in California, but the larger point stands)

39:07 / The relationship between social conservatism and beauty pageant culture

41:45 / Talking about our (limited) experience with (adult) beauty pageants

43:24 / Discussing the role of social class and economics

44:40 / Mike noticed a positive correlation between wealth and winning

45:15 / JS begrudgingly gives the show his one kudos

46:06 / Returning to the vast amounts of money spent on the dresses

46:47 / Seems to be no real monetary return for these pageants

49:03 / Speculating (somewhat baselessly) into the economics of holding a beauty pageant

51:08 / We’d call it a con, but these parents seem to have no illusions of wealth

52:02 / Exploring the parents’ motivations: validation, living vicariously, and ‘winning’ (not ‘confidence’)

54:57 / Participation trophies are ‘ruining society’

55:45 / Does this show have social value or is it wallowing in titillation?

57:15 / JS thought the social value was held back by the fact that there are bigger problems in the world

59:40 / Mike wonders whether this dichotomy is so strict (Is there inherent tension between sensationalism and exposé?)

1:01:17 / Mike imagines the response to this show would depend on the viewer, which has disturbing implications

1:01:55 / Mike found the show both more interesting and more depressing than he expected, even if it wasn’t Edward R. Murrow; thought the show would be light-hearted camp

1:02:53 / Comparing this show to America’s Next Most Smartest Model and America’s Next Top Model; JS found how it puts children into an adult setting objectionable

1:05:12 / Announcing the next episode (You can refresh yourself on our Divorce Court episode here)

1:08:50 / The usual: email us, rate/review, and subscribe

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Episode 14 – Snooki and JWoww: Moms with Attitude

 

This week’s discussion: Snooki and JWoww: Moms with Attitude, Season 1, Eps. 1-12, 39-40. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

Next week’s discussion: Toddlers and Tiaras, Season 7, Eps. 1-5. Watch it on Hulu.

Our Listener’s Choice poll results are in and we listened to the masses (all two of them) who decided they wanted us to watch the Jersey Shore spin-off Snooki and JWoww: Moms with Attitude, a webseries that originally appeared over the go90 streaming service.

We begin by discussing the show’s interesting ‘YouTube’ style form factor and whether it worked for us.  Then we segue into the show’s relationship with its famous progenitor and how the personas of the two hosts has evolved, linking that evolution to broader themes of aging and maturity.  We also talk about the show’s interesting blend of traditional domesticity with an MTV ‘edge’ as well as its relationship to its target demographic of ‘millennial moms’ and how its themes of parenthood and family life connected with us.  Additionally, we discuss issues of social class and praise the show’s minimalist production and apparent unvarnished nature, linking it to earlier discussions of the appeal of authenticity in reality television.

Show Notes and Links

1:30 / Introducing this week’s show

2:46 / Our experiences with Jersey Shore

4:20 / Talking about the history behind the show (Mike mentions the MTV Snooki and JWoww and go90)

6:32 / The concept and different episode types

8:52 / Talking about the show’s form factor

10:47 / Mike compares show to the ‘YouTuber’ phenomenon

11:46 / Discussing the minimalistic production (Article about the webseries that Mike mentioned)

13:49 / Returning to the form factor (Our Monica the Medium episode is here)

15:37 / Segueing to the target demographic for the show (Awestruck Entertainment; the JWoww and Roger webseries)

17:22 / Talking about the show’s aesthetic (‘not a mothering show for your mother’)

18:52 / Our view of the hosts and their evolution since Jersey Shore

21:55 / Discussing whether you should curse in front of your kids

23:01 / Coming back to the hosts and how they’ve changed since Jersey Shore

24:46 / This show’s relation to the previous one; acknowledgement mixed with distance

25:45 / Mike tries to explain Jersey Shore’s relationship to other reality shows to JS (We mention TOWIE and The Real World; Snooki’s arrest)

27:45 / How this show is indicative of shifting depictions of millennials as they age and settle down

29:02 / Why Mike thinks the perennial complaint of ‘kids these days’ is misguided

30:15 / Show also chronicles the cultural shifts around parenting that have occurred as millennials have become parents

30:44 / The show was stronger because they didn’t try to rehash Jersey Shore and showed the maturity and change of the hosts

32:36 / Briefly touching on the affluent lifestyle depicted in the show

33:35 / Does this show connect with fathers as well as mothers?

