Tag Archives: reality shows

Magic in the Kitchen

It’s amazing what you can find in a kitchen. I admire people who have matching containers for flour, sugar, and mixing spoons. They usually also have kitchen gadgets that I can’t even name, let alone operate. Then there’s the ubiquitous kitchen junk drawer, which as a friend of mine noted, contains “rabies vaccination tags for cats that ran away” and “a dozen mangled twistie ties from last year’s Wonder Bread.” (He also called it “The Mother of All Clutter” and “Perfection’s Perfect Safety Valve.”)

But the most amazing thing you can find in the kitchen is a new life. A new start. A new purpose. Redemption.

I first realized this when my husband and I were watching the TV show Chopped. We couldn’t remember the names of the contestants, so we gave them nicknames: Who’s getting chopped this round? Red-beard guy! No, kerchief lady! Pickles everything dude! (We do the same with Forged in Fire. Santa Claus guy! Teenage upstart! Tattoo-neck! But I digress.)

One night there was a man on Chopped we took to calling “The Old Drunk,” because he was, well, old-looking and called himself a drunk when the judges asked him to tell a little bit about himself. He told how he had spent years as a hopeless alcoholic and how, after he got sober, cooking had saved him. I don’t remember whether he won Chopped, but now, I understand, he has cooking videos on YouTube and has appeared on other Food Network shows like Beat Bobby Flay. He seems to have done pretty well for himself on his journey up from rock bottom.

Then I started noticing other contestants with equally compelling stories. There have been more than a few who have credited cooking with saving their lives or giving them a way out of alcoholism or other addictions. Men have said that their lives started in gangs or ended in jail until they discovered cooking. One woman said it helped her escape from domestic abuse. Any number have said that cooking helped them feel pride in themselves when their families disapproved of their lifestyle or career choices. And quite a few competitors have said they used cooking to help overcome challenges such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other physical and mental difficulties.

This is not something that occurs only on TV, either. My husband used to work in community-based corrections. (And no, that’s not where we met.) As he counseled prisoners (inmates? clients?), he routinely heard that there were two professions that they wanted to explore when they were back on the streets: hairdressing and cooking.

(I don’t think there are any competitive hairdressing TV shows, but as soon as I say that, someone is bound to prove me wrong.)

What makes cooking such a redemptive pursuit? I think there are several answers. Cooking takes time, attention, and creativity when it’s done well. Even non-professional (or non-competitive) cooks can take pride in the idea that they are nourishing someone else – or even themselves.

I’m not saying that cooking will solve all a person’s problems or replace AA. But I do think that cooking, whether it’s at the level of professional or amateur, art or craft, hobby or necessity, speaks to something vital inside us. Food is necessary for life, after all, and making that into something expressive and loving and creative is transformative, of both the food and the self. It feeds not just bodies, but sometimes the soul.

I’m not sure about Forged in Fire. I don’t know whether bladesmithing is a redemptive act, too, though I imagine if done with sufficient commitment, pride, and artistry it could be. The same is likely true of many of the other competition-type shows. (Except Cupcake Wars. I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine anyone redeemed by cupcakes.)

One of the best-selling cookbooks of all time is The Joy of Cooking. I think it’s the joy as well as the struggle, the stumbles and disappointments, the cuts and burns, the standing rib roasts and the fallen soufflés, that give cooking its power to feed us all, and especially those who practice it with passion.

And those people I really admire, whether they’ve got their canisters in a row or not.

 

 

Why Do Models Look So Mean?

“Fierce!”

You hear it on Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model.

Apparently, that’s the “look” that designers and fashion models and photographers want to portray. Do they really think it will sell clothes?

Someone must think so. But why? Why would I take fashion advice from someone who looks surly and disagreeable and fierce? Whatever happened to models that smiled, like they were enjoying their clothes and knew they looked good in them?

Actually, I think the models in ads that appear in “women’s” magazines and online sites and TV ads may smile from time to time. It’s a question of who buys the product. If women are buying a product – say a pair of jeans – they’d like to think that they will be delighted by them. They will smile.

