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What Kind of Fame do You Want?

So I watched American Idol last night (in between watching Criminal Minds), and boo.  I was unimpressed.

But aside from that (and it's not like Adam doesn't have a career in Vegas waiting for him any time he wants it), the one thing I managed to catch most of was the infamous Tatiana dashing up on stage, grabbing the mic from Ryan and embarrassing herself again in front of millions, like a ten-year old that can't tell the difference between negative and positive attention.

I don't know.  I think we're harsher as a society on women who promote themselves and are pushy, but I can't get away from the trainwreck-ish aspects of this woman.  Of course, it was all gold for the producers (and I fully expect to catch clips of that on The Soup this weekend), so they let it continue (i.e., security didn't work particularly hard to stop her from jumping up on stage), but this isn't a good way to get people to admire her.  The show (and, by extension, all of us watching) only wanted to mock her - that was made pretty obvious by the clips they chose to show of her - and letting her make a spectacle of herself makes for good (if not exactly wholesome) television.

What I am saddened by is how little Tatiana herself seems to realize how she's being used for entertainment without benefitting from the exposure.  Singing career?  Not a serious one  - though she might manage that kind of twilight fame that William Hung achieved.  I'm not entirely sure she'd know (or appreciate) the difference.

I feel for her, and am disgusted by her at the same time, because I know what it's like to be her.  She's a needy hot mess.  Cute, but not cute enough for that world.  Not thin enough.  Not (God help us) stable enough.  Too diva without enough talent (she's talented, but again, not enough to make up for her deficits) to get away with it.

Heck, Beyonce is almost too diva for her talent, and it's a toss-up as to which is more ugly - her attitude (only sometimes - the rest of the time, I quite like her, and I like a number of her songs very much), or the smackdown the public gives her every time they think she's overstepped her limits.

(I'm going with the public.  That's some ugly, ugly reaction to a confident woman, there.  Diddy is 100 times more arrogant, but no-one seems to have a problem with his behaviour.  God forbid a woman be strong and confident.)

But I digress - Tatiana is neither confident nor self-aware enough to know how to play the card she's been dealt, and naked neediness is oddly repulsive to watch (even when played out for laughs).  And it makes me squirm, because I dislike her for things she can't help, and I dislike her for thinking she's being admired when she's only being ridiculed.  I dislike her for being too open, and too needy, and too blind.

And I've been all of those things, and this is why I hate what she stands for.  She reminds me of being so needy that I would do anything - anything! - to make people like me.  People think I'm reserved and cold, but that's because I've been burned too hard and too deep to trust anyone I don't know.  I've been publicly humiliated, and not realized it until later - though thankfully, my humiliation was not captured on digital media and preserved so that people can laugh at me for years to come.  I was unable to see I was colluding in my own abasement, and so deep in my own little world that what was happening around me might as well have been happening on Mars.

The truth about oneself hurts.  But learning it is terribly important if one is to grow and succeed.

And this blindness is not her fault, just like I wasn't to blame for mine, but it doesn't make her any more palatable.  It does make the public reaction to her more heartless, in that this isn't an overconfident brat who deserves a reality check, but a woman - girl, really - who wears all her nerves and feelings open and bloody on her skin, for all to see and abuse, and that kind of cruelty isn't healthy. 

In fact, it's rare to see someone that unconscious of themselves on television, as even the people chosen for "reality" shows are carefully vetted to be as vain and self-obsessed as possible.  Reality TV stars are always playing to the camera, always thinking of how they are going to look, and I think many of them live their lives as if they're on TV every moment.  Tatiana is the opposite - completely unaware of how she comes off - to the point that when the first part of the AI season aired, she was suddenly very subdued and embarrassed, as if realizing for the first time how her behaviour looked to other people.

So, though I dislike her, I feel very sorry for her, since people like that were never meant for fame, even if they think  they want it.  The other kids on the show - many of them were used to the stage, or were at least aware of how they were supposed to appear, even if they couldn't wholly manage it - very carefully played to the audience, putting forward certain parts of themselves, and keeping others under wraps.  Tatiana seemed incapable of such self-control - when she was up, she was floating off the walls, and when she was down, her wails could be heard three rooms away.  And the TV viewing public doesn't actually want that kind of reality - one of the guilty pleasures of reality TV is watching and hoping for people to fail, but to enjoy that, you need to be able to tell yourself that failure doesn't really hurt these people.  Sure, they're embarrassed, but they're vain and self-centered, and they'll just pick themselves up and go on, parlaying one season on I Love Money into a "career" of appearances and guest spots on basic cable shows.