35:45 / Discussing the show as a ‘feminine’ space and how its views on gender roles and domesticity are actually surprisingly traditional

37:50 / The ‘non-traditional’ nature of the hosts made the show interesting

38:28 / Mike appreciated the depiction of family life, which managed to be a nice portrait that didn’t feel like a Hallmark card

39:12 / Segueing into the authentic nature of the show (We mention the ‘Facebook wall phenomenon’)

41:03 / Mike’s nostalgia for the characters, returns to idea of reality TV as ‘hanging out’ (our Keys episode is here, NYT profile of Snooki during her Jersey Shore days)

41:57 / JS appreciated the lack of product placement and their honesty in their product reviews

43:07 / Returning to the topic of social class and its relation to the show’s target demographic

46:17 / Closing with discussion of the appealing nature of the show’s authenticity

49:01 / The fact that this wasn’t done by a huge MTV production crew made the show feel more authentic and less produced

50:25 / Introducing the next show

52:08 / Announcements: contact us, rate and review us, and subscribe (Also, we have a Facebook page that Mike forgot to mention)

 

Episode 13 – Alaskan Bush People

 

This week’s discussion: Alaskan Bush People, Season 1.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Snooki and JWoww: Moms with Attitude, Season 1, Eps. 1-12, 39-40. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

Due to some (still ongoing) technical difficulties, Mike travels to his folks’ place in order to bring you another episode while the initial portion of JS’s audio has a ‘special guest’ (our apologies).  However, we soldier on with this week’s show, which was a lot more enjoyable than the last couple.

After doing the usual rundown of concept, cast, and episode highlights, we discuss this show’s troubled – to put it charitably – relationship to reality and use that as a segue to try to further define reality TV, particularly in comparison to the documentary, and figure out what makes reality TV unique.

We then dig into the show’s worldview of self-reliance, rugged individualism, and the virtues of living ‘off-the-grid’ as well as the interesting way in which the show positions the Browns – and, implicitly, Alaska itself – as avatars of both exoticism and traditional (white, Christian) American values.

Finally, we wrap up by locating the show’s appeal in its display of the virtues of rural living and community in an increasingly urbanized and impersonal modern society.  Also, we announce the results of our Jersey Shore spin-off listener’s choice poll – since the world has been waiting with bated breath.

Show Notes and Links

1:08 / We rue our poor luck

2:02 / Introducing this week’s show

3:27 / Running down the high concept

5:00 / The cast of characters

8:11 / JS was a big fan of Bear

8:46 / Moving into the episode recaps

10:03 / Really playing up that flat tire

11:18 / Theme of first season is race against winter

13:34 / Talking about ‘Rick the Lumberman’

15:04 / The fingerprints of producers are all over this show; JS mentions Monica the Medium

16:18 / Talking about the ‘junkman’ and whether show is playing up the ‘roughness’ of these characters

18:22 / Delving more into the bartering ‘goose chase’

19:15 / JS drops some research about DVDs and rural Alaska

20:10 / The emphasis placed on barter as emblematic of bush culture

20:30 / Wrapping up the cabin-building arc

21:50 / Briefly summarizing the ‘boat’ episode

22:45 / The ‘clip’ episode aka ‘No, it’s real!  Really!’

23:23 / Talking about the dentist’s office

24:05 / Our differing reactions to the believability of hospital care for barter

26:06 / How authentic we thought the show was prior to doing our research

28:11 / We start delving into the gossip on the show

28:40 / Talking about the family’s residency fraud charges

30:00 / Matt’s DUI in a Walmart parking lot

30:39 / Talking about the family’s history with technology (Billy’s book, YouTube video)

31:52 / The evolution of the show’s authenticity (living in hotels, etc.)

32:18 / Mike wasn’t surprised at the inauthenticity, but the level of fakery was beyond what he would have guessed

33:00 / Our final thoughts on the family’s ‘bush skills’ in light of the ‘revelations’

33:47 / Talking about the definition of reality TV vis-à-vis the documentary

34:34 / What is the line between documentary and reality TV?

