Snooki cures my OCD

I'm a nervous person prone to hypochondria. Reality TV is my natural Xanax

Topics: Saved By Pop Culture, Life stories, Reality TV, Television,

Snooki cures my OCDThe cast of "Jersey Shore"

There are few things more brain-frying and panic-inducing than a New York City apartment hunt. More pleasant activities include urinary tract infections and burying beloved pets. And so, after my husband and I put in yet another application for a Brooklyn apartment, we found ourselves sitting on the sofa like sleepwalkers. As we cracked a bottle of wine, I reached for the remote, seeking respite from the anxiety wheel in my brain. I flipped past several informative news programs and a biography of Ashton Kutcher, and then I found it — the brain balm I was craving: There was Teresa Giudice, looking ever so much like “The Predator” in Prada boots. I watched as she yowled at her sister about someone’s christening, and I inhaled deeply. Something in my chest blessedly loosened, and I relaxed back into the couch.

I watch reality TV. And not of the “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” life-affirming variety. I watch “Jersey Shore,” “Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” and any of “The Real Housewives.” I watched “The Hills.” I watched “The City.” And were someone to sneak a look at my iTunes, they would see I even watched the short-lived “Kell on Earth.”

Am I embarrassed by this? Of course. Do I realize that many of these shows are not only vapid, but horribly offensive, and are tearing apart the very fabric of our culture? I do. Will I stop watching? Not likely.

I am no philistine. I know Egan and McEwan isn’t a funeral home, but the surnames of two of my favorite writers. I love the plays of Martin McDonagh and the paintings of Takashi Murakami. I have seen “The Wire” in its entirety. I have 9.4 days worth of music on my computer — some of which is so Indie hip it’d make even a Bushwick barista lower his frameless glasses in surprise. I’m not trying to suggest I’m some sort of cultural guru. (Gurus don’t pay to see Katherine Heigl fall in love. Again.) Rather, my point is that I am well aware of the many more fulfilling forms of entertainment I could be exposing myself to. As someone who actually enjoys the films of Errol Morris, why do I waste my time watching Luann de Lesseps eat a cobb salad and bitch about her weekend?

I don’t watch out of any sort of envy. I don’t stare at Camille Grammar’s Teflon face or her pool or Swarovski tampons and think: “Why not me, God?” I don’t watch Kristin Cavallari shout, “Like, I mean, like, you know?!?” to Brody’s smirk as she sips her apple-tini and think: “Maybe someday I too …”

Nor are my reasons purely of the schadenfreude variety. I don’t delight in Snooki getting a right hook to the jaw. I don’t feel superior when the Situation inadvertently makes love in a bed of parmesan. (People who live in glass houses …) I can honestly say I don’t watch to make my own scrambled, chaotic life seem better. No, these shows are my own 60-minute spa treatments, wherein I exfoliate the ricocheting neurons out of my brain. In short, I watch as a way of managing my anxiety.

I have mild OCD and a smidge of hypochondria, meaning that I occasionally spend longer than necessary “making sure” the oven is off. And yes, I have a few unwarranted cat scans under my belt. I am at times an anxious person, and like most anxious people, intense stress can send me into a downward spiral. The next thing I know I’ve spent 20 minutes relocking the doors, or examining a mysterious new mole until the wee hours of the morning. I’ve lived in New York for almost 10 years, so of course I’ve done therapy, and yes, it was helpful in teaching me various breathing exercises, mantras and so on. But you know what’s also helpful? Zoning out in front of the TV while a Romanian teen bride tries not to be smothered alive by a physics-defying dress.

The first time I realized I was using reality TV as a kind of Zen meditation for imbeciles was back when I was planning my wedding. I was suffering from terrible insomnia, and the handfuls of melatonin weren’t making a dent. As I stared bug-eyed at the ceiling, I came to a realization: If I laid back in bed and let my mind retrace that evening’s episode of “Real Housewives,” my brain just slowly shut down, my intestines untangled, and I relaxed. The strategy has served me several times since. When I was packing up to move from Ireland back to New York, Snooki was my little bump-it-sporting Sandman. Thoughts of passports and airline tickets and shipping costs and culture shock were banished as my brain replayed Nicole Polizzi sinking her ass into her own refrigerator. And soon I sank into a deep, sound sleep.

My little reality show reflection is like popping some sort of natural Xanax, albeit one with possibly more destructive side effects to my cerebral cortex. I’m aware other people watch these shows (obviously) but the majority of my friends do not. (Or so they claim.) They’re all very busy watching political dramas on the BBC and documentaries about the evils of bottled water. And while I watch these things too, I find “Inside Job” just doesn’t have the same soothing effects. Ronnie and Sammie’s completely destructive relationship, on the other hand? It’s like I’ve just hit play on a relaxation CD. Except the dolphin squeaks are replaced with shouts of “you whore!”

So I don’t think I’ll give up my reality shows any time soon. Especially not when I’ve just moved back to anxiety-incubation central, a town known as “the City that Never Sleeps.” However, I do set boundaries for myself. I refuse to watch “The Kardashians” (even I have my limits for vapidity). I fear that were I to tune in, by the time the credits rolled my husband would find me in a catatonic state similar to Jack Nicholson’s at the end of “One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest.” I can just imagine my husband breaking the window on our new Brooklyn apartment, as stoic as the Chief, as he carries me out into the street … brain-dead, but at peace.

Johanna Gohmann has written for Bust, The Morning News, and The Chicago Sun-Times. Her essays appear in "The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010"; "The Best Sex Writing 2010"; and "A Moveable Feast - Life-Changing Food Adventures Around the World." Her website is

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>