The Competitive Parenting League, now in HD!

When I say I don’t watch TV, it occurs to me that I should clarify my position. What I mean is that I do not watch shows on a regular basis. Sports, hell yes. It’s spring so there is baseball (and my Yankees are in first place in the American League East, woo hoo!). In the autumn my ass indents the couch for ten hours straight on Sundays watching football. But as far as episodic TV? Nope. To give you an idea, the last show I always tried to catch was due South … which went off the air in the U.S. in 1996. It’s funny and occasionally annoying to me watching online friends wax and wane over various shows, particularly since after any season ends the show’s going to be on DVD anyway. Let’s not even start with Television Without Pity, a website whose writers will literally put together ten pages detailing every minutiae in the most recent episode of How I Met Your Mother.

I’ve gotten a few e-mails asking my opinion regarding the rapidly-becoming-infamous reality show Jon and Kate + Eight, which seems to have been on the cover of every magazine and news webpage as of late. I don’t feel I can offer one. I don’t watch the show, I’ve never seen it even in passing and I have no interest in it. I don’t blame the various channels who do these shows. They’re in the business of making money, these shows are ridiculously cheap to produce and are quite profitable. If no one was watching, these wouldn’t get made. What I always question, however, is what goes through the participants’ minds when they agree to do these shows-particularly since these types of shows have a history of, well, not presenting people at their best.

I’ll admit to flipping on MTV or VH1 during commercial breaks in my games to pass the time watching overly siliconed women having catfights over faded eighties rock stars or D-list comedians crack weak jokes about Lindsay Lohan. Sometimes, though, I have to wonder if the old adage “bad attention is better than no attention at all” is the basis for a lot of this programming. I realize that a lot of people in these shows probably ham it up for comedic effect, but at the same time I think that they honestly believe they’re coming across as cool or awesome. MTV, being aimed at teenagers and young adults, seems to specialize in showing parent/child interaction that is positively horrifying. The Special Little SnowflakesTM are growing up-and it’s not pretty. Recently during a break in a baseball game I was watching something called Teen Cribs, a take-off on one of MTV’s more popular programs where cameras are taken inside the homes of rappers and athletes. These weren’t teenage quasi-celebrities, though-these were presumably “normal” kids. To get an idea of why my jaw was dropping as I watched, here’s MTV’s description of the show:

The producers of MTV Cribs are rolling out a new cribs series — with a twist! This time out, we’re featuring ordinary teens who live in extraordinary homes that are designed with them in mind.

Employing the signature cribs style and look, our cameras are spreading out around the country to bring viewers wonderfully pimped-out-pads that are customized and tricked-out specifically by parents to keep their kids happy at home – entertained, but also safe, sound, and accounted-for. We’re talking about cribs with indoor treehouses, private nightclubs, computerized libraries, full-court gymnasiums, golf courses, over-the-top movie theatres, even secret rooms and passageways – everything needed to satisfy any young person’s interests and obsessions!

You’ll see how these fortunate teens are turning their pads into the hottest spots in town and the friends who enjoy these palatial paradises and never want to leave. And you’ll meet their generous parents and witness how they benefit from making their homes so kid-centric. Settle in and relax – there’s no v.i.p list required. These teen cribs are so hot you’ll be taking notes!

Can you say “parental pissing contest”? I knew that you could. These parents-part of my generation, the original MTV audience-are clamoring for the attention just as much as their kids. Remember, it’s more important to have your kids think you’re cool than to, you know, actually parent. This is the most glaring example of “kids as accessories” I’ve seen in a while. “OMG, look at what I bought my kid, aren’t I awesome?”

Even the TLC shows are somewhat subtle exercises in one-upmanship. From what I’ve read about Kate Gosselin, the Kate in Jon and Kate, she’s one of those who enjoys the attention and the goodies that come along with a successful show. A newer and seemingly similar show called Table for 12, however, has a family that seems to be attempting to be the anti-Gosselins. They have sextuplets as well but they also have not one, but two sets of twins. Mom stays at home rather than running around getting speaking engagements and book deals. The family gets by on Dad’s salary as a cop (or they did until TLC started paying them). Going out to eat, a fairly commonplace situation for most of us, is a genuine and rare treat, and there are warm family moments. “See, we’re real!” they crow. “We’re not like them!”

Uh, yeah, you are. You’re just not as flashy and obvious.

Today it’s being reported that Nadya Suleman, generator of the most hated word of 2009, Octomom, has now signed TV and book deals. And, of course, she’s claiming that she’ll be different. And everyone is claiming that they won’t read or watch. Uh-huh. Okay. Let me move out of the way while everyone stampedes into the kitchen to make popcorn in time for the trainwreck.