(Maybe the women in SI‘s swimsuit issue smile too, but I’m not going to do the research on that. It’s doubtful that many of the men who read it are thinking, “I think I’ll buy that for my significant other. That’ll make her happy.” What they’re selling isn’t bathing suits.)

But when it comes to high fashion – and Valentine’s day perfume ads – the women pout at the least, and more likely snarl and glare, directly at the camera.

I don’t get high fashion (or haute couture, if you want to be classy). I don’t mean just that I don’t buy or wear it (which, you may have guessed, I don’t). I don’t get the psychology of it.

Are the fashion shows and ads trying to appeal to the “male gaze”? Obviously, they are, with the boobs and butts prominently displayed. But what about the faces? I understand that men are supposed to fantasize about having sex with these women. But don’t most men prefer a partner who looks happy about the encounter? Apparently, ad execs and fashion show coordinators believe that men prefer what they think is a sultry gaze, but more often looks like a man-eater who’s been dieting for a month.

Again, man-on-the-street men aren’t the target audience for high fashion. Seemingly, neither are non-independently-wealthy women. Who does that leave? Androgynous buyers for high-end department stores? Art directors of expensive, glossy magazines that cater to the glamour set? Other fashion designers?

In other words, people to whom the clothes may be important, but the women wearing them aren’t. The models are walking clothes hangers, so who cares whether they’re happy? And the fashion purveyors have convinced themselves that fierce is fashionable, as long as you’re not really trying to sell a product.

Of course, the smiling, laughing, dancing model isn’t all that accurate either. “Women laughing alone with salad” is the stereotype. But it appears in other forms – women dancing over how good their probiotics make them feel, frolicking playfully at the thought of new lipsticks and blow dryers, or singing about their favorite brand of cottage cheese. I roll my eyes at them until I’m afraid I’ll get stuck staring at the inside of my skull. Other times, I just assume they’re all on amphetamines.

Male models, now. No smiles there either, but the word for them is “aloof.” Half the time they don’t even look at the camera. If this is supposed to be attractive to the female gaze, again I don’t get it or must not have it.

The stereotype here is that women want cool, unapproachable men whom they can arouse and then domesticate. Think Mr. Spock, for example. Only with better abs.

Again, I’d prefer a partner who seems to enjoy being with me.

But maybe that’s just me.

The Next Top Iron Writer Is Chopped

Two of my favorite things in the world are language and food. But they almost never come together except in recipes and restaurant reviews, both of which I find extremely boring.

What I do like are food game shows: Chopped, Iron Chef, Guy’s Grocery Games, Beat Bobby Flay, Top Chef, and so on. They provide the combination of food preparation, competition, and a reality show that demonstrates a real talent that satisfies my needs.

But where is the language element in all this? (Except for creative cursing and abuse when Gordon Ramsey goes off on a poor, put-upon contestant.)

There are language contests, which are harder to find, especially on TV. Fictionary and Scrabble are two examples. Whose Line Is It Anyway?, while a comedy improv show, had several games that relied on the performer’s quick-thinking use of language. And occasionally at science fiction conventions, you’ll see a contest in which people try to read aloud a notoriously bad, hideously written manuscript until they start laughing, when the next contestant gets a turn.

But what if we create a mash-up of the two sorts of games and design them for writers? What would we have then? I have here a few ideas.

First, get a bunch of writer contestants, of various genres. Then a few editor judges. Then the fun begins.

Genre mash-up. Have each author draw a genre at random and write a paragraph or story in that style. Possible genres: science fiction, romance, Shakespearean, soft porn, mystery. No one is allowed to write in his or her own genre.

For the bonus round, have the contestants draw two genres and write a science fiction story à la Shakespeare, for example. Or have one contestant gain an advantage and assign genres to the other contestants.

Assign an author. The host chooses a plot: jewel thief is discovered; pirate attacks ship; a child is kidnapped; talking bunny meets talking bear; worker is fired. Then have the writers draw the name of a writer and write in that author’s style: Ernest Hemingway, Lewis Carroll, Victor Hugo, Tennessee Williams, Jane Austen, etc.

Age swap. Have writers choose a famous children’s book (Alice in Wonderland, Horton Hears a Who, The Giving Tree, Bunnicula) and rewrite a passage from it for a grown-up audience. Or have contestants rewrite a passage from an adult book (Gone With the Wind, Of Mice and Men, On the Road, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and render it suitable for a child.

