If reality television were a Chinese restaurant, every fortune cookie would read, "Let reality be reality."
Make sense? Of course not, but that seems to be the point. Here at Aftershocks, we’ve noticed that tired aphorisms, mundane maxims, empty clichés and pointless proverbs have become par for the course.
Perhaps it's just the nature of American speech, which appears to be in decline. But if our theory is true — that reality television is the canary in the coal mine of American culture — then we’ve got some bad news from the bird.
Those seemingly confident and convincing phrases that get thrown about so often mean absolutely nothing. Take our favorite: "It is what it is." How refreshing if for once somebody would say, "It is what it is not" and actually mean it.
Reality TV is the canary in the coal mine of American culture.
"It is what it is" has always been a favorite of the emotionally aggressive Vicki Gundelson on The Real Housewives of Orange County. Frequently she wielded that phrase like a half-broken weed whacker at her second and completely emasculated husband, Donn. It was evident that she found their marriage lackluster and loveless long before filing for divorce, but that doesn’t mean she’s done with her favorite sentence.
We’re looking forward to hearing her say it over and over on the upcoming season to her new southern boyfriend, Brooks Ayers. What other reply could she muster for his alleged DUI-fueled jail time and his empty child-support checkbook?
The Urban Dictionary reminds us that "it is what it is," commonly used in business parlance and admired for being "incredibly versatile," could be best interpreted to mean "fuck it." The phrase indicates an inability to reverse a situation already unfolded. But our favorite definition is, "A trite, overused and infuriatingly meaningless cliché that is utilized by provincials who think they are adding some deep, meaningful insight during a discussion."
Now, we're getting somewhere.
We think a better definition for the reality world is: "I hate you, but I can't think of anything clever to say right now, so could you please go away and let me get more airtime for myself?"
The super-empty slogan was used to great effect on the final episode of Survivor recently. As crowd-pleasing survivalist Ozzy Lusth contemplated his sorry fate, he said, "It is what it is." We think he actually meant: "Wow, this is my third time on the show, and I won't win, even though everyone on the island would have starved if it weren't for the producers. Oh well, time to be voted out by the mediocrities who have banded together against me."
Ozzy, we feel your pain, but at least you earned $100,000 as the season’s most popular contestant. If you make winner Sophie Clarke and loser John Cochran seem brilliantly articulate by comparison, though, you might want to develop your vocabulary a bit.
Downright tragic was the recent appearance of “IIWII”on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Drama queen Kyle Richards and cast mates gathered on her front steps to disinvite Taylor and litigious husband Russell Armstrong (who had just threatened Camille Grammer with a libel lawsuit) from the annual white party just before the troublesome guests arrived.
Tipsy white-clad revelers struggled to understand why their hostess was crying at her own rather swinging party. Perhaps in legal situations, the best answer is something noncommittal like "It is what it is (and, please don't sue me)."
“Play along or go away” seems to be the tagline of most families and most reality shows. At least reality stars get paid.
It's been shocking to watch as marital difficulties between Taylor and Russell, accusations of physical and emotional abuse, and Russell’s ultimately tragic suicide hang over a season packed-full with therapy sessions and spontaneous breakdowns. We'd like to believe Bravo thinks the airing of this material will raise awareness about domestic violence and suicide prevention, but that's a hard sell.
Call us cynical if we can only reply, "It is what it is."
Another perennial favorite for the delusional-at-heart seems to be, "It's my time." This is certainly a phrase all about self-celebration, self-assertion and self-regard. While some are more modest, claiming only particular events (i.e., “it’s my night”), most reality “stars” don’t quite get the concept of modesty.
The air seems thick with “It’s my time” whenever Real Housewives of Atlanta's own Shereè Whitfield struts before the camera. Isn’t that always what she says before launching yet another failed creative career? First fashion design (we’ll never forget her embarrassingly amateurish “couture” line, She By Shereè), and then acting (with a brief cameo appearance in Atlanta on the chitlin’ circuit). What's next?
It won’t be a law degree, after her recently-aired courtroom drama. With cast mate Phaedra Parks representing her at the hearing, Shereé faced ex-husband and former NFL left tackle Bob Whitfield only to find that it was most definitely not “her time.” Bob's clever delay tactics quickly resulted in a continuance, and we assume it'll be at the court's time and pleasure when next they meet.
As the holidays come and go, it’s a time to reflect on the good, the bad, and the hypocritical. What else is family for? We love how much reality television relies on this formula: “At the end of the day, we’re still a family.”
This is an especially hard one when an actual family is involved, such as the Manzo family on The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Early in the series, Caroline Manzo went all Godfather about her love of family, so it must have been particularly humiliating when Teresa Giudice revealed on the latest reunion show that Caroline is persona non grata to her own sister (and former cast mate) Dina Manzo, who evolved from housewife to event/party planner and HGTV host of Dina’s Party.
At least she didn’t throw any punches. Don’t we remember sister-in-law Jacqueline Laurita admitting to a physical altercation with Caroline?
It sounds like that family has some holiday meals worthy of pay-per-view.
Funny, the insistence on family also showed up on Survivor this season, where “At the end of the day, we’re still a family” seemed to mean: “Shut up or you’ll be voted off.” That sounds awfully familiar to us. “Play along or go away” seems to be the tagline of most families and most reality shows.
At least reality stars get paid.
The list goes on and on, and we hope you’ll be listening as well as watching in the months ahead. Look for empty modifiers, such as the tiresome speech asserted by wedding planner Kevin Lee, familiar to fans of Brides of Beverly Hills as well as The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. “Fabulous! I LOVE it! Over the top!” is all he can ever think to say, no matter what the reaction from his members-of-the-one-percent clients.
He’s more like a parrot dressed in Hugo Boss than an actual human being, but who’s complaining? After all, it is what it is.
Let us know: What are your favorite reality-style platitudes?