It’s considered the detritus of the media, an investment in waste management. The presence of reality television, low-scale comedy and fashion periodicals induce an automatic gag reflex with a covert sense of intrigue for many.
Despite the initial delineation of this media as being unintelligent and ridiculous, it is the integration that produces a sense of cohesion and comedy.
Last quarter between writing my law and society term paper, I indulged myself in the nonsense of Rich Girls and The Simple Life. Both shows follow the lives of four wealthy young women, Ally Hilfiger and Jaime Gleicher of Rich Girls in their New York City environment and, in the case of The Simple Life, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s displacement to Altus, Arkansas, population 817.
On one episode of Rich Girls while vacationing in the Hamptons, Ally and Jaime’s beachside dinner quite predictably converges in their self-professed style authority. In New York, as Jaime argues, individuals would wear cargo pants with stilettos with cognizance of fashion. Yet in the Midwest, where people work in fields, according to Jaime, the said pants are a necessity. Here is one young woman with a strong sense of conviction about life in the Midwest and regional fashion, seriously stated. A Midwesterner myself, I can assure you there are minimal fields in Chicago, Indianapolis and Madison. Sure, a few scattered corn fields, but as a news flash, the stiletto shoe can also be purchased within these states.
Removed from the glitz of Los Angeles, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie attempt to navigate through farm life and the concept of economic self-sufficiency. Beneath the artistically painted coating of their lip gloss, Paris and Nicole attempt to connect with their host family. Apparently Paris couldn’t relate to shopping concerns due to her lack of knowledge of Wal-Mart, exemplified by her question, “What is that, Wal-Mart? Do they, like, sell wall stuff?” Apparently the ubiquity of the corporation conglomerate has escaped this heiress.
Over Winter Break being marooned in my home with a mere four channels with 20 degree blustering winds, I was rescued by trips to the video store for ’80s comedies. John Candy and Chevy Chase momentarily distracted me from the Indianapolis weather, and I was allowed to revel in Who Is Harry Crumb? and the Fletch series. Complete with outrageous fluffy hair, off-pitch soundtracks and minimal plots with blue leisure suits as disguises, these films were my staple of hilarity.
Returning home on the plane ride, I was armed with my travel reading essentials. In addition to my book on criminal profiling and Psychology Today magazine, I also held an issue of Cosmopolitan. At the top of the list of classified fashion magazines, Cosmopolitan seems to be the decisive choice of scholarly content. Despite both my mother and friends’ eye of scorn when they catch the title, the fashion, health and relationship tips remain perpetually intriguing. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I do not wear the lavender bebe suits – yet – or do not – by choice – have a partner for the Kama Sutra kissing tips of the month at this point. This life that is splayed across the glossy pages is something so foreign to my feminist ideals that it is ridiculous. Yet I still find myself gravitating toward this perceived nonsense as a form of catharsis.
Amidst these shows, movies and magazines are some of the most devalued content, even arguably a threat to the American reigning high culture. Somehow though, this displacement of routinized life into an alternate realm generates the notion of the ridiculous. Perhaps it is this utter absurdity that makes MTV, Chevy Chase and Cosmopolitan a constant source of humorous entertainment and the social consistency we seek nestled between episodes of Dateline and psychology class.
Katherine Drabiak is a junior law & society and sociology major.