Episode 5 – Divorce Court

 

This week’s discussion: Divorce Court, Season 17, Eps. 1-7.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Dual Survival, Season 3, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Hulu.

This week your esteemed hosts show up for their first stint of jury duty – reality TV style – and JS is not thrilled.  Nevertheless, we gamely tackle the first seven episodes of Season 17 of the long-running court TV franchise Divorce Court.

We begin by running down the typical format of an episode, discussing the constructed nature of the TV courtroom and how both Judge Toler and the show as a whole compare to the other shows in the genre.  Then we delve briefly into each individual episode and give our thoughts, paying particular attention to the rather stark variation in the show’s tone, and wrap up our recap by touching on some of the overall motifs common to the episodes we watched.

We then analyze the economics of court TV, as well as the heavily disproportionate representation of black claimants on the show and what it means.  After analyzing to which degree this is a product of the show’s audience or it’s producers, we take a look at the appeal of the show’s worldview and Mike offers some criticism of its take on social class and the overall ‘justice’ of the world at large.

Show Notes and Links

1:07 / Introducing the show

2:26 / High concept (WARNING: Title may not be fully accurate)

3:16 / The first of many mentions about the vast tonal variation

4:24 / The fabricated nature of the ‘courtroom’

5:08 / The format of a typical episode

6:00 / Beginning our discussion of Judge Toler

6:36 / Comparing her to other TV judges (Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown)

8:00 / Judge Toler’s optimism

9:00 / Comparing the rulings (or lack thereof) to other courtroom shows

10:11 / This show could easily be called ‘Relationship Counselor’ instead of ‘Divorce Court’ (with the bonus deep cut about constitutional legal theory that our fans all love)

11:04 / Discussing the qualifications of a judge to give relationship advice

13:40 / Mike thought her background as a judge made her pretty fair-minded

15:14 / A brief primer on the show’s history (and format iterations)

16:11 / Judge Toler’s intros

16:38 / Episode 1 – Anger problems and familial chaos

17:45 / This episode is pretty realistic – set our expectations accordingly

19:15 / Actual money on the line – a rarity in this series

20:04 / Why Mike had JS keep watching until Episode 7

20:55 / The difference in the intros and outros in different seasons

21:18 / Even Judge Toler’s optimism has limits

22:05 / Episode 2 – Alcoholism and social class

22:45 / Stuck out to Mike as optimistic – marriage could be probably be salvaged if husband could get help for his drinking problem

23:43 / Episode 3 – Body image and small difficulties

24:40 / JS thought this was the most realistic episode

25:10 / JS praises Judge Toler’s advice to this young couple

26:07 / The couple’s youth stuck out to JS – perhaps they be may not be as cynical and jaded (as Mike)

26:38 / Episode 4 – Cohabitation and animosity

27:19 / Judge Toler indulges in a bit of apophasis (For more of Mike butchering Greek terms, check out Episode 3)

27:56 / The role of sex (and other personal issues) in the show

28:29 / Stood out as a couple who will not work things out

29:23 / Episode 5 – ‘Redbones’ and bingo

30:51 / JS needed to consult Urban Dictionary for this episode

31:36 / Does this couple even want to split up?  Or are they there for the exposure and the paycheck?

32:09 / ‘Ghetto’ stereotypes and the ‘pull up your pants’ speech

33:11 / A brief digression into appearance fees

34:12 / The role of embellishment in some of the wackier episodes

35:15 / If we had only watched Episodes 1-4, this podcast would be completely different

35:59 / The relationships covered are all over the map

37:43 / Episode 6 – Colorful claimants, realistic problems

38:13 / ’30 cents of extra cheese’

39:25 / The husband’s brother and his $1400 shoes

40:05 / How social class may have influenced the claimants’ different attitudes towards money

40:35 / We didn’t quite know what to make of this couple’s future prospects

41:58 / Episode 7 – Crazytown

42:20 / Judge Toler’s odd intro

43:31 / This couple just wanted to be on TV – openly cracking up on the stand

44:47 / The animosity is very put on – lots of joking and laughing

45:02 / Candy house, ‘nuff said

46:28 / ‘He’s wrong and I’m right’

46:57 / If you watch one episode, watch this one

47:14 / The role of social media and smartphones

49:48 / Instagram handles of the claimants in Season 18

50:30 / The prevalence of traditional views on gender roles (men are breadwinners, women do housework)

52:06 / Judge Toler’s response to the airing of these views (article on Judge Toler’s background)

53:28 / The social class of the claimants – not a lot of middle-class professionals

54:21 / The economic incentives of the show attract a working-class demographic, but aren’t enough to attract a middle-class demographic

55:22 / Middle and upper class families have more to lose in a real divorce court

56:42 / Delving further into the economic incentives (article on the economics of Court TV)

