Tuesday, July 31, 2012

COLUMN: Addiction

I like to think of myself as an optimist. I enjoy seeing the good in people, the perfection of an imperfect world, and the light of a better tomorrow. But boy, there are days. Days when all I see is a world full of morons, a pointless existence with the only comfort being that our generation of idiots are at least slightly less idiotic than our offspring will inevitably become.

Coincidentally, these feelings usually occur when I'm channel-flipping through the television dial.

There's a school of media critics who only seem to be able to agree on ONE thing: that "reality" television is the worst thing to happen to entertainment in the modern era. I tend to disagree with that assessment. I think that there are two distinct levels of reality television: GOOD stuff... and then stuff that's so bad you fear for the future of mankind.

The GOOD stuff? Though played out, I have no problem with "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race." Same goes for So You Think American Idol's Got The Voice and all those talent shows. I'm a sucker for all the paranormal shows and anything involving the busting of myths, trucking of ice roads, and warring for whales. I'll even begrudgingly throw in "Celebrity Apprentice," which I justify on the sole account that I watch it incessantly and it makes me laugh (even if it might be making me dumber.)

Then there's the OTHER stuff. Wealthy people being wealthy, bitchy people being bitchy, and housewives being anything but real. Throw in Gene Simmons, Heidi & Spencer, some teen moms, Kate Gosselin, a hoarder or two, and you have officially reached the bottom of the barrel.

But wait, America. Congratulations, because you've finally done it. You've ripped the bottom right off the barrel and dug some three to four feet underneath to find a previously unexplored level of slime. I'm pretty sure I've just seen the worst you could possibly come up with.

I speak of TLC's latest hit reality series, "My Strange Addiction."

Once upon a time, TLC stood for The Learning Channel. Nowadays, the channel has as much to do with education as MTV does music. And nowhere is it more obvious than "My Strange Addiction." Each show spotlights a "regular" person or two with a, y'know, "wacky" addiction. Like EATING GLASS. Or fingernail polish. Or couch foam. Or how about the guy who has romantic feelings for his car? Or the girl who spends all day smelling her doll's head? Roadkill collector? You betcha. Urine drinker? Sure thing!

This whole show leaves me without words, which is bad when you're paid to come up with 'em. Let's just start with an initial theory -- if you appear on this show, one of two different explanations must be at play. Either:

(1) You are SUCH a sad and pathetic attention-seeker that you would literally be willing to drink your own urine in order to achieve your fifteen minutes of fame, or

(2) You have a serious problem and should probably be getting serious help instead of screen time.

Instead, the show spends about 80% of the time near glamorizing these poor people and their dangerous behavior. I'm not a mental health expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm pretty sure I can tell you that if one of your five food groups is a SOFA, you have outstepped the boundaries of a wacky addiction. You, my friend, have a serious behavioral disorder that should require immediate professional intervention, no?

In the handful of episodes that I've seen, that intervention DOES occur, but not until the fleeting moments of each show. And, again, I am no mental health expert -- but if I were ever tasked with counseling someone who compulsively eats laundry detergent, I would probably try to come up with advice slightly more pro-active than "you should keep a journal," which I heard the other day. Yep, that'll help:

"Day 1. So I woke up and ate some more laundry detergent. Mmm, love that detergent.
Day 2. Another fine day of eating laundry detergent.
Day 3. What should I have for dinner? I know! Laundry detergent."

I don't get it. But maybe that's because I'm no expert.

In another episode, I saw a "professional" tell one of these addicts that they should embark on an exercise program. I am also no medical expert -- but if I encountered a person who compulsively ate jagged glass for a hobby, I just don't think "jog it off" would be the prudent advice. If anything, I would probably tell them to sit VERY, VERY STILL for as absolutely long as possible.

Plus, do you really think that it's a good idea to take someone with such an extreme disorder and make them an instant celebrity? The last thing this poor woman needs is to lose her ability to go shopping without a half dozen people pointing and going, "Isn't that the lady who drinks her own urine?" I mean, come on. Even if she were to go on to cure cancer, we're all still going to think of her as "that lady who drinks her own urine who also happened to cure cancer when she wasn't drinking her own urine."

This show is just plain awful. It's the modern version of a tacky carnival freakshow. We might as well just skip the pretenses and call it "Cavalcade of Weirdos." It's not on the air to help document, understand, treat, or educate people with a plight. It's on the air for one reason only: To allow us to point at our TVs and go, "DID THAT LADY JUST EAT HER COUCH?!?!"

We're supposed to be a smart society. We as a people should be above this show. The new season of "My Strange Addiction" starts later this year. Let's give it the best season premiere possible: By watching ANYTHING ELSE. Besides, if you're truly in the mood to watch the real life stories of the desperate and/or deranged, that's what the Kardashians are for.  

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