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Archive for November, 2009

Reality Yikes

I hate reality shows. I’m betting we could do some serious repair work on the national deficit if we took all the money shows like “The Bachelor” and “For the Love of Ray J” spend renting private jets, buying millions of fresh roses, dripping their prospective “mates” (for there really, logically can’t be actual romance involved) in diamonds and dresses, or putting the hoards of gold-diggers up in classy mansions which they usually proceed to tear to pieces.

Even shows like MTV’s “The Real World,” which used to have some clout as a psychological study (documenting what happens when people start getting “real”), have become the butt of jokes around the water cooler as applicants to the show have figured out you can make a career out of creating a character for yourself. Girls usually play the bitch, the slut, the crazy (mentally) one, or the fighter and guys have even less options–to be a douche, a nice guy, or an even douchier guy.

Fighting, cursing, accidental nudity, public drunkenness, lewd comments, unstable psychological breaks…sure we probably all know someone who might resemble any or all of these things…but would you pay them to keep it up? My guess is that if you actually did know someone with the tendencies listed above, you know that it’s funny for about the first 5 minutes. Then it isn’t anymore. You stop bringing said person into public…you call them less and less. So why do we propel these idiots into “stardom” by helping out their ratings and ensuring they get cast in each new episode of “Real World, Road Rules” challenges version 1,343? 

I often can’t decide who gets spit out of the reality universe in worse shape–guys or girls. Somehow I imagine the guys still have girls drooling all over themselves (if for no other reason than they can’t get over the fact he was on TV) and don’t spend too many nights cold and alone in bed. Having punched another drunk bar dude in the face on TV probably earns them a free shot at every bar they go to and if they treated a girl like shit I’m sure they still get a round of pats on the back for being such a “man.” Maybe, just maybe if they physically attacked a girl on their respective show they might not be publically lauded, but you can bet your ass they will still get stopped for photo-ops.

I’m not sure what I think happens to the girls of the shows, however. If you’re “the bitch,” does anyone really like you? Sure, guys will still try to bed you to add a great story to their collection, but all your skeletons are out of the closet. Girls will most likely hate you. If you’re crazy I imagine it’s even worse. I can hear the comments they must be followed with everywhere they go. Maybe even a rehab facility gives you a call. Same with the fighter personality–you might get the fist pumps similar to the douchie reality guys, but chances are guys and girls a like will be afraid of you.

Even worse is the slutty role. This may or may not be an act on the part of some reality show girls, but more often than not it is accompanied by a serious inclination to alcohol. As a culture we still have an underlying tendency to high-five guys who have slept around while we chide and look down upon girls who’ve done the same. On a reality show these women are putting themselves on national television to display their darkest insecurities and dirtiest tendencies. How do you come back from that? What will your future husband think? Your potential kids? Bosses?

The most disturbing problem that I see is that women are relishing this negative attention. Reality shows require you to be legal, but a lot of the time the participants are mid to late twenties, even early thirties, depending on the demographic the show is aiming towards. These are people are functioning members of society somewhere, not just 19 and 20 year olds looking to irritate their parents. It reminds me of the “good attention/bad attention” notion that accompanies two and three year olds–any attention is a positive thing.

But is it really? Is it a good thing to have shows like “The Bad Girls Club” on Oxygen that is solely devoted to putting explosive bitchy women in a house together and watching them tear each other apart? And it airs on a self-proclaimed “women’s station!” This show, similar to today’s Real World agenda, gets their ratings by the self-humiliation of it’s cast members. The crazier the event, the more they hype it. Hilarious? Sure. Personal morale booster? Definitely. But worth ANY amount of money being spent to keep images of women communally peeing in a kitchen sink, vomitting in a dressing room, or night-vision views of their sexual escapades? Hell no. I don’t care that it isn’t MY money. It’s money. Give it to hungry kids in Africa. Fix the homeless problem in America. And document that.

 

For your viewing displeasure…a compilation of the \”best of\” The Bad Girls Club

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Retail is Dirty Business

Oh, retail. If you’ve never had a job where your objective it to straighten, re-straighten, fold, put item in its rightful place, straighten, direct customers, or perform cashier tasks for the masses, then you don’t know what you’re missing.

