Musings & Observations / Barry Halpin
Published 12:53 pm, Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Thirty-four years ago, in the movie "Network," Howard Beale intoned what would soon become a mantra heard round the globe, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore," as he railed away at the ineptitude and abuses of network television.
Today, we are up to our eyeballs in a mega-overdose of reality television, with no shortage of folks looking for fame and willing to do some pretty sketchy stuff to find it. Andy Warhol once mused about everyone having their own 15 minutes of fame, but I don't think his vision included the mind boggling proliferation of reality programming on television and the Internet that we now see.
There doesn't seem to be an end in sight to the madness, except maybe if we follow this phenomenon to its logical conclusion, when we all have our own reality show and are therefore too busy to watch anyone else's. I also predict that one day everyone will find their soul mate on current relationship reality shows like the "Bachelor", "Bachelorette", and "Millionaire Matchmaker," a new version of "The Dating Game" or the soon to be "Old World Gypsy Matchmaker."
Even my old buddy, David Hasselhoff, who I worked with at the Marina City Club, in Los Angeles, California, shortly before he hit it big in the daytime soap opera, "The Young and The Restless", had a recent short-lived -- canceled after two episodes -- go at reality television with, "The Hasselhoffs."
Interestingly, those who manage to squeeze out some extra minutes of fame in our fame crazed world, often become the object of Instant Celebrity Rage, where they are hated for becoming famous for no known reason other than being on some dumb reality show. We want to be the person going on morning and late night talk shows, doing the late night commercials for used car dealerships and fast food restaurants and being invited to No Limit Texas Hold' Em Poker Championships in Las Vegas, not them.
Remember, it's not reality that counts but our perception of reality and the way I see it, there is no show on television that can compare or compete with the reality shows that I have been held captive in over the years.
First there was "The Halpins: Surviving Our Daughters' Teenage Years," a bone chilling psycho horror story about the metamorphosis from sweet loving child to alien life form. When I look back, I am absolutely amazed at the survival skills I honed to help me cope with my daughters' master plan of making their parents lives a living nightmare.
Then the sequel, "The Halpins: Surviving The College Years With Our Sanity and Bank Account Intact," an existential, psychological thriller, with way too many moments of unadulterated terror, where nothing is what it seems to be. This definitely was a true test of our resolve and mettle.
When I look back at the eight years of being held captive in my own reality show, my three very favorite episodes, all from our first season, come to mind:
Episode 2, "What Did You Do With Our Stuff' was the most emotionally draining of any episode we've done. It began quite innocuously when Erin asked me if I knew what happened to the toy piano. She caught me off guard and the best answer I could muster was a weak, "Why do you ask, sweetie?"
I knew from watching a lot of lawyer shows on television that you're supposed to only ask questions you know the answers to and obviously so did she. Then Kelly suddenly jumped into the conversation, "So Dad, whatever happened to all the Polly Pockets and that old record player with the plastic records, that I loved?" Kelly also watched Lawyer shows.
I tried to stay composed but I was reeling and knew I was in trouble. Kelly sensed it and went right for the jugular, "What did you and mom do, wait until we went to our friend's for a sleep over and then get rid of our old toys?" As they stood there with pained expressions of longing for toys of Christmas past, I had no choice but to shamelessly resort to the old, "Ask your mom, girls" and then plead the fifth.
The episode ended with me trying my best to explain how it was a tradition handed down from generation to generation to help keep the toy population at a manageable level in the house ... and how one day when they had children they would understand.
Episode 3, "Help Me Find An Attractive And Sensitive Guy" was the most popular show ever, most likely because it dealt with the age old questions of love and compatibility.
It started with Kelly bolting into the living room with `that look' on her face; the look that screamed out to me, "this is gonna be good."
Heavy sigh. "Hi, Dad."
I get an immediate case of the uh-ohs.
"Hey Kel, is everything okay?"
"I don't think Hot Intellectual Guy with the gorgeous blue eyes and well-toned bod likes me."
"I thought he was history because of his `pouffy' French background?"
"I kinda reconciled that. I mean you can't expect perfection and I decided I could live with some `pouffiness'."
"Sorry it didn't work out, sometimes it's hard to make a love connection."
"Dad, no love connection, I just wanted to chill with him."
"Just like I wanted to chill with your mom when we first met. Anyway, we all fall off the relationship merry-go-round at one time or another and you really don't have a choice but to brush yourself off and get back on."
"Geez...thanks for the words of wisdom. You know what I wish. I wish I had one of those supermarket price scanners that could scan boy's brains so I knew what they were thinking."
"If there were such a thing, you have to realize that we have the power not to think, so at times it might show nothing...or maybe just a little white noise"
"Don't you think I know that."
"Sorry, I forgot that you girls learn that an early age."
"So Dad, what are the chances of finding an attractive and sensitive guy gift wrapped under the tree this year. You know I've been a good girl for goodness sakes and I did put it at the top of my Christmas wish list."
"Sorry Kel, but they were just added to the endangered species list and are now protected by law from ending up under teenage girls Christmas trees."
My hopelessly romantic daughter had come to the resident expert on all things teenage and male and for the rest of the episode we talked about relationships and how they start up and true love.
Then, in a pure television moment, the episode ended when Dion and The Belmonts appeared and started singing their big hit, "A Teenager In Love."
"One day I feel so happy, the next day I feel so bad, I guess I'll learn to take the good with the bad, each night I ask the stars up above, why must I be a teenager in love..."
Episode 7, "Dr. Barry" is my personal favorite. Everyone comes down with a severe case of life-is-so-unfair-itis. Serious moping and major emotional turbulence exploded all over the house, and something needed to be done.
I channel Dr. Phil and flex my therapeutic muscles. First, I play every Beatles song with the word "love" in the title. I follow that with group hugs and uplifting positive affirmations. We realize that when all is said and done, it's important that family support each other, even if we enjoy pushing each other's buttons from time to time.
The credits roll as everyone holds hands, sways and sings an off-key version of "Kumbaya."
I wouldn't trade a minute of being held captive in my own reality show, a fate comparable to being stuck in an episode of "The Twilight Zone." It was my Twilight Zone-world and I grew quite comfortable with it. I still look forward to reading Kelly's late night IM's, when I get up in the morning, a tradition started back when she went to Emerson College, in Boston. A mix of philosophy, rants about the boys in her world, cute stories and her favorite quotes; they never fail to bring a smile to my face.
Yesterday, I woke up to some philosophical ramblings and another one of her Dr. Seuss quotes, "Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you."
What a great way to start any day!
Barry Halpin is a prevention specialist for Liberation Programs, a substance abuse healthcare agency based in Stamford that provides substance abuse counseling to adolescents and their families in Darien. He's also the director of the countywide Peer Players, an adolescent theater company. E-mail him at email@example.com.