“What are you watching?” I asked. “Because the Patriots are about to play the Cowboys and they’re both undefeated.”
“As soon as this goes off, you can have the remote,” she said. “But I want to see who gets kicked off.”
“’Who gets kicked off?’ Are they on a plane? Does the loser have to get kicked out without a parachute? That sounds like my kind of show.”
“No, they aren’t on a plane,” she said. “It’s Who Wants To Be the Next Supermodel.”
Oh no. Reality television had come to the Hargrove home. I knew all about survivors on deserted islands and text messaged votes for singers and the one with Hugh Hefner’s wives, and the rapper who wore a clock on his chest, but this one was new.
“Wasn’t she in court last summer?“ I asked, pointing to the host. “What does she do, throw a phone at the loser?”
“Funny,” said Nancy. “No, but she does pick who goes on and who stays in the competition. This is a repeat, but I didn’t see it when it came on.”
“They all look like super models to me,” I said. “The same vacuous stares, the same perfect teeth. Why would someone aspire to be a super model, anyway? I can’t think of a profession that requires less of an individual. Stand there, be pretty, don’t talk, and look bored. Can you walk a straight line? Do you smoke? You’re in. It‘s all genetic. They don‘t have to work at anything.”
“Oh, yes,” Nancy replied. “They can’t be normal people like, say, an average professional football player. No genetic benefits in the NFL. We can all grow to be six foot eight and weigh 340 pounds.”
“I’m pretty sure I could get to the weight,” I said. “OK, we’ll watch this for a while. How long does it last. An hour?”
“Well, this is a super model marathon, so it will go off in five hours.”
I hate to admit this, but five hours later I was still watching. I found it very enlightening, especially how the girls fawned over the host at the end of each show, sobbing joyfully because they weren’t rejected for reading a book or ballooning up to a size 2. And once, the host went off on a girl. She laid onto her like a middle school vice principal, and the girl cried and cried. Then she was kicked off the show.
I tried to stay detached, but the damage was done. Super models were walking the runway of my mind, splashing provocatively in my spinal fluid, strutting down my cerebral cortex, then spinning on stiletto heels that dug into my rhombencephalon. It seems there is a lot more to being a super model than I suspected. It wasn’t enough to look bored and be pretty. You had to get into the proper context, then look bored and be pretty. A perfectly bored and pretty girl couldn’t let feathers or tigers or stuffed crocodiles or tidal surges distract her. Then, if she hadn’t mastered the perfect bored and pretty look, there was a lineup of guest photographers and former models and fashion types who would tell them just how close they were to being perfectly bored and pretty. Nullvana was the state they were looking for, and nullvava is hard to achieve. There might be a Dummies Guide to Nullvana out there, but most of these girls couldn’t read. They stared at the words on a teleprompter as if they were written in High Elven runes.
I went to bed that night feeling sufficiently superior, but on Monday, something happened. A friend of mine wanted to know if I was ever going to put blinds up on my front window.
“I’m sure I’ll get around to it,” I said. “But there aren’t any houses in front of our condo, so I don’t worry about anybody watching us.”
“Well, maybe you should think about it,” he said. “See, we don’t have cable, so every Sunday night, we pile into our car and park across the street from your condo and watch you guys. Then we provide our own dialogue for what we think you guys are saying. We sort of have a club now. About ten families. We meet every Sunday night, share music and food, and watch you guys. It’s a lot of fun. Yesterday, you didn’t move from the couch for over five hours. What were you watching? You sure looked bored.”
“Football,” I said, too quickly. “And baseball. And HBO. I have a sore ankle, and Joey’s been sick. I wasn’t watching the super model marathon, if that’s what you’re asking. You don‘t think I‘m pretty, do you? Because I‘m not. And I can read.”
I said too much. He knew. But I hate reality television, and I don’t like people who watch it, as if we need some sort of electronic validation of our existence. But I watched it, and I look forward to next week’s marathon. And I had become a reality show to a group of folks who don’t watch TV. That meant something. I’ll watch the next super model marathon closely to find some insight. I mean, a marathon is all about suffering, right? So if I suffer through seven hours of reality TV, then I’ll reach some magical plateau, my own person nullvana. Right?
Maybe we all become what we despise. Maybe we all despise what we’ve become. Maybe the answer is in the distributive property. Nah. I’ll wait until next Sunday. Tyra will answer all my questions, if I can just look bored enough for her to speak to me at all.