There’s the baby who accidentally spits up on a $40 shirt. The child who runs throughout the racks destroying as much as he can. The child who takes a nasty fall (post-destruction) that you have to pretend to be sorry for. There’s the older woman who finds the tiniest snag in a sweater, probably made by herself in the confines of the dressing room. The woman who swears your color-blind because you cannot see the slight discoloring she deserves 20% off for. There’s the people who hand you $100’s on $1.75, and the ones who give you bad checks, declined credit cards, and five dollars worth in nickles, dimes, and pennies. You see it all.

Almost every single one of my part-time jobs have been in retail. I often ask myself why I’m such a masochist. For the better part of two and a half years I worked at Plato’s Closet in Roswell, possibly the closest thing to a hell-mouth. Plato’s Closet is a “gently” used clothing store that will buy your slightly worn teen, young adult, guys and girl clothing. We give you cash (if it’s under $50) on the spot for your stuff and all our merchandise is sold at 75% off the original price–whether you wore it seven times 2 years ago, or it still has it’s tags. Great idea, huh? Yeah. Well offering upfront cash for already used goods brings around some of the worst examples of humanity….

Plato's Closet

Gently used, NOT Goodwill

The most frequent sellers are druggies. You can always tell because they look fresh out of a dark basement, opium den, trailer, or their car that functions as a home. These people never have anything Plato’s would actually buy–burn marks, holes, stains, etc–but it doesn’t stop them from arguing that their stuff looks better than the rest of the crap we have hanging up for sale. They usually try throwing offers around, too, like “If you give me $3, I’ll let you keep the whole bag,” or “This is a designer blouse and I’ll take it to (insert fake name here) at the other Plato’s because she always loves my stuff.” It usually ends in anger, yelling, curse words, or personal attacks–and one time a girl kicked over a three mannequins on her way out the door.

Then there are the people who are just poor and/or hurting for cash. On a daily basis I must have heard thirty-some-odd sob stories about gas money, rent money, food money, or child support money. It’s sad really. Sometimes you know they’re telling the truth, but most of the time you can tell they’ve recited the same story a thousand times. Maybe even to the same sales attendant.  But, you can’t just give money away to anybody. Personally, I don’t care if you’ve actually got a booze habit but you tell me your kid hasn’t eaten today. I’m pretty guillible. I want to help. But I can’t put my name on the barcode of your 1983 pair of bleach-stained jeans. I just can’t.

Besides the people that sell their clothes to Plato’s (and they aren’t always poor, broken, or drug dealers), there are the people that shop there. Again, there are some exceptions, but there are a lot of generalizations that fit far too well. Despite the fact that most shirts cost under $5 anyway, people always want to make you a deal. They always want to get another dollar knocked off. People rip the tags off an item, put them on and leave their old, ratty, dirty clothing in the dressing rooms. Or they bring the tagless item to the counter hoping you’ll tell them a better price. People are crafty. They are devious. It’s unfortunate. Retail made me cynical. It made me distrusting.

One of my most horrifying realizations about certain sectors of humanity came one day when we found a pile of clothing in a fitting room that had been pissed on. The whole pile…soaking wet, because some lady was mad we wouldn’t allow her to use our private bathroom. We knew exactly who it was, too.

Bathroom “accidents” were not, unfortunately, a rare occasion. Perhaps it was our clientele, but my fellow employees and I found ourselves undertaking janitorial duties more often than we would have liked. And for $7/hour it was pretty damned hard to do it with a smile. Babies diapers came loose…kids peed in their pants.It was all in a day’s work–that and all our other hundred responsibilities of running a decently sized store overflowing with customers and goods. But that was until Angel and Angie.

One very, very memorable night a pair of regualr customer Hispanic women who worked at the Chick-fil-a down the street came into our store. They picked up far more than the designated 6 items per dressing room and snuck into a fitting room recently vacated by another shopper. I saw their two pairs of feet amongst the pile of clothing under the rooms and went to knock on their door. I told them one person per dressing room and that they had too many items, but they didn’t speak a word of English, so it was hopeless. Eventually they bought a few items and left. We all looked back at the fitting room they’d been in and could see that they made no effort to remove the clothes they hadn’t wanted, and so I shuffled angrily back there to rehang them on the “return rack.” Well clothes weren’t the only thing Angel and Angie had left behind.

On the middle of the floor in the fitting room was a pile of shit. It had not been there before. One of them, in front of the other, had chosen our floor as a bathroom. And all there was to do was clean it up.

