For various reasons, some good, some bad, I don’t watch much TV at all. This is often to my detriment as there’s a lot of great stuff there, as you probably know better than I do. Probably it comes as no surprise that I don’t really get into Keeping Up With the Kardashians =p. However I’ve picked up enough of it secondhand from Wifely Kate‘s watching that I feel comfortable commenting, though I haven’t seen too terribly much of the show. For the uninitiated, here’s a benign-enough clip:
Keeping Up With the Kardashians has averaged 3.7 million viewers this year, double last season’s total, and was especially successful in the young, female and free-spending demographic coveted by advertisers. According to Nielsen, Kardashian viewers tend to be single, college-educated women with no children, white-collar jobs and annual salaries of more than $60,000. The show is the highest-rated series on cable among women between the ages of 18 to 34 and occasionally beats even the network shows in its time slot for those viewers.
According to the almighty Wikipedia, “Kimberly Noel ‘Kim’ Kardashian (born October 21, 1980) is an American celebutante, socialite, television personality, producer, actress, and model.”
When I ask, viewers of the show — yeah, yeah, a very limited sample size of them — often tell me vigorously that (in my words) when they watch they maintain emotional distance from the content and, basically, (sometimes) laugh at the (sometimes) immaturity of the people/characters. I suspect this is for the large part untrue.
I think the show’s attraction comes from a different source. Some of the attraction, obviously enough, is the vicarious experience of fantastic wealth, and some must be the feeling “At least I’m not doing as bad as these immature people.” Those feelings combined give compensatory/escapist relief. But I don’t think they alone can account for the show’s huge draw.
Actually I think viewers really identify with much of what the show’s characters are saying, doing, feeling. Some of what they’re saying (including from other episodes), loosely transcribed: “It’s really hard to express your feelings”; “You need to pay attention to your responsibilities”; and so on. None of that is particularly false, or different from what many say in private. But since the Kardashians is so jam-packed with such comments expressed in such loopy settings, the comments seem ridiculous enough that people feel safe identifying with them. (I mean, imagine footage of a President’s cabinet sitting around talking about such things. THAT would really trouble people.) With the truth spoken by Kardashian semi-fools, viewers can assure themselves aloud that they themselves don’t really assert such things, and simultaneously let themselves privately identify with such emotions. They can secretly, privately take refuge in the Kardashians expressing them; with them it can feel okay to feel the plight of the spoiled, to hear the parental advice, etc. I’m not sure this is a benign thing ultimately, but I think it’s what’s really going on.
There’s a useful lesson here for creative writers. Part of writing is realizing and admitting that it’s all true, the entire wide gamut of emotions and ideas and morals, inside each and every person. Evil tendencies of thought, lazy motives, good moments of charity and maturity, etc. Plausible characters should encompass all that, as we all do.
I’m going to compare the Kardashians with another I consider similar enough in some aspects, Bridezillas. A clip from that show (much less benign):
I can’t find good info on Bridezillas’ viewer demographics, but there’s this press release:
Available in over 76 million homes, WE tv’s programming offers viewers compelling perspectives on women’s lives ranging from the ordinary to the extraordinary, presented in a non-judgmental voice. The network’s popular original series include the signature show Bridezillas
There’s nothing in the show’s content to indicate it’s supposed to be taken one way or the other, either, and the above press release emphatically claims its representation of the individuals’ lives is “non-judgmental.” But sometimes viewers for this show tell me they watch it in some sort of “ironic” manner, meaning they say they don’t “really” invest in the individuals’ lives, but rather laugh at them, regard them with scorn.
Again, I don’t think their claim is true; I think it’s a smokescreen. I bet the show serves as a way for (many of) its viewers to get out (maybe as catharsis) those unacceptable emotions we all have. Wish there were some healthier way of doing it. Who knows, though? Maybe viewing the shows is as a-ok as anything else.
I don’t like, and can’t get behind, the actors serving as human guinea pigs, though, or as fodder for other people’s amusement or vicarious release of negative emotions.
Take all this with a grain of salt. I haven’t watched much of these shows, I haven’t read or thought much about them. But I do think much more is going on here than what is claimed or what meets the eye.