35:02 / JS defines the line as the level of producer involvement in the action as it is happening; mentions the Heisenberg Principle

37:38 / Mike talks about the early documentary Nanook of the North; director’s involvement in staging some scenes

39:45 / Mike’s defining line is in the marketing and purpose (low/mass culture, entertainment-oriented, profit-driven vs. high culture, education-oriented, prestige-driven)

40:54 / Discussing how important ‘reality’ is to ‘reality TV’ (Our Bridezillas episode is here and our Survivor: Borneo episode is here)

43:15 / JS thinks even the ‘fake’ reality shows qualify because they are at least setting up the expectation of reality, even if the execution is obviously poor (*cough* TOWIE *cough*)

45:00 / Segueing into the worldview and themes of the show

45:21 / Mike noticed a theme of self-reliance and freedom juxtaposed to civilization; mentions Dual Survival, the other Discovery reality show we watched

46:20 / JS thought the inauthenticity of the show undermines this message of ‘freedom from society’

47:33 / Mike wonders if freedom from civilization is really freedom or just subjugation to the whims of nature

49:10 / The show’s idealization and romanticization of ‘bush culture’

50:05 / Mike was struck by the masculine focus and tone of these ‘outdoor’ oriented shows

51:13 / JS inserts a brief digression on Billy’s marital history and history with Ami’s family

52:55 / The interesting blend of familiarity and exoticism in the portrayal of the Browns

53:53 / Alaska’s place in the US mental geography

54:22 / The importance of the Brown’s whiteness to the show’s appeal

57:28 / Mashup between 1850’s nostalgia and 1950’s nostalgia

57:55 / Show sells an image of rugged individualism, but there are cracks in that image

58:50 / Relating this image to Alaska’s reality (oil fund, federal subsidies)

59:56 / JS talks about the appealing aspects of the show

1:01:05 / Mike thought this show could have been an interesting look at rural life without the hype (and fakery, obviously)

1:01:40 / The appeal of Gemeinschaft in an era of Gessellschaft

1:03:15 / Mike brings up Frederic Jameson’s essay ‘Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture’ (Mike also briefly mentions our Paris Hilton episode)

1:06:25 / The relationship between reality TV and subcultural communities (Amish Mafia, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding)

1:07:23 / Announcing the results of our listener’s choice poll

1:08:45 / The boilerplate: contact us, Facebook, rate/review, and subscribe

Episode 12 – Keys to the VIP

 

This week’s discussion: Keys to the VIP, Season 2, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Tubi TV.

Next week’s discussion: Alaskan Bush People, Season 1.  Watch it on Hulu.

This week Mike and JS put on ten pounds of hair gel and don their fedoras and indoor-only sunglasses for some special VIP treatment, but Mike in particular is having regrets about what might have seemed like a good idea at the time (much like the women who gave these guys their numbers).

Nevertheless, there was much of interest to discuss.  We cover our usual topics: the show’s concept and our general impresssions, it’s authenticity (or lack thereof), and we revisit our beloved success/failure dichotomy to try and put our fingers on the show’s appeal.  However, we also discuss the show’s worldview about the relations between the sexes as well as its relation to the broader culture of pick-up artistry in general.  We particularly pay attention to some of the pick-up culture’s shaky intellectual arguments grounded in bogus notions of ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ and faux evolutionary psychology.  (WARNING: Foucault and chimpanzee sex both get mentioned prominently.)

[Also, as a postscript, Mike apologizes for the quality of a few of the sound clips.  One of the many terrible things about this show (and one that did not become apparent until post-production) was how fucking shitty the sound mixing was.  It’s almost as if even the producers of this trainwreck didn’t even care about it.]

Show Notes and Links

1:40 / Introducing this week’s show

2:20 / The concept of the show

5:08 / JS observes how mundane the intros were

8:09 / Discussing the four hosts – ‘the four corners of the male psyche’ (LOL)

10:02 / Sheldon did not seem to have a defined persona (the article Mike mentions is here)

11:20 / Mike criticizes the show for not having enough differentiation between the hosts

12:50 / Comparing the relative badness of this show to Monica the Medium

13:46 / Returning to the topic of differentiation and the show’s relation to pick-up artist culture

15:30 / Talking about the interludes and how the hosts’ ‘differences’ faded away

16:37 / The contestants for the show are also very similar (and all have dumb nicknames)

18:03 / JS talks about the episode with Mike the Magician and Hot Body Jason – ‘brains’ vs. ‘brawn’

21:00 / Mike agrees that this episode was more interesting, but thinks it still fits into the overall worldview of the show

21:33 / Mike talks about an episode that left a sour taste – ‘nice guy’ vs. ‘asshole’

23:18 / Segueing into the worldview of the show (and pick-up artistry in general)

24:31 / Talking about the idea of ‘negging

25:30 / JS did like the challenges that put the guys in a bind

26:02 / The perennial question – How real is all this?