Tatiana was too real for people to handle, so she was voted off.  And when she was brought back by the judges (with, I imagine, some hefty prodding from the producers, as she made for riveting TV with her antics), the viewers wasted absolutely no time in voting her off again.  They (we) don't want things to be that real - it's too ugly, too raw.

And I keep telling myself it's not her fault.  But I'm beginning to wonder.  Part of me keeps screaming "what the hell did she think was going to happen?!", and that's the problem - she didn't think.  Doesn't think.  She lives in a bubble, albeit one with such delicate walls that the slightest setback pops it, and we're treated to another round of wailing and a complete inability to be a gracious loser (a very undervalued part of societal mores).  It seems, though, that she can create a new bubble almost immediately, and that, in the end, is why I can't take her. 

...Or take her pain completely seriously, as guilty as that makes me feel.  The girl that dodged security and hopped up on stage, snatched her "award" and the mic from Ryan, then proceeded to sing even when Ryan was asking her to stop, is someone who hasn't learned a single thing from her time on television, or even a thing about appropriate behaviour.  When confronted with the truth of their mockery, she rejected it, and tried to steal the spotlight from people who had worked much harder than her to be on that stage.  If Alison had done the same thing, I'd have laughed, but honestly, all of the other kids would have had too much pride (and maybe, class) to do such a thing.  Tatiana, however, could be counted on to do something we could all laugh at and tut disapprovingly over (because, admit it, people love it when women make fools of themselves on TV - it's the not-so-subtle streak of misogyny that runs through most of reality TV, from Wife Swap to Rock of Love Bus).  Tatiana wasn't even in the final ten; she had no place on that stage, but she didn't care.  It's not that I think of these things as unacceptable behaviour because of her gender - if one of the guys had done the same thing, I'd be just as appalled - but that this kind of thing is the equivalent of jumping up and blowing out the candles on someone else's birthday cake.  It's childish, self-centered, and rude to try and horn in on someone else's big moment.

...Even if it was staged.  She should have refused - and I don't think the singing was staged, or at the very least, Ryan was not in on the plan.

And maybe that means that there is a career for her on reality TV after all.  I Love A Hot Mess, maybe.

Damn it.

EDIT:  Re-reading this, I am victim-blaming too much, I think.  Tatiana is someone who is naive and socially awkward, yes, but it's not her fault at all that our society gets sick kicks from watching people strip themselves emotionally bare on stage, and then gets to feel all superior because they've put her down.  She is perhaps the purest distillation of the idea that fame is all that matters that I have ever seen, but this doesn't make her a bad person.  A lot of my discomfort with my reaction to her is based on how much I resemble her, and the guilt I feel at my disgust over her antics.

Who has bought more into the idea of how women should behave?  She's being true to herself, and I am judging her for it.  I don't like what this makes me, and have struggled with it since I first saw her on this show.  I still don't like how she's behaved, but I dislike the manipulation, mockery, and snide talk from a show that has shamelessly used her for ratings and publicity much, much more.  My hands are not clean, and I am not morally superior.


( 21 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
May. 21st, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this wonderful reminder of why I killed my TV.
May. 21st, 2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
Don't watch AI, don't have cable... I get enough "Hot Messes" in my real life. And I end up feeling just as conflicted over my reactions to them as you are.
May. 22nd, 2009 03:51 am (UTC)
I with my girl, here. I don't watch reality TV. I got turned off on "Rescue 911" where, every week, they would have people reenact the possible moment of their life. And the suckers would say, "But we're saving lives here." and I would reply "And their exploiting your most private, painful moment to do so."
May. 21st, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
I was blissful watching the new Star Trek movie last night. =)
May. 21st, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC)
Is it not awesome? As one of the blogs I read said (roughly) - it made sweet, sweet love to the canon, and the canon liked it.

I could easily see it multiple times, though I'm all excited about eh Terminator movie, too, since I <3 Christian Bale. MmmmmmmmmMMMMMMMMM. :)
May. 21st, 2009 02:20 pm (UTC)
I could do without Terminator, but he's in a movie with Johnny Depp in August called "Public Enemies". It looks like a 20s ganster movie. Oh, the men in suits!
May. 21st, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)
OOOOHhhhhh yes! Saw the trailer for it when we went to see Angels and Demons! Johnny Depp as John Dillenger, Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis and Billy Cruddup as J Edgar Hoover. Yummmmmmmm.