57:30 / Court TV can often be a win-win situation in an open-and-shut small claims court case

1:00:08 / JS thought the structure of the show made this weaker than other reality court TV shows

1:00:48 / A final note on what ‘fame’ people might hope to gain from reality TV

1:01:31 / Taking a look at the demographics of the show’s claimants (quote from the article linked above)

1:02:48 / Comparing the percentage of African-Americans in the US population to the percentage of African-Americans on the show (stats from the 2010 Census via Wikipedia, natch – you can look up the articles on the individual cities) (Census Statistics on poverty)

1:04:45 / Why Americans Hate Welfare; overrepresentation of African-Americans in media in stories about poverty

1:06:30 / Race and ‘implicit bias

1:07:16 / Transitioning into an exploration of the show’s audience

1:08:25 / Chicken or egg situation?

1:09:13 / Hulu algorithms and audience demographics; Mike mentions Black-ish and Empire, as well as the show’s Facebook page

1:11:24 / The starkness of the show’s racial demographics confounded our expectations

1:13:28 / Probably many causes, but seems difficult to get to 70% w/o some type of bias

1:14:07 / Social distancing – amplifying negative stereotypes to reassure a target demographic similar to show’s participants (My Big Redneck Wedding)

1:16:41 / The show’s optimistic core – idea of being able to fix any marriage with enough heart; Mike mentions The Secret (100% accurate!)

1:17:10 / The paradoxical (?) appeal of conservatism to the poorest Americans (Jill Leovy interview)

1:18:04 / Mike’s view on the appeal and limits of such a philosophy

1:20:00 / How social class impacts how much someone is ‘punished’ for their bad decision-making; Mike mentions the book Floating City

1:20:55 / Mike wished this show would acknowledge that fact

1:22:09 / Wrapping up with our differing reactions to the show’s mediocrity

1:23:33 / Introducing the next show

1:24:33 / The usual rigmarole aka Rate us! (And subscribe!)

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Episode 4 – Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai

 

This week’s discussion: Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai, Eps. 1-3, 8-9.  Watch it on Tubi TV.

Next week’s discussion: Divorce Court, Season 17, Eps. 1-7.  Watch it on Hulu.

First of all, apologies for the slightly reduced level of audio quality on this episode.  JS was having difficulty hearing the microphone and Mike overcompensated by cranking up the gain – and forgetting to look at the test recording in Audacity (oops) – which led to a great deal of clipping and what ended up being a salvage project.  However, unlike the producers of the show we are reviewing this week, we didn’t just throw in the towel and say fuck it.  Instead, Mike worked up some elbow grease and tried his best to get this episode to an acceptable quality of audio fidelity, so hopefully the final product is at least somewhat tolerable.

As for the episode’s contents, we took a virtual trip to the United Arab Emirates for the last (and possibly saddest) installment of Paris Hilton’s My New BFF franchise.  After discussing the structure of the show and the wealthy and cosmopolitan (mostly) Middle Eastern contestants, we turn to the show’s tangled legal history and how it may or may not have led to its bottom of the barrel production quality.  We then analyze both sides of this rather ‘unique’ mashup, discussing both its representation of the Middle East, good and bad (but mostly bad), as well as the history and background of the show’s rather infamous host, Paris Hilton, and her seminal place in the history of reality TV and 21st century ‘celebutante’ culture.  Finally, we end with how this show may have actually held the promise of being something worthwhile, if only its host and production team had cared enough to film something beyond a glorified infomercial (or hell, even cared enough to hire a camera crew for an entire day of filming).

Show Notes and Links

1:39 / Introducing this week’s show

2:30 / The show’s high concept – which should be pretty self-explanatory (Paris Hilton quote)

3:15 / JS breaks down the particulars

4:34 / Mike sampled the entire BFF oeuvre

6:00 / The ‘little star’ aka the snitch

6:18 / This show is actually quite brilliant at getting these contestants to go at each other’s throats

6:45 / The show’s lexicon – ‘real and fake’, ‘hungry tigers’

8:26 / The ‘Real and Fake Challenge’ (Reality TV Ouroboros)

9:28 / Mike has a confession to make

10:03 / We begin discussing the contestants – mostly from Middle East and come from wealthy backgrounds

12:12 / Bassant – at least she’s honest

12:55 / Mike found these women to be pretty bland and interchangeable

13:24 / Amy – was not here to make friends

13:54 / Dina – Mike couldn’t figure out why the others hated her

14:46 / Reem – seemed to be most ‘traditional’ of the contestants

14:57 / Discussing the ‘cosmopolitan’ backgrounds of the contestants

16:33 / JS discusses the physicality of the contestants and how Branka and Reem departed from the mold