26:33 / Mike kept seeing unsourced allegations of fakery, but no smoking gun (Wikipedia, IMDB)

27:18 / How did they get the audio to pick up so clearly?

28:10 / Not very many blurred faces in this show

29:07 / JS noticed the guys seem to be aware of the ‘hidden’ cameras

29:38 / Lots of women show up more than once – what are the odds?

31:05 / Mike was unconvinced by the kissing

32:08 / Talking about the evidence for some level of ‘authenticity’ (AMA, interview with Alen)

32:58 / Women may not be out-and-out confederates, but if they know the show is going on beforehand, how authentic are the actual reactions?

33:42 / Talking about how the multiple takes give the producers an opportunity to basically tell whatever story they want

36:40 / Mike’s theory of the week: Keys to the VIP as a Foucauldian educational institution (To be more clear, Mike was referring to Discipline and Punish, but Foucault also studied other things)

39:25 / Talking about the dated nature of pick-up culture and how this show was very much of its time; Mike mentions The Game

41:13 / Segueing into a discussion of pick-up artist culture more broadly

41:45 / Mike was talking about something like this    (He also mentions the vintage hosting service Geocities)  (the dumb website is here)

42:14 / Talking about all the dumb terms and acronyms (yes, they are all real) from the different ‘schools’ of pick-up artistry, such as Speed Seduction and the Mystery Method (Mike mentions the Konami Code)

43:59 / Discussing the influence of ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ (aka ‘the Force’)

45:53 / The Adorno quote is from aphorism 70 of Minima Moralia

46:19 / Why can’t horny women ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ hot guys into sleeping with them? (Discussing the assumptions of pick-up artist ideology)

47:44 / Mike makes a brief comparison between pick-up artistry and female-oriented cottage dating advice

48:21 / Even if this stuff worked 10 years ago, don’t you think women would have caught on to the dumb hats and canned lines?

49:04 / JS makes a ‘Devil’s Advocate’ argument for the value of pick-up artistry

50:05 / Talking about the ‘numbers game’ aspect of pick-up artistry, with a brief aside into the emergence of dating apps like Tinder and how they’ve changed dating culture

51:56 / What Mike thinks is actually behind pick-up artist philosophy (power not pleasure)

53:18 / Mike debunks the pop evolutionary psychology arguments underlying the philosophy (aka humans and other primates are not the same)

54:38 / Chimps and bonobos have entirely different social structures, despite being more genetically similar than either one is to humans

55:07 / A digression into chimp mating and the relation of sex to status in chimp society (Mike refers to the book The Origins of AIDS)

56:27 / Talking about the evolution of pick-up artistry over the last decade to its nastier current-day incarnations like The Red Pill and Gamergate

57:42 / Segueing into the appeal of the show

58:03 / Mike reads a quote from Alen on the show’s creation and JS responds

59:08 / Mike mentions another podcast that reviewed this show, Flight School Podcast (The specific episode is here)

59:40 / The show is not really about teaching people ‘what women want’, but is about reaffirming traditionally masculine worldviews

1:00:50 / Is this show about success or failure?  (We both come to the conclusion that it is ultimately about the latter)

1:02:57 / We never rooted for the contestants

1:03:25 / The educational emphasis of the show centers the narrative around failure

1:03:52 / Mike talks about how this show could maybe have been better (it takes a lot)

1:04:55 / A novel concept – have actual women on a show about impressing women

1:05:24 / The women in the show are always ‘targets’ and stereotypes

1:06:30 / Our final thoughts – Mike recommends only watching the goofy intros, JS puts in a word for Mike the Magician

1:07:46 / Introducing the next show (It can only go up from here)

1:08:38 / The usual announcements – Like our Facebook page and visit the website (Good job – you are here!) – Also: contact us, rate/review, and subscribe!

Episode 11 – Monica the Medium

 

This week’s discussion: Monica the Medium, Season 1, Eps. 1-4.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Keys to the VIP, Season 2, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Tubi TV.

