Monday, July 17, 2006
Parental Control
I've become quite familiar with late-night TV. Nursing in front of the TV in the wee hours is my preferred way of getting Katie back to sleep at night. I've tried nursing propped up in bed, nursing lying down, nursing in the rocking chair, and I just can't get comfortable in any of these positions. What's more, I feel like I handle Kate the safest when I get up and walk across the house to the TV. I wake up a bit, so I'm less likely to doze off and lose track of the baby.

Let me tell you, there are not a lot of late-night TV offerings. Unless you like infomercials, the pickings are slim after 4:00 AM.

I've discovered that PBS replays documentaries during the night. This can be great, unless the documentary moves at a glacial pace. There is nothing like waking up twice in one night to return to the exact same place in the exact same documentary about the dowdy, dull, underappreciated scientist.

I've nursed through a whole slew of late-night cooking shows. Letterman and Conan repeat after midnight. And music videos play most of the night on VH1 and MTV. I can now report that since Katie was born 15 weeks ago, the same 10 videos have been playing over and over again on these two channels.

On the weekends, MTV replaces the pre-dawn video roundup with their strange reality shows. I've taken a liking to these shows. There's the one where college kids pick a date based on the stuff they find in the date's bedroom. There's "Next," the tacky show where contestants are paid a dollar for every minute they "last" with a prospective date. Plus there's my guilty pleasure--"Pimp My Ride"--the show where a crappy car is turned into a gleaming cruise mobile.

One show has captured my complete fascination. It's called Parental Control. MTV describes the show this way: "Thanks to MTV's new Parental Control, Mom and Dad finally have a chance to do something about that poor excuse for a loser their son or daughter calls their 'better half.'"

In a typical episode, the parents explain why they hate their daughter's boyfriend. During this voice-over, the boyfriend peers into the camera with a leering smirk. Then the parents each select someone new to go on a date with their daughter. They usually pick upstanding college students with career goals and tidy hair. The new prospects each take the daughter on a short date, and the parents and the old boyfriend watch what happens on TV at the parents' house.

This is the fascinating part. As they watch the daughter and new date make shy small talk, the parents say things like, "See how thoughtful he is? That's the way you impress a girl." Meanwhile, the boyfriend is barely holding back his contempt for the parents.
If the date gives the daughter a flower or takes her to a nice restaurant, the old boyfriend says stuff like, "what an idiot," meanwhile he looks like he'd like to pound the new guy's face into concrete.

When the girl comes back to her house, she has to choose who she wants to keep dating in the future. The boyfriend and two prospective beaus all stand in the living room, and with all the suspense that a reality show can muster, the girl reveals her choice.

The crazy thing is that she usually she selects one of the new dates. The old boyfriend leaves the house hurling expletives, pushing over camera equipment, and taking swings at whoever gets in his way. The parents look relieved, and the girl and the new guy give each other goofy grins. It seems once the girl is given a chance to compare her lousy boyfriend with a couple of other prospects, she gets wise and selects a better choice. This is one of the healthiest reality TV shows I've ever seen.

Reality TV is moving into the most personal corners of every-day life. And in some ways every day life is becoming a reality TV show. I know people who have produced elaborate videos of their own wedding or child's birth, trying to imitate popular reality shows. Businesses in our community have sponsored decorating challenges and landscaping competitions, hoping to cash in on the home improvement reality TV craze. With the dominance of reality TV in our culture, is it possible that "Parental Control" could become a dating tradition for all young people?

Here is a show that actually seems to be doing a good thing for the participants (at least it is for the parents and daughter). The parents get to intervene in a problem relationship, and the daughter gets to think objectively about how her boyfriend is treating her. This seems like a good idea for lots of teen relationship. We could make this a normal part of the teen experience. On your 17th birthday, your parents select two dates for you, and you go on the dates with an open mind and open eyes.

I'm all for it. Let's hope this tradition has taken hold by the time Katie turns 17.


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