Who’s the author?/first lines. Contestants write a passage in the style of a writer of their choice and the judges have to guess who the imitated author is. Or the writers take a famous first line from a novel or story and must write something completely different to complete it.

Word list. The moderator gives the contestants a list of random words (spring, car, lonely, chart, vegetable, and tissue, for example) and they have to write a sonnet using them all.

ABC. The host draws a letter of the alphabet, and the writers must write a 50-word paragraph using that letter as many times as possible. The winner is determined by who used the letter the most.

Of course, this would not make for very compelling television, though you could have close-ups of the writers wiping their brows; professional actors reading aloud the poems, stories, and paragraphs; time limits; and even annoying Jeopardy-style music in the background as the writers work.

And think of the prizes! Money, of course. A new computer/word processing system with all the software and other bells and whistles; for the semi-finalists, a writer’s nook including desk, bookshelves, file cabinets, printer/fax; and for the winner – publication, of course!

Losers would receive either a collection of writing reference books or a Deluxe Scrabble set.

I’d watch it.

Next, I have to invent a cable network that would carry the program.

I Was a Teenage Ninja

Well, no I wasn’t. I wasn’t a mutant, either. When I was a teenager, no one in America had heard of ninjas.(1) At that point, they hadn’t even heard of Ninja Turtles.(2)

But let’s back this train up. It all started (for me, not the ninjas) in Philadelphia (for the ninjas, it started in Japan), and ironically, because of trains. I was staying in Hatfield and wanted to visit some friends across town.

“I don’t think you should do that,” said my then-fiancé (now-husband). “You have to change trains. And you have to walk through a scary, dark, underground tunnel in a bad section of town, at night, to get to the other train.”

Needless to say(3), I stuck out my lower lip so far you could stand on it; crossed my arms in front of me like the Great Wall of China,; and glared my special, patented, death-to-you glare. Dan, who is adept at reading body language, correctly interpreted this as, “You can’t tell me what scary, dark, underground tunnels I can or can’t walk through.”

I was going to explain that several times I had spent the night in the Cleveland bus terminal (midnight to six) and survived, but I would have had to admit that I sat in the roped-off area for women and children only(4), so it wasn’t all that scary and I wasn’t all that brave.

Anyway, not being an idiot, I postponed the visit, and made a solemn oath that as soon as I got home, I was going to take a self-defense class, which is what you did back then instead of simply packing heat, which self-defense classes at the time did not recommend.

I checked out the offerings in the local adult education catalog from our local school district. One of the classes listed was Ninjutsu Self-Defense. Hm. Interesting. It was not a “sport” martial art and didn’t require a gi, so I signed up. The instructor was Stephen K. Hayes.(5)

After six weeks of learning various kinds of punching and kicking, plus falling and rolling, I decided to continue training. The only problem was, there was no follow-up course. What there was, was an informal training group that met weekly behind an apartment complex and next to a cemetery.(6) (Later the group became a more formal organization and met in a rented space underneath a strip mall. Very stealthy.) We were early adopters of the butch camo look, with “tiger-stripe” (Vietnam jungle) camo being considered the sexiest variety.(7)

As self-defense, ninjutsu was very practical. It also made a lot more sense to me than the usual women’s self-defense advice and tips so prevalent then (and perhaps even now). You know the kind: Poke your attacker in the eyes. Carry your keys protruding between your fingers for use as a weapon. Go for the gonads. Well. The eye-poke and car keys will ensure a pissed-off attacker and guys expect you to target their junk, so they automatically defend against that. And they don’t have to take classes about protecting the ol’ gonies.

