by Jennifer Ryan
I have always prized my television programming choices. I don’t really watch reality TV. I allow myself one exception, which is Project Runway. In my defense, I fast forward through the catfights, the snarky comments, the drama. I have a toddler, and I ain’t got time for that shit. I simply enjoy the runway show at the end, when the designers march their creations down the catwalk for judging. I am often amazed by what these talented contestants can achieve in a day. The rest of reality TV can go suck an egg. You won’t catch me watching The Fake Housewives of Unfortunate City unless I am forced by circumstances beyond my control. In my opinion, such shows represent the breakdown in civilized (and, in many cases, intelligent) society.
Of course, I watch my fair share of favorite comedies and dramas. Who doesn’t watch Game of Thrones or The Big Bang Theory? The bulk of my television viewing, however, focuses on education. The History Channel. The Military Channel. The Discovery Channel. As a teenager, I was that hopeless geek, who marked Shark Week on her calendar. For those of you younger readers, calendars are primitive instruments that ancient man used to record important events before Smartphones were invented. I’m old. I know. Although The Discovery Channel still hosts Shark Week, the rest of the channel’s programming has gone the way of reality television. The endless stream of riveting documentaries about the natural world and its inhabitants has largely gone the way of the dodo bird. Tune into The Discovery Channel today, and you’ll be treated to a myriad of inane reality TV shows like Gold Rush, Deadliest Catch, and Alaskan Bush People.
To be fair to The Discovery Channel, my husband is mildly obsessed with Naked and Afraid. Almost everyone is obsessed with Naked and Afraid. A man and a woman are dropped in a remote location with one tool each. They’re naked. They’re afraid. What’s not to love about a show with two naked people running around the woods and defecating behind a tree? And, they defecate behind a tree a lot…particularly if they’ve found a bad water source. When I watch two contestants drink straight from a lake, I often think, “Have you ever actually seen the show? Do you not know that this will end badly for you?” My personal favorite moment is when the narrator chimes into the show to discuss impending doom. “Scott has found a snake and thinks it would make a fine meal. Scott doesn’t realize that this is one of the deadliest snakes in the world. The snake’s venom attacks the central nervous system, causing paralysis and eventual death within minutes. The Naked and Afraid medical team is currently on site. Given the crew’s lack of proximity to a hospital, a bite from this snake will almost certainly spell death for Scott. Let’s see what happens. Viewer discretion is advised.”
As much as I enjoy Naked and Afraid, I still miss a good ole documentary about nature. I thought my days of nature watching were over until my husband stumbled across The National Geographic Channel. “Honey,” he said, “Check this out. It’s Big Cat Week!” Oh yes. This is what I’m talking about. Lions and cheetahs and leopards. Oh my! A watering hole in an African savannah. I had a wonderful distraction while I folded laundry. A small gazelle had just given birth to her baby. How adorable! The camera panned to the right, and a cheetah was making his way through the tall grass in a crouched position. The gazelle saw the cheetah and began to lure him away from her baby by faking a leg injury. The cheetah gave chase. The gazelle sprang across the field with the cheetah hot on her heels. She’s gonna’ make it! She’s gonna’ make it! She didn’t make it. The cheetah caught her. The camera panned again to another cheetah, which discovered the baby gazelle hiding in the tall grass. The cheetah pounced on the gazelle but didn’t eat it right away. Yup, that’s about the saddest thing I’ve seen in a while. What did I expect? It’s Big Cat Week. Of course, the cats are gonna’ win, right? Suck it up Jennifer.
Then, I watched a water buffalo in mourning over the death of her calf at the base of a tree and a leopard trying to retrieve the dead calf. The leopard descended the tree, and the water buffalo charged. The leopard descended the tree again, and the water buffalo charged again. On the third try, the water buffalo was unsuccessful, and the leopard dragged her dead calf up the tree. Ok. You’re bumming me out National Geographic Channel, but next up…a documentary on lions. Surely, I would get to watch a lion “win,” and all would be right with the world. Wrong. So wrong. I got to watch a lone lioness try to raise her three cubs with danger lurking around every corner. Over the course of a half hour, I watched each of her three cubs lost to a gruesome fate. One cub was killed by a leopard. Apparently, leopards and lions hate each other. Another cub was killed by a rival pride of lions. With no options left to her, the lioness relocated her cub too close to a herd of water buffalo. When she returned from a hunt, she found her last cub terminally injured. The cub’s back was obviously broken because it had been trampled by a water buffalo. The mother called to the cub over her shoulder and began to walk away. The narrator said, “She calls to her cub one last time, and he tries desperately to follow her despite his injuries. The lioness knows her cub’s situation is hopeless.”
Well, that was just about the worst thing I’d ever seen. I looked at my son, my little cub, playing on the floor at my feet, and I felt some sort of odd kinship with this lioness. These scenes didn’t simply document the natural world. They depicted mothers doing anything within their power to protect their offspring. Maternal love is a universal constant and blah blah blah. I told myself to get a freaking grip. After all, I didn’t live in the African savannah. What could I possibly have to worry me in Houston, Texas?
Then, my son ran by me in a flash. Did he just have scissors? Where did he get scissors? What the hell? He already needed stitches at fifteen months because he fell and hit an electrical outlet. Another trip to the ER and I’m pretty sure they’d call Child Protective Services. At this rate, he’ll never make it to kindergarten. Please just make it to kindergarten. Kindergarten is safe, right? Except…didn’t that one police officer friend I knew get called out to a school because a little boy in kindergarten brought his brother’s porn collection to school. Did I remember that right? Oh well, it’s just a year, and then he’s in elementary school. Oh elementary school. Kids can be so mean in elementary school. I got bullied in elementary school. What if he gets bullied? What if he IS the bully? Then, he gets to spend three years in middle school. I was surrounded by assholes in middle school. I was an asshole in middle school because we’re all assholes in middle school. Middle school is nothing but a never-ending ocean of assholes, but that’s ok. At least they’re not having sex. Kids these days aren’t having sex in middle school, right? Wait. What was the episode of Dateline? The girls wore color-coded bracelets to let boys know how sexually experienced they were. When did I see that Dateline? Ten years ago. How old were the girls? Were they fourteen? What if they are sexually active at twelve and thirteen now? And, then comes high school. Driving. Drinking. Drinking and driving. Drugs. I can’t think about this now. I am in the throws of an introspective nightmare, all because of the National Geographic Channel. UGH!!!
I turned to my husband. I asked, “Babe, can you change the channel?” He responded, “Sure. What do you want to watch?” I said, “Um…can you change it to Bravo?” He hunted for the channel briefly and said, “This is one of those Real Housewives shows.” I said, “Great. Change it to that.” He sat in stunned silence for a minute and said, “I’m not watching this crap.” I yelled, “Change it now please!” The television flickered, and I watched a blonde with fake breasts throw a drink in the face of another blonde with fake breasts AND fake lips. Oh yes. This is what I’m talking about.
Then, I had an epiphany. I had always considered myself part of the solution, but I had officially become part of the problem.
And, that’s how the civilized world ends…not with a bang…but with a housewife.