Friday, May 6, 2011


I don’t like reality shows. Cheaper to make and often much more profitable, they have just about killed scripted television and the incomes of those who work in it while simultaneously rotting our collective American minds. Who today doesn’t know who Snookie is, whether they want to or not? But ask them to name the senator from their state and they’ll stare at you blankly. Reality t.v. has created stars out of ordinary people, rich kids, experts in obscure fields and B-list stars seeking a comeback, people who in many cases have no particular talent other than a willingness to exploit their personalities and, as my grandma used to say, “Act the fool,” for the camera, inviting millions of people into their lives as housewives, bigamists, extremists of any kind, hoarders or residents of a house by the shore.

My daughters forced me to watch two of the competition type reality shows with them and I am slightly embarrassed to say I enjoy them, despite my rallying cry against reality. But at least dancing and singing take talent and passion and watching people struggle to get a routine or wow a judge shows honest effort and sometimes real defeat – something that I think is often missing from television today, both scripted and reality. As much as I love Law & Order, the detectives always get the perp and the prosecutors always win their case. Unfortunately, it’s not so in real life.

I was laid up in bed in recovery mode, drinking a Diet Coke and munching on one of my homemade cookie creations, a “faux nut” butter cookie – a recipe I created to satisfy my desire for a good old fashion peanut butter cookie for someone who can’t eat peanuts or wheat. Natalie curled up in my lap and started channel surfing and together we happened upon a new show, “Extreme Couponing.” Natalie and I looked at each other, both wondering how watching people who cut coupons could be an interesting t.v. show. We had to watch. They profiled a woman who spent 4 hours a day cutting coupons from the 9 newspapers she subscribed to (not to read the papers, of course, but to get the insert coupons – why be bothered with all that current affairs dribble?), and then spent 6 more hours of her day prowling the aisles of her local grocery store checking on special in preparation for her shopping day! She bragged that she usually put close to $1,000 in items in her shopping cart and usually only paid, after coupons, $5 to $10 dollars for all of it. Now while that savings is impressive, hell, it’s extraordinary, she complained about not being able to spend time with her husband and children because she was couponing, and how her house was being over run with the 2 year stockpile of products that she had. One woman they profiled even had a very expensive, complicated looking rack (which I think she designed herself) made to store her purchases in a way that the items with the oldest expiration date were pushed to the front so nothing would spoil. All the couponers complained of running out of room in their homes – one woman had 1,000 rolls of toilet paper stuffed under her son’s bed - in the same breath that they boasted of saving $40,000 or more a year on groceries.

As much as I’d like to cut back on the cost of my groceries, that kind of effort, time, dedication and ingenuity (a specially designed rack???) is being wasted on shopping. And despite the fact that they had stockpiles which would see them through five natural disasters with enough to feed the entire block, they still continued couponing and shopping. I had to turn the show off. Their obvious obsession was difficult to watch. As much as I was fascinated, I was also repulsed. It’s like the hoarder show – amazing to get a glimpse into their minds and their homes, but it’s a little uncomfortable once you’re inside.

I tried to watch the couponing show again, but I had the same response. I was talking with another friend of mine about it – he’s a reality show devotee who keeps up with several of them – and he told me that some of the coupon women actually use their “talent” to get groceries for free (or nearly free) and then donate the grocery items to charities/shelters, which made me feel slightly better. I mean how many families need a two year supply of dishwasher soap?

But I guess if it wasn’t extreme, it wouldn’t work on t.v. Who wants to see me go to Ralphs, fumble through my purse at check out for the three coupons I managed to tear from a mailer tossed on my lawn, to find that only one of the three coupons was for an item I actually purchased? I got $1 off because they doubled the coupon and I felt like a winner. But that’s how most people deal with coupons in real life. And real life would never work well on reality t.v., now would it?

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