Saturday night, December 11, I went to a Rammstein concert at Madison Square Garden, my ticket purchased by the best wife ever, Wifely. At the Garden, for about 2.5 hours, the band wonderfully bulldozed my ears. The full set list’s at the end of this post.
To get to the concert, I took the D-line from my friends Janna and Julie’s apartment in the Bronx, then walked a few blocks through Manhattan. A hand-holding, formally-dressed teenage couple arrived at about the same time I did, also threading their way through the assortment of headbangers in fishnet stockings and/or leather jackets & the like. The couple showed an elderly usher their tickets. “No,” he told them, “you don’t want a Rammstein concert.” He gestured. “You want that over there, the stage play.”
I went in.
Nice view! Freebie iPhone pic by me.
Luckily, I (purposefully) missed the opening act, some obnoxious group called Combichrist. I sat (with a great view! How awesome is Wifely???) next to a guy named Kirk, with whom I talked for a while; his girlfriend goes to NYU, he studies education in Pennsylvania.
I wondered if the techs soundchecking the guitars were going to play the main Sweet Leaf riff (the Black Sabbath song title refers to especially tasty tea), or if the tradition of using that riff for metal soundchecks was just an American thing. Well, Rammstein’s soundcheck was really short, which was sort of surprising — just a kick drum check and a power chord check. I have to say the kick drum sounded incredible reverberating around Madison Square Garden.
The lights blacked out suddenly, and after a Spinal Tap-worthy smashing of an artificial wall, the band came onstage for the night’s first song, “Rammlied” (“Ram-song”). The lyrics start with (and frequently repeat) the word “Rammstein” (Ram-stone), which the crowd loudly screamed, fists pumping and heads a-bang, as a very emphatic spondee. I was definitely among the fist-pumpers, for once at a concert where I wasn’t so self-conscious. When the German verses begun, the largely American audience’s fists lowered, their heads rose, and their faces searched one another, puzzled as to how to proceed. Then the chorus came back (Ramm-! -stein!) and the crowd resumed its chant. Any German the crowd managed seemed mostly mumbled until a familiar-enough word crossed by. This was amusing. For all we knew, Till Lindemann, singing mostly in German, could have been cursing us out the whole time!
Here’s what the music sounded like — seriously! Did I not tell you Rammstein plays Bavarian folk music?
During “Ich tu dir Weh” I saw, through the scrim of pot smoke pouched above the bottom floor, a man dressed head-to-toe as Santa Claus, moshing in the pit as intensely as anyone else. Like the band themselves, most Rammstein fans above their teenage years do have a sense of humor about this music and its subculture.
The concert ended with Till enunciating very slowly and very carefully, something like: “We are Rammstein. We thank you very, very much, America.” The closing song was “Engel” (“Angel”), and we walked out to a piano rendition of it, which was quite spooky and nicely fit my sudden sadness at the concert ending. I was so happy, though. On the way back to the Bronx on the D, my ears were, like, deaf, so on my headphones I listened to Patty Griffin, not coincidentally among Wifely’s favorite music.
By the way, before the concert, some guy standing by the elevators handed out what looked like playbills to passersby, some of whom happened to accept them. On the back, I noticed, MSG Entertainment, apparently Rammstein’s management — whom as a ticket-holder I have no relationshp with — asserts the following (though in all caps, and among other things) as part of a “license” (their word) that they granted:
No smoking, alcohol, drugs, weapons, laser pens, food, bottles or cans allowed. By your use of this ticket, you consent to a reasonable search for prohibit items and you agree that you will not transmit or aid in transmitting any description, account, picture or reproduction of the event to which this ticket admits you.
For a disturbing, if overblown, take on Rammstein, try this essay by Claire Berlinski: Rammstein’s Rage. (FYI, at times the essay mis-translates in a way that misleadingly bolsters its points; but, it’s still worth a read.)
Several times during Kate and I’s wedding & honeymoon trip, I asked taxicab drivers in NYC and DC for marriage advice — partly because, like Perot & Obama both, I’m all ears for suggestions; also, partly for the sake of amateur anthropology and since I simply like talking with people. The more unusual the person, the better. The more you feel you understand things well, the more you have to cultivate the attitude that other people might actually outsmart you; and, strangers are often the ones who give you best insights.
