Real Life

Last Friday, I was all set to go to Wondercon (the second largest comic book convention in California, and one of the largest in the country.) But then my friend Kalie posted this on Facebook:

“Hey guys…I was offered a quick PA [personal assistant] job over the weekend but I’m not able to take it. Pays $100 a day, and it’s tomorrow and Sunday. If you guys don’t have anything going on this weekend and need some extra $$ AND ARE RELIABLE, message me and I’ll give you the number of the guy you can call. This isn’t spam I swear!”

then she explains the job in the comments:

“Personal assistant. It’s for a potential reality tv show promo and they need people who can be there throughout the day to do little errands here and there. Really easy gig. And you get food too lol.”

I really needed money for my Wondercon trip, and  I only had enough for gas and a ticket. So my plans changed. I would do this PA job on Saturday and use the money go to Wondercon in style on Sunday.

For a few seconds, I thought I might violate my journalistic integrity, considering that reality TV is basically the bastard retarded rape child of documentary film making. But then I reasoned with myself that 1) I’m too poor to have integrity of any kind. and 2) working on a school newspaper doesn’t really qualify me as a journalist.

On Saturday morning, I showed up at a house in a suburb of Watsonville. That is a bit surreal in it’s self because Watsonville is a bit of a getto, but the people in that suburb are rich as all hell and are really paranoid about gangs. Right off the bat people were paranoid and freaked out, about my car, which has graffiti all over it. It’s not gang graffiti, just a bunch of tags from all sorts of taggers in Santa Cruz.

The show turned out to be called –I’m not joking– “Not So Desperate Housewives.” The idea is that most of the cast are not only housewives, but also fairly successful entrepreneurs. And they also like to do hot yoga. It is the kind of dribble that would air on Bravo for one season before getting canned in favor of a Project Runway spin-off.

I start working around 7:45. Right away, I’m given a job that fulfills a childhood dream of mine. I’ve always wanted to click the slide thing at the beginning of the scene. Turns out I’m bad at it because I have a hard time remembering the scene number, and it is tough getting the slide into the shot.

I had to stand around in what was called the “hot box,” the place where people get interviewed for the little talking head confessionals. The reason it was called the hot box became quickly apparent. Due to the lights, large number of people, the film equipment, and the massive amounts of hot air that is associated with reality TV, the hot box quickly heated up to about 110 degrees.

When I heard the interviews, I was kind of surprised to hear that the entire cast were composed of normal, successful people. None of them seemed to have the ego it would take to want to be on TV. That was kind of a problem: All these people were well adjusted and happy with their lives. Who the hell wanted to watch a TV show about that?

The film crew grew increasingly frustrated watching the cast basically having, drama free conversations about their normal, happy lives. Can you imagine anything worse for reality TV?

During lunch, I had a bit of drama of my own. A cop showed up at the set and was asking about the car. Apparently people in the neighborhood were complaining. They thought it might have gang ties. First off, actual gang members wouldn’t drive my car. My car is a bright green Honda Odyssey with “The Awesome Wagon” scrolled across the hood in bright red and yellow paint. No gang member in their right mind would drive that car. Can you imagine trying to commit a drive by shooting in that? You could see the car coming from a mile away, and then try hiding in what has to be the most recognizable car in the whole bloody county.

No, I drive that car for the same reason I have this blog: I’m an attention whore.

So the cop goes into the house and asks who owns the car. When the cop sees that it’s me an expression goes over her face says “Oh everything is ok. The owner of the car is white. There is no problem here.”

I found a sticker on the car left by the cops that said “This vehicle has been here for 72 hours please vacate it.”

I had been there for three, not 72 hours. Apparently, to cops, time works differently if you have a weird looking car in a rich neighborhood.

After several hours of shooting, the director had the cast gather for a talk. She told them they needed to be more like the people in reality TV. They needed to get in fights and be over dramatic. The cast got it. Within a few minuets after the talk, they were at each other’s necks, and confronting each other about every little annoyance. There was a long fight just about how much they fidget when they do yoga next to each other.

This is the dark side I was afraid of. In Journalism there is one rule, a prime directive: Don’t manipulate the story. In this show, there wouldn’t even be a story without manipulation.

I always knew that Reality TV was fake. I just didn’t know that it was so manufactured. I figured they found the craziest stars possible and the stars acted stupid on their own. But really they find normal people, and make them act crazy and stupid to generate drama.

There is the thing that gets me: How is anybody supposed to act “real” if there is a film crew living in your house with you, watching everything you do. Hell, a tactic used at over-eaters anonymous a way to get people to change their habits, is for the overeater to tell his sponsor exactly what he ate, and it works. Knowing that other people will see what you do changes what you do.

I mean if I knew the world was watching everything I did, I would change my habits myself. I would start swearing a whole lot less for a start. No network would let me on TV with my mouth.

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