It was appauling. Grown women. Grown adults. How could someone be so blatently disgusting? What has this world come to that humanity overtly, no longer metaphorically, shits on each other?

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Recently I found myself under a pile of used tissues, cough drop wrappers, and empty foil medication packets. I had a sinus infection and was determined not to let it deter me from my social schedule. I dragged my pajama-ed self out of bed, drove to the nearest CVS, and pondered the array of ways to self-medicate yourself.

I am someone who takes three aspirin when I feel the rumble of a headache coming on. I down cough and flu pills like candy when I get a tickle in my throat during cold season. I chug Pepto Bismol’s nasty pink chalk when my stomach feels like it’s fighting a UFC Heavyweight competition.

I like browsing the medication aisles of the grocery store or pharmacy–scrutinizing all the clever names pharmaceutical company’s come up with to suck you in: “Cold Eez,” “Theraflu,” or those cute teddy bear-shaped medicinal lollipops you give to your unsuspecting kids. I like to be able to compare boxes with my symptoms and walk away knowing I beat the “system” and really chose the right kind of fix for my pain. I like saying no to body aches and yes to sinus congestion. I like being able to buy the cheaper box if I’m strapped for cash…

Most of all, I like having dozens and dozens of choices. It makes me feel powerful. It makes me feel like I’m playing my part in a world of advertising and commercialization. Maybe I don’t like the way those little animated blobs of green mucus make fun of my congestion. Maybe I do like the way that lady sighs after consuming a steaming hot mug of Theraflu.

When I was in London this summer, however, my little bubble of power had a pin taken to it. British pharmacies carry a minimal selection of over-the-counter choices. None of them look particularly trustworthy (gimmicky packaging and few symptoms are addressed), most are geared specifically towards hay fever, and in order to actually find out which is best for you, you must speak with a pharmacist. Now, given that the pharmacies in England operate on a more personal level similar to America’s doctor’s offices, British people only go to the doctor for something serious. Trifling colds, flus, and infections are dealt with at your nearest Boots location. To an American girl like me, it was unsettling.

One of my last days in London I tried desperately to find something–anything–similar to Dramamine. Having a horrible proclivity to motion sickness, I had run out of my supply I brought over from America on the many trains, planes, and bumpy bus rides. My eight-hour return flight loomed in the horizon and I knew that without some medicinal sedation pumping through my system I would be a real mess. So I went to Boots.

It took me ten minutes to even find the over-the-counter meds. A tiny section of maybe three brands of cough/pain meds, two flavors of cough drops, and all manner of “trapped wind” relief you could dream of. Nothing for motion sickness. I found the pharmacist and the usual (or unusual since technically we were both speaking English) language barrier became evident. I asked for something for “motion sickness” which garnered a shake of the head and a confuddled expression. Then I tried to explain what motion sickness was (much harder than you think it would be) and finally the pharmacist mentioned “travel sickness” (umm, duh?). This conversation took about ten minutes for us to agree that I meant travel sickness. This realization led the pharmacist to bring out a clipboard with a list of ten to twelve bizarre questions (what is your eye color? natural hair color? how well do you tan in the summer? etc) that finally led to him producing a package of generic-looking travel sickness pills.  The process took so much longer than it should have and I walked away hoping that the package he gave me was actually going to work.

The problem I had with the whole ordeal was that it made me question things I normally wouldn’t have even thought about. I buy Dramamine because it’s a generic, well-known medicine. I don’t know how strong it is, if there’s something stronger out there, or what side-effects it has because it has always just worked. Walking out of Boots I wondered if my answers to that questionnaire would have given me some low-dose travel medication. I wondered if I should have played up my problem to be given something stronger. The minute the decision was taken out of my hands, as the consumer, I was angry and questioning.

As Americans we are used to being self-sufficient. We are used to being responsible for our own decisions, at least when we are able to make the decisions. And if we’re still unsatisfied, we can always blame the company for false advertising. But when that choice is taken from us, we are left to trust another human being. A being who doesn’t know us, who doesn’t feel our pain. A stranger who doesn’t sit in a sterile smelling room with a medical diploma on the wall next to his four kids and a dog. We’ve come to rely so much on ourselves that we have a hard time accepting outside opinions. We’ve become so comfortable with our aisles and aisles of choices that we expect them stocked, ordered, and abundant. Choice is the American Dream.

 

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