Only troika that got me into a movie *faster* was Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and David Bowie (and since Micheal Caine was in it, I guess it was really a quartet) in The Prestige....

May. 21st, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
Oh, I am SO THERE when that comes out. Subject matter that I like, acted by one of my favourite actors.

Also rather enjoyed Star Trek, and this is coming from someone who has always been less than interested in most of the ST series.

May. 21st, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
There is so much of this that I can relate to. So much. It's embarrassing and humbling when you can see this behaviour in yourself, and worse, when you can look at others who exploited it. And at those points when you do see, you can only pick yourself up, and move on, leaving those who were feeding their ego from your misery behind you.

I don't have a TV in the summers and so I don't watch AI ... but it sounds like this girl is being shamelessly exploited by the producers for their profit, and she doesn't see. Such a pity. And so pathetic, that people choose to watch.
May. 21st, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
I was having a discussion with a coworker the other day about his teenaged son, who friended him on Facebook. The son couldn't understand why his father didn't want to know all of the stuff that went on in his life, and the father was absolutely amazed over what sort of things young people will publicly divulge these days without a second thought. We discussed the fact that people are growing up in a culture of complete disclosure, where any attention is better than no attention at all. It's diametrically opposed to the culture of our grandparents, where there were so many things that one 'just didn't talk about.' The adjective 'shameless' is becoming inapplicable, since many of these people don't understand the concept of shame. To feel shame requires that some perception of respect has been violated, sometimes the respect of an outside perspective, but most commonly self-respect. And these days we as an audience ridicule these attention-seekers not because we think, "I have too much self-respect for that," but because we think, "I would never open myself up to embarrassment like that," which is not an expression of self-respect, but one of fear cloaked by the illusion of superiority.
I posit that I would dislike Tatiana's behavior because I feel she should have more self-respect, and the audience's because I feel they also lack respect for her and for themselves. I have a hard time watching movies or reading books or anything like that where someone is making an ass of themselves and doesn't know it. It's too uncomfortable to perceive and I take no joy in knowing someone is about to be crushed. I hate that this has become a prevailing source of 'comedy' in our culture.
May. 21st, 2009 04:23 pm (UTC)
I can't watch movies or tv shows where the "joke" is that someone gets humiliated, sometimes repeatedly. I can't bear it.

At no point did I feel satisfaction over her perceived "failure", just dislike mixed with guilt because I knew what I hated about her was what I hate in myself. Some would say I've gone too far the other way - I'm too reserved, and cold, and unfeeling - but it's a protective measure for someone who used to wear their heart out on their sleeve just like she does. People like to take repeated stabs at that exposed heart, and I don't want to watch it.

Shamefully, if she had been less convinced of how wonderful she was, I'd have felt more protective of her - but that's buying into society's ideas about how women "should" behave, and is wrong. She had the nerve to let us know what she was feeling, and the nerve to think well of herself, damn the rest, and as far as most people are concerned, that's unforgivable in a woman.

I may not like her (and she'd probably drive me spare if I knew her personally), but I don't think she deserves to be used and mocked for being herself.
May. 21st, 2009 05:28 pm (UTC)
I concur with all of the above.
May. 21st, 2009 04:39 pm (UTC)
I dislike most reality shows because I think that the sole basis for getting viewers is the assumption that people in the audience enjoy (maybe even need) to put other people down so they can feel superior. Most reality shows seem to delight in treating the participants in degrading and hateful ways, whether it is verbally or physically. That the contestants agree to this treatment is irrelevant to me ... if I take pleasure in the pain and degradation of these people, and I feel superior to them, even though they submit to this, then I am the one who should be ashamed. This is not a quality that we should be proud of in ourselves, and it's not a quality that we should wish to engender as a societal or cultural norm.

There are some shows that I watch because I believe that they are designed to be a (relatively) honest window on an activity, showcase the talents, skills and efforts of the participants in a respectful way, offer positive feedback, and do NOT feed a shallow audience's underlying cruelty.

But those shows seem to be few and far between.

If I get even a whiff of ugliness on the trailers for the show, I won't even bother to give it a chance.
May. 21st, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
There are some shows that I watch because I believe that they are designed to be a (relatively) honest window on an activity, showcase the talents, skills and efforts of the participants in a respectful way, offer positive feedback, and do NOT feed a shallow audience's underlying cruelty.

