Wednesday, July 27, 2005

There's something wrong with Montel Williams.

And I don't mean the Multiple Sclerosis. Everytime I come home from my morning class I turn the television on and there's Montel talking to some woman who was raped, stabbed, and held captive for weeks chained to a bed, retelling all the ghastly details of her ordeal. I remember one where all the above happened and her stalker killed her new boyfriend AND her mother. I was trying to eat breakfast and I kept dropping my fork on my plate glaring at the TV yelling: "Jesus, her story gets worse?! Why is she reliving this outside a therapist's office? I can't eat with this shit on!" (I talk at the TV regularly, but only when I'm alone. I look forward to the days when I'll be old, chronically half-dressed and won't have to hide it.)

There's just something completely unabashed in how exploitative his show can be. The sobbing guests, the dramatized recreations, the convulsive sobs from the guest after the recreation or 911 tape, and the part of the show where we feel justice is served or enraged that it hasn't as a lawyer involved in the case dispassionately talks about the courtroom happenings, while plugging his firm. These survivors of misery and despair aren't even fortunate enough to get a new car or a new house or even a fruit basket. The best they can hope for is maybe some free plastic surgery if they were cut up or burned. These people come on the show, remember the worst period of their lives, talk about how they don't trust people anymore, how they suffer frequent incontinence, and leave the show feeling... I don't know, grateful they had the opportunity to share their terrifying and humiliating story? To reopen all those wounds publicly and ensure future visits to their psychiatrists?

What could possibly be informative about this? How is it a public service? Montel is not an advocate, he is not a healer, he's a scab-picking, muckraking horror of celebrity. Hey everybody! Let's look at what sociopaths can do with a hunter's knife, fishhook, and gas can! I'd rather watch those specials on Maury Povich where they have a mixed group of male-to-female transsexuals and natural-born women parade around like they're on some warped Miss America contest, and make a game out of guessing who was born a man and who born a woman. Somehow that seems less exploitative and less soul-damaging to all those involved.

I remember reading a TV Guide years ago when I was in high school (weird how random stuff sticks with you), and there was a study on which talkshow hosts talk the most, interrupting their guests and monopolizing airtime. Montel topped it by far. You know how he does it? By asking long questions like: "so when he shot your mother, and you knew your boyfriend was either dead or dying in your bedroom, and this man had his gun to your forehead--pushed against it so hard it bruised you--and he said 'do what I tell you or I'll kill you,' what went through your mind? Did you regret letting him into the house? Did you think you were going to die, did you think he was going to rape you?" Gee, Montel, maybe she was thinking what's going through my mind while watching your show: "I'm gonna be sick. I can't believe this is happening." This isn't journalism; it isn't valuable discourse of any kind; it is not empowering. It's the modern day geek show, only the deformities are profound, life-changing, psyche-destroying traumas that give us the same reaction as voyeur: "look how broken that person is, what a relief I'm not."

In Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, Patrick Bateman loved talk shows just like Montel's. An excerpt:

On The Patty Winters Show this morning the topic was Toddler-Murderers. In the studio audience were parents of children who'd been kidnapped, tortured and murdered, while on stage a panel of psychiatrists and pediatricians were trying to help them cope--somewhat futilely I might add, and much to my delight--with their confusion and anger. But what really cracked me up was--via satellite on a lone TV monitor--three convicted Toddler Murderers on death row who due to fairly complicated legal loopholes were now seeking parole and would probably get it.

These shows are a poison, and hosted by cheap entertainers under the guise of informers and journalists. At least Jerry Springer took these shows to their natural conclusion and was completely honest about what it was, even including a silly "Final Thought" at the end of his shows which we all took much ironical satisfaction from.

As of this writing, the first episode of Montel has just ended. He gave everyone in the studio audience backpacks that have alarms on them if the strap is broken. Everyone seems to feel much safer now, and pleased that they've gotten a free gift. There's another episode of Montel on in an hour, where he has psychic Sylvia Brown come on and lend her supernaturally informed advice on people's lives. Sometimes she talks to their dead relatives or tells their future. Well, if Montel is on twice a day, people must be watching, must be believing, must be absorbing all this. There are a few moments in American Psycho where the reader is inclined to agree with something Patrick Bateman is saying or feeling. For me, one of the most relevant of those moments is towards the end of the book, where Bateman narrates:
Talking animals were the topic of this morning's Patty Winters Show. An octopus was floating in a makeshift aquarium with a microphone attached to one of its tentacles and it kept asking--or so its "trainer," who is positive that mollusks have vocal cords, assured us--for "cheese." I watched, vaguely transfixed, until I started to sob.


A Sheltered Town said...

They're all like this. Sally is (was?) about bootcamp and rebellious teens, Jenny Jones was about slutty fat women, Montel is about rape and disease victims, Jerry Springer is stupid, and Maury Povich used to be about retarded kids but he's taken an odd turn into the world of transsexuals. What kind of cereal were you eating?

Adam said...

Oh, I was eating eggs and toast.

Sally Jesse Raphael and Jenny Jones have retired. (Remember when Sally's daughter committed suicide? I always thought that made those bootcamp shows extra creepy.) I'm not sure if Jerry is still around; maybe the WB gave him a 3am slot or something. Right now it seems like the twangy psycho-spankings of Dr. Phil, and the spiritual mumbo jumbo of Oprah are pulling in the greatest talkshow audience. I guess things could be worse.

Jane Pauley has her own talkshow now. I've avoided it; I'd like to think her descent as a journalist ended with Dateline. Now there's another show interested in missing persons, rapes, murders, and making families dig up ugly memories and air out dirty laundry. But Stone Phillips sure is hot.

Kyle Stich said...

As much as I agree with you about Montel and all those type talk shows, I can't dislike the guy because of all his work with the Marijuana Policy Project. He's the heavyweight for legalizing Cannabis for medical patients.

Adam said...

Indeed, he's worked pretty hard advocating medicinal marijuana, and for MS charities. He can be a bit of a mixed bag though: he has a severe distrust of pharmaceuticals especially when they're used on children. I suspect he'd like to see Ritalin banned. He gets very irresponsible on that particular soapbox, from time to time.

Anonymous said...

I just got home from work, it's 2:30am...Montel is on tv selling a power blender. O.K., fine and dandy...Now, everytime Montel comes on tv, I ask myself, self! What is it about Montel that makes me creep? So I decided to google, "What wrong with Montel"? My answer found is, drum roll please! "I don't know"! Just something is not right...time will tell, but the money will cover it up! Maybe he's aok, maybe he's just a day labor with smooth word! Think about it....