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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Column: Is the end of self-obsessed reality TV near?

‘Spring Breakers’ and ‘The Bling Ring’ point out the vanity and loss of substance in today’s pop culture.

Megan Pearl

April 30, 2013

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

It’s my senior year, and I’m on the cusp of an existential break brought on by reality television.

Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but I’m trying to get ratings up. What I’ve been actually thinking about is reality television, portrayals of women and the illusion of fame.

I was really excited for “Spring Breakers” to come out because I had read these reviews describing it as a terrifyingly nihilistic depiction of identity tourism that is seemingly common: teenage white girls pretending to be dangerous thugs with no consequence and no idea what they’re doing.

“The Bling Ring” trailers are out now, and I thought it would be the same thing at first. After doing some Google searches, I think it’s going to be so much more. First, it’s based on a true story. I don’t know how I missed it, but E! actually had a reality show, “Pretty Wild,” that followed one of the girls who was in this “bling ring” group that robbed a bunch of celebrities in the Hollywood Hills. I’m like three years late, but I’ve been watching the show on Netflix, and it’s disturbing. The mom, a retired Playmate, actually does yell out, “Girls, time for your Adderall!” (They don’t even go to school….)

“Pretty Wild” starts out following the family and its two aspiring model daughters. The middle daughter, Alexis, is arrested during the pilot episode because of her involvement in the robberies of various celebrity homes. Throughout the episode, everyone refers to her arrest as being a result of hanging out with the “wrong people.” (Hey, here’s a thought: maybe Alexis is the "wrong people"!) There is a lot of dramatic crying and screaming that is so uncomfortable, it turns out to be funny.

Gawker published an article the last time the show was relevant in 2010, and the author makes a great point:

“It's reality grubbing that's self-aware in certain depressing, cynical ways but at the same time completely clueless too…. They play up the sexy theatrics so much — because ridiculous shit like that gets good ratings — that I think they've gone over the top to the point that it's come full circle and is weirdly real. They aren't people pretending to be reality stars. They're reality stars pretending to be people.”

“Pretty Wild” goes on to follow the girls as they pick out sunglasses that are big enough to shield them from the paparazzi and outfits for court and balancing their lifestyle with the “positive” image the lawyer is trying to build for Alexis. She breaks down and gives winning performances of how upset she is but bounces back into much “deserved” parties and dinners to deal with how stressed she is. Overall, the girls seem to enjoy the attention under the illusion that they are famous like the “celebutantes” they so admire.

This … I don’t know what to call it. Is it a trend? A zeitgeist? Whatever it is, it’s clearly gaining the attention of film producers.

But it goes further than these exceptional cases that end in legal trouble and a reality show — everyday attempts at interaction with the lifestyle of rich and famous people.

What do you think of when you imagine hell? Consider the comments section.

YouTube and news websites have their fair share of bizarre, irrelevant and mean-spirited comments, but now I’m starting to notice them more on social media like Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr.

These commenters regularly reply or comment to celebrity posts with accusations that the person is fat, ugly, untalented, worthless or crazy (I’ve been perusing Amanda Bynes’ Twitter lately). And on the flip side, you have the fans who ruthlessly argue with the “haters,” write love letters, ask where they are and make pleas for any kind of response.

I’m not trying to get all “Leave Britney alone!”, but it’s a troubling trend. Why do people want so badly to interact with stars? As if a reply in argument or a "thank you" would finally validate the miserable existence that comes with being not famous. As if anyone is in the place to make those accusations. The bodies and mental health of people are just another pastime rather than a serious part of humanity.

There is more to life. And I wish media wasn’t so dedicated to this shit. Perhaps with the oncoming film criticisms, from “The Bling Ring” to “The Great Gatsby,” there will be a cultural shift away from the idea of being rich and famous just for being rich and famous, and more emphasis put on substance.

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