This week your intrepid hosts descend into the Ninth Circle of Reality TV Hell for Season One of the ‘millennial’ oriented ‘Freeform’ network’s ‘medium’ show (so many airquotes): Monica the Medium.  After venting their suffering via overwrought similes and mocking skits, Mike and JS discuss the show’s hybrid concept, production values, and cast of characters while asking themselves the question that is always foremost on their minds – Doesn’t anybody realize that there is a camera crew following these people all over the place?

They then discuss millennial stereotypes and the branding strategies of the network this show aired on as well as delving into the various techniques of so-called ‘psychics’ and ‘mediums.’  Finally, they finish on the appeal of medium shows and this particular show’s outlier emphasis on wholesome depictions and the promotion of a narrative of emotional uplift.

Show Notes and Links

1:05 / We commiserate about our love for this show (our TOWIE episode is here)

2:48 / Introducing the show

3:28 / Mike crafted an overwrought simile to describe the experience of watching this show (References here, here, and here)

4:16 / The concept of the show

6:10 / 42 Minutes of Reality Masterpiece Theater

10:32 / These ‘spontaneous’ readings happen everywhere

11:02 / Talking about the ‘eerie’ FX

12:00 / The cast of characters

12:50 / Monica’s best friend, Krista

14:23 / How authentic are these conflicts?

15:27 / Ann and the role of the ‘skeptic’

17:08 / Discussing the different roles of Monica’s parents

18:27 / Why doesn’t anyone seem to notice the cameras?

19:27 / A questionable blind date

20:44 / Some producer magic at the ‘necktie party’

21:38 / Does her mediumship really scare off the guys?

22:34 / Even Monica’s friends get in on the camera obliviousness

23:19 / Monica’s reading in the clothing store

24:14 / Did Monica actually need a job or was she doing this for the show?

25:06 / Two pillars of the show: readings and college life

26:05 / The readings are so repetitive and make the show a chore to watch

26:43 / Mike’s strategies for making it through

27:37 / The college life aspects were a little bit more bearable (and more ethical)

29:00 / The strongest segments of the show

30:21 / Discussing the network and its target demographic

30:52 / The Wikipedia page for the network where Mike got the quotes

32:45 / JS goes on a rant about inane marketing speak

33:45 / The ‘wholesome’ nature of the show’s depiction of college life

35:50 / Are millennial stereotypes gendered?  (The Emoji Movie, the AFLAC ad that Mike mentioned)

37:30 / The avocado toast reference is explained here

38:02 / Show plays on both the extraordinary and the familiar (It’s ‘relatable’)

40:42 / The unsung hero of this show

42:30 / Transitioning from college life to the medium aspect

43:33 / We thought readings were cold, but arranged in advance

46:15 / The two different types of readings

47:17 / The idea of ‘cold reading

48:55 / Pondering what it would really be like if this stuff was real (Where Mike stole his Jimmy Hoffa thing from)

50:10 / Motivated reasoning (Mike couldn’t find the dark room study he referenced, but here is a report of a similar study about fake séances and table levitation)

52:40 / ‘Shotgunning’ and other common cold reading techniques

55:05 / Discussing ‘hot reading’ (although we didn’t use the term) – JS mentions John Edward and televangelist Peter Popoff (aka the earpiece guy whose name we couldn’t remember)

56:43 / Talking about the role of TV editing and how it emphasizes the ‘hits’ of cold reading while culling out the ‘misses’

58:47 / The caveats of Monica’s medium mentor aka ‘You don’t want to be the next Sylvia Browne

59:53 / Transitioning to the appeal of this show and of mediums in general

1:01:24 / Mike discusses the tragic stories of many of the clients and his conflicted feelings

1:02:06 / The difficulties of processing sudden and/or premature death

1:03:08 / Comparing to religion – a desire for rationality and order (‘People aren’t suffering for no reason’)

1:04:32 / Mike talks about the role of emotion in belief (Mike mentions the ontological argument for God)

1:05:27 / The quote is here (second one down)

1:06:26 / The ethics of mediumship (or lack thereof)

1:09:10 / Discussing Monica’s motives and our take on her – delusional or duplicitous?

1:10:22 / Talking about the hybrid format of the show

1:11:30 / How much did the particularity of the college milieu contribute to the show’s success (and ultimate failure)?

