Fiercely real. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It’s mid-week, mid-winter. My friend Michelle has brought her boys over to play. We often spend these afternoons hiding in the kitchen, minimally intervening as the boys run around the house with capes, and maybe shirts, on. We don’t even sit; we just lean against the counter, eating leftover Cheddar Bunnies.
What’s on for you this evening? An often-asked question as the playdate winds down. We steel ourselves for the long goodbye, the tortured putting on of shoes. So what cultural feast will you and your gentleman husband attend? my friend asks. The ballet? Infinite Jest book club on Skype with friends in Paris, or Singapore? Late show at the Middle East? Candlepin bowling? What, pray tell, what? Don’t keep me in suspense!
“It’s America’s Next Top Model night!” I raise the roof. Sincerely, but not with 100% effort, floppy hands.
“I’m so jealous,” she says. “I have it on my DVR but I have to wait till my husband’s not around to watch it. He show-shames me.”
Finally, show-shaming, as Michelle terms it, must come to the light. Those who suffer, in their marriages, or friendships, reach out your hands, with whatever effort level you can muster, and take mine own! And hear tell of this secret suffering!
How do you know if you’re being show-shamed?
Do you watch a TV show that your husband, wife, or anyone you might live with, thinks is stupid? Well, how do you know they think it’s stupid? Do they say, “this is stupid,” and then leave you in peace to watch your program while they go practice yoga or dissect scripture or something, and then return when you’ve finished your stupid show and turned on The Wire? Show-shamed!
Do they, when you summon said stupid program from deep within your DVR (they should have password-protected folders for this kind of thing!), come into the room, roll their eyes, sit down with their iPads, and silently judge you as you watch, while all the while you know they’re listening even though they are pretending to read some BS on Instapaper? Show-shamed!
Do they, as you try to watch, interrogate you as to what exactly it is you like about said horrible show, openly lecture you about the program’s lack of value, remind you that they would never deign to watch it, and then imply that you are foolish for watching it, causing you to, over time, abandon watching the program in this person’s company, or even entirely? Show-shamed!
Do these people think they are so great, and that every program they watch is practically Shakespeare, and approved of by Entertainment Weekly, Salon, The A.V. Club, and other respected outlets of media criticism? But that your shows are for dummies? Like you? Show-shamers!
Do you, when watching a program deemed stupid whilst alone, rush to shut the television off when your show-shamer comes in the room, to avoid any of the above? Oh, the show-shame!
I must thank Michelle for giving a name to this sad, but I’m willing to bet common, phenomenon. She thought of the term, she tells me, after watching a Sex and the City episode, “A Woman’s Right to Shoes,” in which Carrie feels “shoe shamed” after a friend judges her for how much she spends on her Manolos. And now, Sex and the City itself is a show that probably causes a great deal of show-shaming in households all over America. How funny. How sad.
Look. One of the things I like best about my husband is that he will cop to liking America’s Next Top Model. We both know it’s stupid, and we both watch it to revel in disbelief at the ridiculously large amount of self-esteem Tyra Banks has. Skip this next part if you are a show-shamer and you don’t want to hear any more nonsense about Top Model: [I mean, right? Who's with us? We just can't abide the way she has to stand above, literally above, her poor little minions, and call them up one at a time to hand out photos and rejection. She's like the bossy neighborhood girl who always had to be the teacher when you played school, calling all the shots, handing out scraps with big "F"s on them. But she's the millionaire, so f*ck us, what do we know? We actually don't even watch the show anymore since she fired everyone who was ever any actual good from the show. "But what about Ms J!" my husband said, with genuine concern. "I'm worried he won't find another job!"]
This attitude has won my dear husband big points amongst my friends. It’s all very endearing. And we have a lot of fun when we can watch TV together and yak about it. That is, if he approves of the show. But, when he doesn’t: show-shamer! Par excellence! Get ready for some more French: j’accuse!
When I am watching a show he doesn’t like, he exhibits all of the show-shaming behaviors above. Plus, he loudly professes his fondness for all the shows that typical major-league show-shamers like: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire (of course!), The Walking Dead. Louie. Game of Thrones (double of course!). And that pinnacle of all television shows, for those who really know quality: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The programs that advertise your membership in the club of fine, even hip, taste in television, that you are proud to shout your fancy for from the rooftops. That show you are smart, have good, nay, edgy, taste, and are participating in the New Golden Age of Television.