No, the concept was “body weight in motion.” I can easily describe this philosophy. The human knee is a delicate structure that does not willingly go in very many directions. Drop 100+ pounds of anything – sack of potatoes, log, female human – on it in one of those non-standard directions, and the knee will no longer function well. You have not merely a pissed-off attacker, but one that probably cannot limp as fast as you can run screaming for help. Plus, you can make it look like you just slipped and fell on him, which is a good thing if it ever goes to court.(8)

Every summer there was a camp, which was nothing like what they air now on TV “reality” shows. We learned interesting Japanese weapons, such as the bo, hanbo, tanto, shuriken(9), kusari fundo, and (my favorite) the kyoketsu shogei. None of which I tend to carry around, but all of which use principles transferable to modern, everyday items like mops and steak knives and even large-caliber dog leashes. We also learned pressure points and other painful techniques, which are fun, and also work fine against a larger attacker. One year at camp I had the pleasure of watching Masaaki Hatsumi, the little, old Grandmaster, easily maneuver an assistant sensei into the ground and feed him grass while apologizing profusely but insincerely.

Yes, we learned lots of useful things. For me, the most practical technique proved to be editing the club newsletter. It was more of a 16-page non-glossy magazine, and when I applied for my first real editing job, it was prominent among the samples of my work I had to show.

I got the job. And I didn’t even have to feed the interviewer grass.

Now I edit like a ninja. I wield my sword of strikethrough and the red font trails across the screen like pooling blood. I leave sliced paragraphs in my wake, still alive and considerably shorter.

(1) Unless they read James Bond novels, but everyone just went to the movies. Well, not everyone. I didn’t. So I don’t know whether the ninjas played any part in the movies. But they were mentioned in one of the books, which was really my point.
(2) An artist friend of mine said, “You mean children are going to hear the names Donatello and Michelangelo, and think they’re turtles?!!!?”
(3) But I’m going to anyway.
(4) Really.
(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_K._Hayes
(6) And you can bet there were many jokes made about that.
(7) See http://www.spoonflower.com/fabric/1678959 for an example. No, I don’t know why an outfit called spoonflower sells camo. Other varieties of camo include woodland (summer or fall), which looks really stupid if you wear it in the desert, which two characters in a movie once did, desert camo, and international orange camo, which sounds really stupid but is actually the best for hunters of color-blind animals like elephants and deer.
(8) It most likely won’t.
(9) Which are nothing like you see in the movies. You cannot kill someone with a shrunken to the forehead (though my husband did once break a garage window with one). They are more for distraction, or, if they’re good and rusty, able to cause death by tetanus, at least back when they were invented and tetanus vaccine wasn’t.

Moonshine Fantasy

Watching Chopped on Food Network, I noticed that all the baskets contained some kind of moonshine and that the guest judge was from Outback Steakhouse.

Math may not have been my best subject, but I can put one and one together and usually come within spitting distance of two or thereabouts. I said to myself, “Self, I bet Outback is having some kind of moonshine promotion.”

I was right. Within a couple of days I began seeing the commercials. I have also seen “moonshine” for sale in the liquor stores. This is just wrong. The wrongness of it rattled around in my brain and caused this vision.

Me [in Outback Steakhouse]: Any specials today?

Server [perkily]: Why, yes! We’re featuring our new Moonshine Entrees!

Me: Tell me about them.

Server [still perky]: Each of our superb meats has been infused with the authentic flavor of moonshine!

Me: You mean it tastes like airplane glue and smells like kerosene?

Server [puzzled]: Why, no! It’s a sweet rich flavor that enhances all our dishes.

Me: So where do you get your moonshine?

Server [resuming perkiness]: It comes from our warehouse on the weekly truck so you now that every batch is fresh!

Me: Yeah, that’s about how long my uncle used to age his. But he kept it under the corn crib instead of in a warehouse.

Server [still trying]: We make sure the quality is consistent and always imparts that special moonshine kick!

Me [impressed]: So you know that it always causes the jake-leg wobbles and the blind staggers?

Server [beginning to fold]: Really, I don’t think…

Me: Yeah, that’s the other good thing about moonshine. After your kidneys shut down, it goes to your head and you can’t think.

Server [losing it]: Perhaps you should see the manager.

Me: If I can still see her, it ain’t the best moonshine.

Server [nearing tears]: It’s really nothing like that!

Me: Then you’re obviously not using my uncle’s recipe. It was a big hit at all the family reunions. He’d get plumb crazy and start firing off his single-shot rifle. Gives a person a sporting chance. Not like those AR-15s everyone has nowadays. Tell me, is this an open carry state?

Server flees, returning with the manager, who gives me a coupon for a free dinner. At the Olive Garden.