1:13:00 / The show’s extreme emphasis on uplift was interesting and distinct for reality TV (although we didn’t like it)

1:14:50 / Is there a dichotomy in reality TV between uplift and humiliation?

1:15:36 / Introducing the next episode

1:17:12 / Last call for our Jersey Shore spin-off Facebook poll (Also, do us a solid and like the page so that Mike can feel better about himself)

1:18:17 / You can contact us, rate us, or subscribe

Episode 10 – Survivor: Borneo

 

This week’s discussion: Survivor, Season 1.  Watch it on Hulu.  Watch it with Amazon Prime Video.

Next week’s discussion: Monica the Medium, Season 1, Eps. 1-4.  Watch it on Hulu.

This week we celebrate our 10th episode with a revisit of one of JS’s ‘Reality TV First Loves’: the debut season of the granddaddy of reality TV competition – Survivor!  With Mike having never seen the show before and JS watching it for the first time since the show originally aired back in 2000, we discuss our impressions of the show and how it foreshadowed the explosion of reality TV to come as well as the significant ways in which it differs from the shows that came in its wake.  We then move into a discussion of the Orientalism of the show’s faux-tribalist aesthetic and locate it within a larger tradition of Western narratives of travel to exotic and deserted locales before finishing on a discussion of the show’s bleak view of human nature and society and the pros and cons of various reality TV competition models.

Show Notes and Links

2:30 / Belatedly introducing this week’s show

3:15 / The concept of Survivor

6:31 / Going further into the jury process (and the awkwardness)

7:48 / Moving on to the cast of characters

8:26 / Richard Hatch – the ‘villain’

9:24 / Bringing up the ‘alliance’

11:08 / The show’s treatment of Richard’s gay identity – a revealing time capsule into the early 2000s

13:30 / Kelly Wiglesworth – the ‘hero’ (?)

15:25 / A digression into age and sex (a disadvantage in physical challenges?)

16:50 / Sonja – the first elimination

17:39 / Rudy – a bit of a bigot, but an affable – and quotable –  bigot (Mike mentions Archie Bunker)

19:00 / Susan – the Wisconsin ‘redneck’

20:43 / We thought the show did a good job of putting together a cross-section of different social backgrounds

22:15 / Sean – the real villain

23:08 / Dirk – the religious archetype

25:00 / The importance of making friends and being helpful early on

25:45 / Weight and preparation

27:10 / The contestants on this show struck JS as being much more ‘innocent’ as opposed to ‘mercenary’

28:27 / The early innocence begins to fade as the show progresses

29:10 / Talking about how the formation of the alliance was much more spontaneous and contingent than Richard may have let on in his confessionals

30:47 / The emphasis on age and ‘generation gaps’ stuck out to Mike in comparison to other shows we’ve watched, which emphasize youth

31:52 / The enduring stereotypes of youth vs. experience

33:00 / JS doesn’t like the ‘mercenary’ aspect of reality TV, appreciated its relative absence in this show

34:36 / Stay tuned for future 42 Minutes coverage of Survivor

35:00 / Mike thinks the innocence and lack of careerism is a function of the show’s historical position as the birth of mass-market reality TV; JS agrees and thinks he might never enjoy another reality show like this one

36:07 / Mike takes a bold pro ‘fame whore’ position

36:20 / Talking about the continuities as well as the disjunctions in Survivor’s relation to future reality shows (product placement, leading questions, misleading, out-of-context soundbites)

37:45 / A possibly scripted moment?

38:57 / Mike loves the confessionals – whenever someone says ‘it’s not X’

39:31 / Moving back to the differences: the editing style and presentation

40:58 / Mike’s totally uninformed opinion – the influence of ‘MTV’ (and music videos) on the quick-cut montage editing and sound production of future reality shows

42:03 / The differing demographics of youth-oriented cable and mass-market broadcast television may have also played a role

42:18 / The ‘surprise factor’ of Survivor’s success – it was originally a summer slotted show

43:17 / The novelty factor of reality TV and over-explanation

44:20 / Did you know that ‘fire is life’? (and a laugh-out-loud moment in the rain)

45:00 / Jeff Probst, Shit-stirrer in Chief

45:47 / Segueing into the ‘Orientalist’ faux-primivitist aesthetic of the show

46:20 / Orientalism as mish-mash of loosely related Western stereotypes

48:08 / Talking about a revealing moment in the closed captioning (‘primal chanting’)

49:15 / The appeal of ‘the Other’ to Western audiences (How much does this contribute to the show’s success?)