However, I don’t think I’ll be taking this one taxicab driver’s advice, which he gave as I stepped out of his cab: that Kate and I need to have children immediately. I replied that we were considering maybe one or two children sometime about five to seven years from now, and he hollered that Kate and I need to output one within a year. It focuses things, he shouted, driving off.
When I rode from St. Mark’s Bookshop (I purchased the rest of Paul Park‘s Roumania Quartet, but wisely left Jung‘s awesome and awesomely expensive Red Book to peruse at local libraries; also, St. Mark’s had a great poster that graphed USA economic inequality — this too I refrained from purchasing, partly because such a purchase seemed ironic splurging) — when I rode from St. Mark’s Bookstore toward Cafe Lalo, where Kate was waiting, a Senegalese taxicab driver poured all sorts of advice into the backseat. “Put water in your mouth!” he advised. “If you are angry, if you are about to speak hastily, put water in your mouth instead! Hold the water in your mouth until it cools your anger!”
Citing the numinous wifely wisdom that causes husbands to tremble, he also said Kate was always right about everything. On this I respectfully disagree. =)
But I do agree with his misleadingly callous-sounding comment that spouses shouldn’t have too high expectations of one another. Because no spouse can fulfill every need for the other; if one spouse isn’t into, say, heavy metal or shoes, the other can share that passion with his or her own friends instead. Plus, if the one spouse does check out a metal band or scrutinize some shoes, it’s a bonus for the other, not the fulfillment of some needy requirement the other has. And that way, with a good marriage, each constantly receives bonuses instead of feeling disappointment at failures to meet unreasonable expectations.
In DC (where we honeymooned) the taxicab drivers were tenser, less prone to talk, and busy listening to political news. The diverse taxicab experiences in both places, however, made me hope even more to be able to approach the world someday such that I genuinely feel that everyone, even the most problematic (mean-spirited, or obnoxious, or …) person has something to teach me.
Check out my T-shirt, by the way. This will be old news to many, but the hexadecimal number printed on it, 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0 (which in regular decimal notation is 13,256,278,887,989,457,651,018,865,901,401,704,640 — thirteen undecillion something), can be used in various ways — for example, as a tongue twister, as a song lyric, or as a key to break HD-DVD and Blu-ray copy protection. In 2007, in response to the number becoming publicly known, the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator LLC (a trade organization providing encryption technology and backed by Disney, Microsoft, and others) sent sites such as Digg.com take-down demand letters that claimed their publication of or trafficking in the number constituted violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and asked for the webpages to be removed, as though webpages aren’t constantly cached and archived elsewhere anyway. (Clay Shirky discusses Digg’s counter-response in his interesting book Here Comes Everybody — the book’s title, I’ll pedantically note, comes from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.) The legal threats cued the Streisand effect, wherein efforts to silence something controversial only cause it to be repeated more loudly: everyday netizens republished the number an undecillion times over, including on a certain black EDUN LIVE Essential T-shirt worn by me, courtesy of zazzle.com. Although it’s feasible to legally threaten a small number of people (such as those running Digg.com), it’s impossible to legally threaten a vast number of people (such as each and every podunk blogger posting about 09 F9); this basic principle of mass civil disobedience, used by the pro-piracy netizens, now prevents — I presume — additional take-down demand letters from being sent, as in, for example, to me. The world has been made safe for long strings of alphanumerics.
Kate and I married in NYC on Saturday 29 May 2010 at the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Six guests attended: our four parents, her sister, and my best friend. Supporting personnel included LDF Floral and Event Design, the estimable Eileen Regan as officiant, and the very effective Katje Hempel as photographer; all three worked perfectly. (The photograph above is Katje’s, as is the pair below. You can see a few more photographs on Katje’s blog.)
Our short service included a reading from (and this was Kate’s idea!) Theodore Sturgeon’s novel Godbody:
This is the answer!
The answer is not in getting and keeping, but in getting and giving.
The answer is not in saving and preserving, but in growing and changing.
The answer is not in making things stop, but in making things go.
The answer is not in thinking, but in feeling.
The answer is not death, but love.