I like some of those shows too. Very much. But can’t I also watch Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team without the judgments? Or the 2o millionth season of Survivor? Or very minor (to you! To me they are huge!) European road cycling events on a small cable network without feeling like a weirdo? Or waiting till he’s not around? There, I’ve said it.
And then there’s one more kind of show-shaming, the kind that I feel particularly embarrassed about I am called out on it. Example: we watch Parks and Recreation. It’s a good show, no shame there. Then, as soon as it’s over, and I mean milliseconds after, he grabs the remote to delete it from the DVR, forcing me to beg, “Wait! Don’t delete it!” But it’s too late. It’s gone. Because it’s an affront to him to waste precious precious DVR space on something we’ve already seen. Oh, the humanity!
I like to watch things over and over; to me, a lot of what I enjoy about TV is spending time, in a sense, with characters I like, or being transported to a little world I like to visit. So EXCUUUUUSE MEEEE that I’ve put my Gavin and Stacey DVD in AGAIN YES I KNOW I KNOW HOW IT ENDS. I see the smirk. I see he pities my strange, weak, (yet charming? maybe?) foible.
I’m not being funny, I could watch this show a million times. It’s lush!
So we’ve outlined the terms of show-shaming. The judging. The eye-rolling. The third degree. The difficulty abiding shows that are not approved by television critics and your very coolest Facebook friends/ComicCon attendees. And then there’s the related condition. It’s easy for them to dislike your programs. But you don’t want to watch Game of Thrones? Philistine!
I could go on but I feel like this post will snowball into a general discussion of the everyday conundrums of marriage, or living in close quarters, and a paragraph that starts, “And by the way, why can’t you find things in the refrigerator?” No. This is not an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond (which I personally enjoy show-shaming my mother about). I just put this to you:
What, ye show-shamed bretheren, is the solution? What do we do about it? Do we stand firm in the face of show-shaming, and ask for equal time for our shameful shows, whatever they are? Do we force the show-shamers to watch our banned programming with us, and try to get them to see whatever good we see in it? No! Because that is exactly what the show-shamer would do. Try to get you, nay – force you! to see their side.
The answer? Acceptance. That is all we can ask. For those of us with small children to contend with during the day – pipsqueaks who hold all the power in the household and the remote as well – an evening by the television, after the power-brokers are in bed, is hearth-time, where we come together, sometimes, and express ourselves in this modern and depressing way. My husband and I share our home, we share our lives and hopes and dreams, but we are still entitled to our own opinions and tastes. Though we committed to share a television when we stood at that altar all those years ago, it’s OK that we don’t like all the same things. What would that be like? Yikes. We still agree on the things that are the most important: we love our kids, our families, our community. We neither of us care for seafood. Beyond that, our separate interests should make us interesting to each other, not alien. So let’s remove judgement from at least this small, but dear, portion of our lives. One that’s totally within our control.
So if, show-shamer, you enter the room when a shamed show is on the screen, simply do not judge. Say, “Oh, you are watching that delightful episode of Gavin and Stacey again. The one where they have the surprise barn dance for Gwen’s birthday. That’s nice. I’ll just be here, folding this laundry, supporting you.” Or the beshamed can say, “Oh I can finish this up later, that’s no problem. Why don’t we watch a Louie? I hear Parker Posey’s in this episode. That will be great!” See? Oh, the domestic bliss.
If we have to watch Buffy, can we at least watch one with Spike in it? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Back to mid-week, mid-winter. The boys are asleep. We’ve heard the last of them, and Max and Ruby, for the day. But there’s a friend on our doorstep! It’s Michelle, bearing red wine. A Malbec, from Argentina. There is a plate of the finest cheeses and charcuterie, perhaps some cornichon, balanced on a child’s chair in front of the TV. The CW is on. Tyra’s going to teach the young models how to booty-tooch. Then, a photo shoot in which they have to pretend to be Greek salad. And we will freely enjoy. But if Michelle even thinks about suggesting we watch the Real Housewives of New Jersey or some such crap, back out into the cold, dark night she goes!
Are there any of you out there feeling show-shamed? For any type of TV show, cheesy, classy, or otherwise? There’s room for all points of view in show-shaming! Any type of show can bring on the shamer’s chilling gaze!
And if there are any show-shamers among us: show your faces! You will not be judged here! Maybe you will a little bit. But still! Tell us, why oh why?