50:57 / Mike thinks the show is carried by the format, compares to other competition shows (The Apprentice, Paris Hilton BFF)

51:57 / Mike thinks the importance of the tribal motif was to give the show a needed consistency

52:38 / JS clarifies his position on the relationship between the tribal motif and ‘exotic’ foreign locale to the show’s success

54:15 / Mike thinks that once the location was decided upon, it was only ‘natural’ given the worldview of reality TV, that the show would incorporate stereotyping

54:40 / JS locates the roots of this show and its aesthetic in the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ tradition of Western narratives

57:14 / Mike thought the one time where the local people are featured was interesting in comparison to a similar encounter we discussed during our Dual Survival episode

58:20 / JS thought it was odd that the local people are largely absent, but that it fits with the narrative the show is trying to sell us

59:15 / Discussing the show’s construction of a Hobbesian and Machiavellian ‘human nature’; Mike mentions Lord of the Flies and in-group favoritism

1:00:20 / A revealing quote from Richard shows how the scenario of the show differs from ‘real life’

1:01:05 / How differing incentives would have led to different behavior on the part of the contestants

1:01:45 / How the show’s view of ‘human nature’ relates to the show’s appeal; the show seems to have evolved to emphasize ‘villainy’ and ‘back-stabbing’

1:02:35 / The appeal of seeing the worst in people (J.G. Ballard quote)

1:03:15 / JS thinks the show’s appeal is double-sided; emphasizes both competition and cooperation, uplift and deceit

1:04:10 / The first season stuck out once again in terms of the ‘innocence’ of the contestants; perhaps could never be replicated

1:05:42 / Mike enjoyed the show, but wondered whether it was entirely successful in navigating the tightrope between authenticity, merit, and strategy

1:06:38 / What Mike thought was the fulcrum point of the show, after which the drama became a bit anticlimactic

1:07:33 / Discussing whether the format of the show could be tweaked and whether later shows had a more ‘level playing field’

1:09:08 / JS thinks the incentives of the show work best when the contestants are separated into tribes

1:10:20 / Mike goes back to an anecdote he forgot to mention about the first show we watched to demonstrate the importance of merit in reality TV competitions and how the competition can be less satisfying when the merit is absent

1:11:30 / Mike feels the show falls short when an alliance is so firmly in place that the competition aspect seems arbitrary

1:13:20 / Even though the alliance made things less dramatic, JS thought the novelty of seeing it come into formation was interesting in of itself

1:13:34 / More brainstorming of how the show’s format could be tweaked to increase the drama and merit

1:14:20 / The strengths and weaknesses of different competition models (group vote v. neutral arbiter)

1:15:15 / Announcing our next episode – in which Mike brings JS down

1:17:28 / Go vote in our Facebook poll! Jwoww & Snooki v. The Situation (You could be the deciding vote…since no one has voted in it yet)

1:18:45 / The announcements you know and love: contact us, rate us, and subscribe

 

Episode 9 – Kitchen Nightmares

 

This week’s discussion: Kitchen Nightmares, Season 5, Eps. 1-6, 16.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Survivor, Season 1.  Watch it on Hulu.  Watch it with Amazon Prime Video.

This week Mike and JS delve into their first food-themed reality TV show – Kitchen Nightmares.  We mainly cover the US version, but also devote some time to discussing the original UK version as we were both struck by the many differences in the presentation of the shows and how they might reflect broader differences between US and UK culture.  Topics discussed include: our impressions of reality TV star Gordon Ramsay, the insanity of Amy’s Baking Company, the ‘disclaimers’ in the credit sequence of each episode, the centrality of food in Western social interactions, the harsh realities of operating a restaurant, and how the optimistic narrative the US version tries to sell us reflect a broader cultural view of American idealism.

