American Culture


by Terry Hargrove
One Sunday night last year, I decided to try my hand at some of the math I didn’t understand when I was a high school student. Right away, I came face to face with a long-forgotten nightmare called the distributive property. If I read it correctly, the distributive property says that an expression such as 4 x (2 + 3) is equal to 4 x 2 + 4 x 3. Wondering if such an insight would ever prove beneficial to me, and deciding that it would not, I left the math book on the table and went to watch some television. But my timing was bad. Nancy had the remote control, and despite the pitiful stares I cast toward her, she wouldn‘t share it.

“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.

14 replies »

  1. Hmmm. Is your wife into Project Runway? Shear Genius? Throwdown with Bobby Flay? Top Chef? Tabitha’s Salon Takeover? Ace of Cakes? The Amazing Race? Celebrity Apprentice?

    No? You have no idea how incomplete your life is. But you will…..

  2. I’ll say this in a quiet, reasonable Internet voice: Project Runway is the only legitimate, enlightening, worthwhile, life-changing, culturally vital and completely real reality show on television and YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE SILVER FOX MONKEYBOY BECAUSE I WILL CUT A BITCH WITH MY BEST GINGHERS…

  3. I thought about majoring in Super Model, but then i found out that there would be serious conflicts with my proposed minor in Ninja. In the end i gave it all up to study the Buddha, who’s lucky i didn’t minor in Ninja because then i’d be able to kill him if i ever meet him.

  4. Actually, the legend goes that during the era of the Samurai, warriors entered Buddhist monasteries and were profoundly impressed at how the monks would sit calmly while being beheaded with a sword. The Samurai decided to incorporate the monks and their teaching into the warrior path, and from then on Zen began to intertwine with the way of the sword.

    And Buddhism has found common ground with martial arts in China as well, most famously in the super-human feats of the Shaolin monks.

  5. Don’t know for sure, but what i do know suggests that Buddhism played a part (though later and in addition to Shinto beliefs and Taoism…Zen being the tying of Buddhism to Taoism anyhow). In both Samurai and Ninja cases it would be more about the mental/physical skills acquired through Buddhist practice and their practical application than philosophy and spirituality.

  6. Oh, i’m almost certain ninja used the meditation techniques. But IIRC, it used to be extremely difficult for Japanese to separate “spiritual belief” from “day to day life” (unlike, say, most of Christianity). I’m just not sure what kind of mental gymnastics a ninja would have to go through to justify calling him/herself a “buddist” while slipping a bit of poison into the local magistrate’s tea. It’s probably possible. People lie to themselves all the time. But I think that one would be especially difficult. 🙂

  7. Of course, we managed to go from reality TV to ninjas in about 5 posts, so who knows? Hahaha. Sorry to hijack your post, Terry. 🙂