Ooh, like what? A lot of the "job" shows come to my mind as ones that seem much more respectful to the participants, like Dirty Jobs, Will Work for Food, and Ax Men. Though the first two are still set up with embarrassment as comedy, it's just the repeated embarrassment of a host who knows what he's getting into (and presumably has a bit more control than an American Idol contestant). And though he looks stupid, it's not a "deep humiliation" kind of stupid, because he's trying out things he's never done before, so *of course* he's gonna mess up.
May. 22nd, 2009 03:02 am (UTC)
Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch,occasionally Ax Men. There was one competition type of reality show I liked, The Next Food Network Star. Mostly because in the shows that I saw, the challenges were true tests of skills, and the judges gave positive feedback. Even when they had to give difficult feedback, I always felt there were respectful about it.
May. 22nd, 2009 04:48 pm (UTC)
I feel this way about "Project Runway". The contestants are asked to produce something, and the feedback is usually very constructive.
May. 21st, 2009 07:25 pm (UTC)
And this is really why I can't stand most reality shows. I say "most" because it always depends how you count it. I suppose I dislike those with a competition aspect, specifically. Mike Rowe isn't hurting anyone with Dirty Jobs, which I would have said was more of a documentary series.

I could ignore them if they were only boring, honestly I could. And I think that until the last 10-15 years, people who were apt to embarrass themselves were either shielded from being onscreen by the producers, or were relegated to game shows, where that kind of behavior was more expected, and possibly more understandable. But at some point, it became okay to really exploit vulnerable people--little as I might like to know them myself-- and I just cannot be okay with that. I've been embarrassed myself; I've long since lived with the horrible certainty that people were laughing at me or secretly couldn't stand to be around me (even though it seemed to go well, I've even felt that way about the Plimoth weekends: did I talk too much? Was I too much of a geek? Did they like me? Did they hate when they saw I was coming? It's enough to give a person panic attacks), and whenever things do go poorly, for whatever reason, or I stop being friends with someone, that same pain comes right back. The very idea of having it magnified by the number of people who watch a show like AI, let alone the millions more who don't watch it but see news about it on the internet, just horrifies me. And I think we owe it to people who may or may not know they're embarrassing themselves to respectfully not let them embarrass themselves, even if it is ratings gold.

It makes me feel horribly old, and certainly I'm not nearly as conservative as this would imply, but I prefer more of a moral compass than this in mass entertainment. I really care a lot less about nudity or bad language than I do about the degree of exploitation these people experience, even or especially if they want to. Everyone would have you think this is family programming--do I really want my son seeing that this is how our society thinks it's okay to treat people who are fragile? To me, this is truly the nadir, where people's weaknesses are presumed to exist for the purpose of entertaining others. There's just nothing about it that's kind. People deserve better; I expect better from other people. And it's why I like TV a lot better when there's a nice, thick layer of fiction between me and the people who are on it. At least then I worry a lot less that people are going off and killing themselves after.
May. 21st, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
Am I the only one who thought it was totally scripted schtick? As were the "surprise" performances by Miss Bikini and Norman.
May. 22nd, 2009 09:53 am (UTC)
I think it was - up until she started singing - they cut before she had finished, so while bikini girl (who I heard about, but didn't see) was completely staged (apparently, the judges bet Kara she wouldn't show herself in a bikini on stage, and they had to pay money to a charity she chose when she did), I think she was just supposed to do... something.

All the other "surprise moments" weren't as uncomfortable.

(I don't feel the same way about bikini girl, because I dislike her for being a rather unpleasant person who has used her looks to get further than her talent warranted, and she knows it, so this is basically what she asked for. Go figure.)
May. 24th, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC)
I have to agree, completely, and give you kudos for being so honest. While I love the idea of American Idol, often the execution leaves me squirming (like the season where, at the finale, they highlighted the auditioners who were clearly either mentally challenged or mentally ill for laughs).

Tatiana is a very interesting case, although based on how they edit the crap out of stuff like this we'll probably never really know how much she was really aware of. When she was subdued during the first few episodes I thought it was just because someone had talked to her about how she was gong to need to cool it if she wanted to stay on the show.
May. 29th, 2009 12:52 am (UTC)
Like others here, I don't watch reality TV and for similar reasons. Exploitation of naked hurt isn't my idea of a good time.

I too can be a "needy hot mess" and am trying to distance myself by reminding myself of Mazlow's hierarchy of needs, with respect as the minimum I will accept.
( 21 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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