Show Notes and Links

1:08 / The moral of this week’s show

1:58 / Introducing the show

3:30 / The concept of the show (similar shows include Bar Rescue and Restaurant Impossible)

5:06 / The optimistic narrative arc the show is trying to sell us

6:02 / Discussing the history of the host, Gordon Ramsay; JS mentions Hell’s Kitchen

7:45 / Emphasis on the ‘celebrity’ in celebrity chef

8:22 / The differences in Ramsay’s presentation in the US and UK versions

10:15 / The US version struck us as much more heavily produced

11:20 / Starting our detailed breakdown of La Galleria 33

12:50 / The general arc and themes that reoccur in each episode

14:35 / Returning to La Galleria

15:22 / Mike fills in a couple spots in the episode arc that JS missed

16:35 / A brief digression on the editing

17:07 / The afterword at the end of each show

17:38 / The show often implies the owners are chiefly at fault for the problems at the restaurant

18:00 / Talking about the restaurant shutdowns

18:40 / The episodes of the show are pretty similar; many blended together for Mike

19:02 / Discussing episode highlights from Mama Maria’s

20:05 / The motif of frozen vs. fresh that comes up again and again

21:24 / Nostalgia is a common refrain in these episodes; many of the owners who have been successful at one point are more stubborn

22:06 / The common dynamic of multiple owners who conflict over the changes Ramsay wants to implement

23:53 / Segueing into our summary of Amy’s Baking Company

25:19 / JS can’t contain his giddy excitement over this episode

27:40 / This episode breaks the typical narrative arc of the show

28:47 / Discussing the fallout of this episode on the Internet and how it affected the business

29:52 / The difference between Amy and other recalcitrant owners was that the others would at least temporarily ‘play ball’ with the show

30:40 / Segueing into this show’s placement on the spectrum of ‘reality’ in reality TV

31:40 / There are some notable disclaimers in the credits of the show

32:42 / The diners being brought in by the show and ‘playing to the camera’

33:25 / JS knows of a restaurant near him that went through one of these shows, discusses the process of collecting diners

35:23 / Mike mentions a lawsuit against the show; JS explains mandatory arbitration

37:05 / Despite the lawsuit, our feeling is that this show is probably not TOWIE or Bridezillas

37:37 / The narrative of hate-to-love of Chef Ramsay by the owners came off to JS as producer coached

38:12 / The rags-to-riches theme of the US version reminds Mike of a Horatio Alger tale

38:43 / The site that Mike got his information from

39:01 / The harsh realities of the restaurant business

39:38 / The message of the US show may not correspond perfectly with the real world; the UK version seemed more realistic

40:52 / The restaurant as a symbol of the American Dream – often an immigrant success story

42:00 / The US show is very focused on the personal and family backgrounds of the owners

42:53 / The different center of focus in the two versions: US version is owner-centric, UK version is kitchen staff-centric

44:00 / The American focus on individual success and responsibility; UK focuses more on the overall team

45:38 / A brief aside of the differing budgets of the shows, Mike mentions Rupert Murdoch

45:53 / Segueing into the appeal of food TV

46:12 / The centrality of food and ‘dining out’ in Western social interaction; JS alludes to the Food Network

47:09 / The combination of immediate accessibility and specialized behind-the-scenes insight

48:15 / The allure of reality television success and overcoming difficulties

49:38 / Many of these owners have gone in without specialized business training

50:38 / Mike preferred the realism of UK version to the idealism of the US version

51:42 / The contrasting afterwords of the two shows as an example of this

52:38 / How does the episode of Amy’s Baking Company fit into the idea that this show’s appeal is about success?

54:00 / Was Amy’s Baking Company really a failure?  Discussing the irony of the owners who tell Ramsay off doing better than many of the restaurants on the show who followed the instructions

55:20 / The capricious nature of the restaurant industry, even something as simple as lack of parking can doom a restaurant

56:10 / The high failure rate of restaurants in the first year (and an article Mike found that provides a counterpoint); this show perhaps looks at the industry through rose-tinted glasses

57:43 / We both discuss how will we never be opening a restaurant, even if we win the lottery

58:30 / This show, like other reality shows we’ve watched, is very focused on individual control and individual responsibility

1:00:48 / The appeal of the show’s Prodigal Son narrative, but how realistic is it for these businesses to dig themselves out of the deep holes they are in?

1:02:00 / Mike made a Facebook page: please go like the page and take part in our listener poll: Snooki & JWoww: Moms with Attitude vs. The Sorrentinos

1:04:02 / Announcing a semi-reoccurring segment for the next show: Reality TV First Loves

1:05:16 / Contact us, rate and review, and subscribe