17:15 / Mike belatedly mentions what episodes we watched

18:30 / Reem stuck out to JS as someone who seemed more authentic than the others

19:35 / Mike breaks down the troubled legal history of the show – seems to explain a lot about it

20:58 / Why the hell weren’t the cameras in the house more often?  Lots of discussion in the show of contestants acting different on and off camera

23:19 / Talking about the INSANE level of product placement in this show – not just the Paris Hilton line, but other sponsors (the credits looked like a high school yearbook)

24:54 / Comparing Paris Hilton’s level of involvement to the other seasons of the show

26:28 / A brief digression into the font world

27:32 / Starting our discussion of the show’s ridiculous ‘1001 Arabian Nights’ stereotypes

29:05 / Edward Said’s Orientalism

29:18 / Part of the reason Mike picked this show (other than the absurdity) was an intellectual interest in cross-cultural contact

29:44 / Talking about the role of local authorities in the production of the show and how the show had to change to be compatible with local cultural mores (no alcohol or risqué clothing)

30:35 / Contrasting the Dubai version to the US version

31:06 / Mike talks about how his views on the often fraught relationship between Western and non-Western cultures have evolved since college, the book title he forgot is Modernity At Large

32:20 / Mike’s theory of why Reem was the winner

33:44 / JS hoped that this show would have more interaction between Paris Hilton and the broader Middle Eastern culture

35:21 / Paris is in less than half of each episode – mostly just shows up for challenges and eliminations

36:43 / Mike does praise the show in one respect – gives people a better view of Middle East beyond crude stereotypes of religious fanaticism

37:14 / Mike talks about his experiences with different types of Muslims in Kenya

39:25 / This show gives a view of Middle East that goes beyond a monochromatic depiction of war and suffering

40:14 / Shows the cosmopolitan side of Middle East: many contestants would fit right in to any city around the world

41:41 / The cosmopolitan emphasis is both a strength and weakness of the show

42:34 / Focusing on those in the Middle East who are ‘more like us’ might have been the only entry point for this show’s audience (and is also conveniently the target audience for Paris Hilton’s line)

43:34 / JS hoped the show would be more like ‘An Idiot Abroad

44:08 / This show does once poke fun at Western stereotypes even as it relies on them

45:32 / Paris Hilton’s background and career history

46:52 / The Simple Life

48:23 / Discussing the temporal specificity of her fame

48:58 / Paris Hilton as a seminal figure in reality TV

49:44 / Mike compares her rise and fall to the subprime housing boom (Hilton interview in GQ)

50:21 / ‘One Night in Paris (Hilton): Wealth, Celebrity, and the Politics of Humiliation

51:20 / Does her fame come from love or hate?  Who is doing the loving and hating?

52:41 / Trying to pin down her class appeal; Mike thinks she reminds him of (pre-politics) Trump

53:48 / JS argues that, at least in international terms, her appeal is to an upscale audience

54:50 / We stumble around in the dark trying to figure out where her merch is sold (Mike did post-podcast research: You can at least buy her fragrances at Walmart)

55:20 / Moving from humiliation to adulation and the cult of celebrity; this series represents that

57:20 / Paris Hilton as an icon for ‘new money’

57:35 / This show seemed a little North Korean – particularly with the penthouse décor

58:58 / Trying to figure out the motivations of the contestants – no tangible grand prize

59:30 / Paris Hilton has no real accomplishments – what’s the motivation for getting to know her?

1:00:28 / JS thinks most of these contestants went in with no illusions – and maybe the hope for a few connections or a good word in the future

1:02:12 / What the show is selling the audience in terms of being Paris’ BFF

1:02:38 / JS mentions that some contestants might have been overconfident and ‘caught up in the moment’

1:03:32 / Wrapping up with how this show could have been better

1:04:08 / Yet another digression into the shoddiness of the post-production

1:04:50 / Mike wishes this focused more on the contestants’ backgrounds; wonders how much the production problems played a role

1:06:05 / Even those outside the Middle East could have had interesting backgrounds

1:06:55 / The ‘story challenge’ gave a quick glimpse into the backgrounds of some of the contestants and gave them a little more depth

1:07:35 / JS wonders if the similar backgrounds of the contestants was a weakness

1:09:03 / We both agree they should have been filled out some more (the press release I mentioned)

1:09:41 / Mike thinks the most interesting thing about these women are their hybrid backgrounds and having to navigate between ‘traditional’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ sides

1:10:50 / The show touches on ‘Americanization’ a bit with Dina, but doesn’t really go into great depth

1:12:40 / We are on Stitcher (please rate us!) and have a website on WordPress (you are already here)

1:13:30 / Introducing next week’s show, Divorce Court: Feel free to email us any particularly good episodes from Seasons 16-18: 42minutesofreality AT gmail DOT com