Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hyperreality TV: Keeping Up With The Who?

We're a step away from a genuinely good reality TV product. Hyperreality TV. The inability to distinguish fact from fiction, impulse from effect, a TV show from not a TV show. And it all stems from a new show: Keeping Up with the Kardashians. A show about less than nothing. A show that isn't, by any definition of the word, a show. But nonetheless, something that's on TV. And so it appears to be a show without actually being a show. What is it? Shit, right. We know that. But you can't look too deep into the decay of culture. You ever notice how you've never--not even once--seen a book on a reality show? Not even on a shelf.

Who is Kim Kardashian? Who are the Kardashians? Why do all their names start with K?
The answers, in order: No one, a family, and they live in LA.

Are the Kardashians high-school-educated? Can they read? I'm sure they're all brilliant. C'mon, if they weren't, how would they have graduated from...How would they have got that job with...How would they have written that...How would they have been invited to Philip Roth's for dinner and impressed him with their...

Yeah, how would they have done all that?

We get good shots of Ks (K, K, and K) sitting around with Vogues and Cosmos. Wait, that's entertaining. No one's done that before. "We need a good sitting-around shot. We need to see them, you know, just sitting around. The show's twenty-four minutes long...and it takes three weeks to film...but, yeah, are they sitting anywhere? Let's get it."

(I hope the guy who directs this went to USC film school. I hope he shelled out forty-grand on tuition. I hope he's read Wilde so he goes home every night and sleeps under his bed so the bad thoughts won't get him. I hope he has a carefully, artistically manicured beard.)

And here's the beauty of hyperreality TV. The Kardashians aren't famous; they're related to Robert Kardashian (one of O.J. Simpson's lawyers), and so they're a half-step away from really being nobodies. But they still have that appeal of being linked to someone who was once on TV. And that's no good. We have to efface that link. We need people who just watch TV.

What about a reality show about a family we've never heard of? A family who, if you Googled their name (let's say, the Merdes), you'd come up with nothing. Just links to a variety of useless pages, none of which contain any information on the Merde family. Ideally the Merdes would do nothing. Nothing about them would be distinctive; they wouldn't be bright or witty, they wouldn't eat interesting fruits.

The Merdes could even live in Hollywood. Christ, they're neighbours with Jo Marie Payton--the woman who played Harriet on Family Matters. The Merdes don't talk to Payton, but we're just placing them in a definite milieu. One we can all understand: LA.

They could even right screenplays: "What are you writing?" "A script." "What's the premise?" "It's about a ghost that's real." "Cool. What's it called?" "I don't know yet."

So what's the premise? The Merdes live. They don't work. They do things, then rush to talk about them on camera. Daphne Merde finds an orphaned child wandering the city streets. Somehow the cameras have arrived before her--they've anticipated her every ordinary move, showing her SUV as it rounds the corner of Hollywood and Vine. And the camera in the car gets her reaction. And the camera on the street gets her reaction. "Ohh!" she squeals as she spots the kid. "What's that?"

Then more action. A crew has intuitively guessed at her arrival at, of all places, the police station. And the cameras are inside, ready to catch her sunglass flip as she opens the door and enters off the street. "I found a kid," she tells the desk sergeant.

Suddenly the Merdes have invaded the police station. They're gathered, clustered around the boy. "What are we going to do?" Dini Merde, matriarch, wails. "Adopt it. We've got to adopt it."

"No," says Daphne. "We can't. We can't have a premise. We can't. We just can't."

And that would be an episode. Edit out the Miley Cyrus sighting, and we've got a winner. Just twenty-four minutes of encountering problems and talking about how said problems exist. "This, like, you know...This happened! I saw this kid today. I was, like, seeing this kid. I saw it! A kid." "I know you did, Honey. You saw a kid." "Daphne saw a kid," says the youngest Merde. "Yes," says dad. "A kid. She saw him."

And there's the show. Or at least the first episode.

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