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Who is The Notorious RRZ?

2003-11-14 - 8:03 a.m.

For my 50th entry (I'm already lying about my age, but ah well) I will, of course, be speaking about Reality Television.

I felt this was appropriate, because Reality TV got me into all this. I began reading the recaps of Joe Millionaire and American Idol on Television Without Pity earlier this year, which lead me to the Damn Hell Ass Kings, who inspired me to start an online diary. In much the same way that I wouldn't be an experimental theatre-directing, modernist author-loving Toriphile if it weren't for the fact that I bought that Dar Williams CD the day before going to college, you wouldn't be reading this if it weren't for my friend Marguerite making me watch Kelly, Justin, Tamyra, and the Three Judges of the Apocalypse back in the summer of '02. Ain't life a kick in the head?

When I was a kid, I was always in front of the television. For a while, I stopped altogether, mostly because there was nothing on that I much liked, at least on the networks (Comedy Central, The Cartoon Network, and HBO have always been exceptions). Then this new genre took over the airwaves, and I was back in again, this time with a mind saturated on theories of theatre, sociology, feminism, and most of all, textual analysis. I only pointed my fingers and laughed in the beginning, but then I started to think about things. If I have learned anything from Reality TV, it's that performance is inescapable.

Case in point: my latest Reality TV fixation, Average Joe. If you haven't seen it, a Carmen Electra look-a-like named Malena has gone on a competitive dating show to find a man. She thinks she will be choosing from the usual Whitman's Sampler of eye candy that's offered to so many others on competitive dating shows, but instead she discovers that her suitors are, to use the producers' term, "average-looking."

That word in itself is troubling, so I'll try to be a bit more specific. None of the men have washboard abs. Some are very fat, and I'm a Proud Fat Bitch, so I know what I'm talking about. Some are balding. Some are short. Some are pale or have blotchy skin. None of this makes a person "ugly" or even "average-looking," because I think some of the guys are very cute and some are very not, because that is my personal taste in men. What it means is that if you had a checklist of things that made a guy stereotypically hot--washboard abs, great cheekbones, full head of well-highlighted hair, taller than 5'10"--you would have some if not a lot of unchecked boxes with these guys.

It also doesn't mean that these men have wonderful personalities, which throws out of whack the shows ostensible "question" of "Can a beautiful woman overlook a man's physical shortcomings and fall in love with his heart/mind/soul?" Many of these men have come across as shallow, sexist, rude, arrogant, presumptuous, unnecessarily competitive, dull, brutish, and immature, much like many other reality contestants. As one would guess, many of the men who ask that they not be judged on looks began professing their undying love to Malena after seeing her (the most cringeworthy line: "If I had to order a woman out of a catalogue, it would be Malena."). They also presume shallowness on her part when she ultimately rejects them. Now, I personally have no problem with all of this, as assholes are what make Reality TV great. I didn't love Melissa M because of what she though being "mercenary" meant, that's all I'm saying.

This show, however, employed a very clever trick in the form of Dennis, a nerdy accountant with glasses and hearing aids who came on this show after multiple "Survivor" rejections to prove that the geek can get the girl. He seemed to be the ultimate in gentlemanly behavior, cleaning up after his competition began egging each other and generally being an incredibly nice person to everyone around. His desire to prove himself was thorough;y exploited in a rock climbing expedition, and his charm even managed to tame the savage assholes of the show.

So when Malena eliminated him in the second cut, I got really depressed, really fast. Sure, I could pass it off on the fact that he told her he was still a virgin, but as I watched him leave I felt a hero was leaving my midst (not a Hercules hero, but an everman type hero). When Malena mentioned that one thing she loved about Dennis was that he made the asshole guy act like a better person, I reached for the bottle of Tanqueray. It got me down, yo.

Imagine my feeling when I found Dennis's acting headshots online, with one shot having decked out in full nerd gear, pocket protector and all, and another of him looking every bit the Lorenzo Lamas wannabe.

I laughed. I laughed and laughed loudly at my desk, thankful that no one was in the office with me. I laughed and e-mailed the pic to St. Caroline, my partner in pop-culture crime. I gave Reality TV some cred, for really having hit one home with me.

Now, for all I know, I may have indeed been seeing what Dennis saw as The Real Dennis. The problem is that I will never see The Real Dennis on television. I will never see The Real Dennis even if he's brought on CNNfn to talk about accounting. There is always a camera on him, and therefore, he will always be performing.

I finally figured out, today, that my big problem with all the TV critics wailing about how Reality TV is staged is that everything we ever do in public is staged. There is always a moment when we think about who is watching, and what they will say, and this has been going on since we first realized that other people really were alive, and could have power over us. When you walk down the street, you do so in a way that communicates a message to those around you, whether it's "I'm off to an important meeting and don't have time to deal with you, so please don't bother me" or "I'm out ot have a good time tonight, and look good doing it, and anyone who wants to can look and be amazed." Think about it; you can see those walks in your head as I describe them (unless my writing sucks harder than I thought). Therefore, how can one ever argue whether or not Reality TV presents "The Real." The only people who can be truly, unabashedly real in front of others even 50% of the time are very young children and the insane.

I chose this topic for my 50th entry because I realize that this diary is very, very performative. If there is a Real Person behind The Notorious RRZ, then you haven't seen him. You've seen the politically active, socially conscious, passionately progressive heavy thinker who tries to be witty and ends up being silly. As much as I may try to speak about my shortcomings, or those of others, I try to tie it back in the end with my revelation, or at least a source of hope. I cannot imagine the impression of Me that The Notorious RRZ gives you. It is undoubtedly nothing like the way I see myself.

And I'm sorta fine with that. Make that very fine with it.

I began this diary as a chance to exercise my writing skills. I have done so, and I am once again at a point where I want to write about everything that happens. I have renewed my commitment to becoming an artist. However, I don't want this to be my art, and keeping parts of myself backstage allows me to make those other parts of myself--the ones that are darker and often much more interesting--the part that shows up in the art. I know that putting on a mask or a character allows you to present a different part of yourself to a person. I intend to keep this diary going as a way of channeling out the thing that, it many ways, keeps me from becoming an artist: the desire to be perceived as practically perfect in every way. Then, perhaps, the imperfections--and I don't mean the Mauren imperfections, I mean the hardcore ones--will sneak out the back and find a place to play.

In case you hadn't noticed, even this essay follows the same pattern. At the end comes the revelation, the process of going one step further towards an unseen goal. Notorious RRZ is still in charge over here.

If I ever go through with the writer-artist thing, I'll be sure to let everyone know. It won't mean I've lifted the mask, but at least you'll get to see the mask I wear on the other side of my face.

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