Of course, I wouldn’t really do any such thing. For one thing, it would be mean, and for another I can’t really afford to eat at Outback. And of course the dialogue probably wouldn’t go as I imagined. And I’d be thrown out on one of my ears.

But still…

Hillbilly Bashing

It seems that hillbillies – people from Appalachia or the southern U.S. – are the last remaining group of people that is acceptable for people to poke fun at, insult, and demean.

Every other stereotyped group has been taken off the comedy table. Indeed, most remarks about stereotypes are not permitted in polite company. You can get into trouble for saying black people are lazy. Italians are mobsters. Fat people are disgusting. The Irish are drunks. The Polish are stupid. The French are snobs. Blondes are dumb (and “blondes” is code for “blonde women“). Feminists are lesbians. Scientists and other geeks can’t get laid. Men are hopeless at child-raising and household chores (or if they’re not, there’s something wrong with them). I’m sure you could add your own examples.

But hillbillies are fair game. Whether you call them hillbillies, hicks, rubes, briars, rednecks, jethroes, bubbas, or peckerwoods, you can make jokes about how they marry their sisters, drink moonshine, screw livestock, and eat roadkill. Honestly, you’d think some people believe that Hee-Haw was a documentary.

Jeff Foxworthy made millions with his “You may be a redneck” humor. It was gentle, seldom-vicious, well-intended humor, but it was stereotypical nonetheless. And was it more acceptable or less because Foxworthy himself was a Southerner? I haven’t decided.

If you look at “reality” shows (I try to avoid them), you’ll get a whopping dose of “Let’s all laugh at the stupid hillbillies. We’re way better than they are.” Duck Dynasty. Honey Boo-Boo. Moonshiners. Hunters and fishers and survivalists. And someone is making a lot of money off these shows. I’ll give you a hint: The moneymakers don’t eat roadkill or have outhouses.

But let’s forget comedy and reality shows for a moment. We all know that’s just entertainment, not one culture actually demeaning another. Let’s look at real reality for a moment.

The other day someone posted about the contaminated water scandal in West Virginia. Many people who replied to this post were, well, less than polite. Here are some examples:

People in those communities need their own Martin Luther King, someone who can raise their spirits and challenge them. Someone who can bypass the whole political process (Me: so far, so good. But wait for it.)…. And because the people there are so fearful of minorities, this version of Dr. King will have to be white and one of their kin, while being aware of much bigger things and principles than Appalachia usually considers.

And this, regarding an elected official who ignored the disaster in his own state:

Yep, and $20 says he gets re-elected. Why? Have you LOOKED at the average citizen of West Virginia? 

And my favorite:

Don’t believe in science? Fine. How about being a good steward of the earth like that book you’re constantly jizzing yourself over says, you half-witted, superstitious dumb-fuck!

Admittedly, there were commenters who called out those who made such comments:

There’s a good chance the “average citizen of WVA” may be keeping your lights on and letting you post insulting things about them.

And:

Extremists have a choke-hold on American politics–and this is true in more places than Appalachia.

And (again, my favorite):

Don’t make the mistake of confusing the politicians and the people. It would be a mistake to stereotype the people of Appalachia as ignorant and racist. You can find ignorance and prejudice in every corner of our nation. You can also find brilliance and humanity in every place as well.

Now I admit I have a vested interest. I was born in Kentucky and so were most of my relatives. And my family has produced teachers and coaches and civil servants and businesspeople and college graduates. And me. Someone who uses proper grammar and punctuation, and makes a living doing that. And yes, listens to country music, knows how to shoot a rifle, has milked cows and collected eggs, and has relatives nicknamed Jim-Bob and Spud.

My culture is as worthy of respect as any other. Appalachian people make beautiful art and music. They have become scientists and celebrities, inventors and innovators.

And let’s not forget that the Appalachian land has been exploited for its mineral wealth, with the profit flowing out to other regions. The farmers who try to make a meager living from land not really suitable for agriculture have had to become sharecroppers. If many people there are poor and undereducated, it’s not because they like it that way.

They may be different than you. But you are not better than they are. Show some respect. The ones who jeer and demean are the uncivilized ones.