One dirty bird

All you need to know about "The Swan" so you never have to watch it -- or talk about it to others -- ever.

Published April 8, 2004 2:33PM (EDT)

Voice-over: In the most unique competition ever, a group of ordinary women ...

Ugly duckling No. 1 (crying): I never thought in a million years!

VO: ... hand over their lives to a team of cosmetic and plastic surgeons.

Plastic surgeon: You have to be a little bit more dramatic to her face.

VO: They will be put through a brutal three-month makeover.

Expert: This process isn't that easy!

VO: All for the chance to become beauty queens!

Plastic surgeon: The liposuction gave her a killer body.

VO: Each week, two contestants will be transformed ...

Ugly duckling No. 2: I was just an easy target for kids to pick on.

VO: But only one will be judged beautiful enough to move on to the pageant.

Ugly duckling No. 3: I am going to be a new person!

Ugly duckling No. 4 (with bandage on her nose from nose job, obviously in pain): I just don't know how much more of this I can take ...

VO: The Swan transformation requires discipline ...

Expert: From this moment on, you gotta eat properly ...

Expert: You have to think military.

Expert: 24-7 commitment.

VO: Sacrifice.

Expert: I would hate to see all the work you've done, and then butter makes you lose the pageant.

VO: And pain.

Ugly duckling No. 5: I feel worse than I expected, and I need to lay down before I punch somebody in the face.

VO: They will be constantly evaluated.

Expert: She could go into an emotional tailspin!

Ugly duckling No. 6: I've got to get out of here, I don't know what I'm doing!

VO: And they will do all this without ever seeing their reflection ...

Ugly duckling No. 7: Oh my gosh, no mirrors!

VO: Until the final reveal ...

Ugly duckling No. 8 (crying): I'm so beautiful-hul-hul!

VO: All in the quest to be crowned ... The Swan!

Chances are, like the contestants on "The Swan," you've had to work really hard to make it here. Just to read a transcript of what will surely go down as one of the most disturbing two minutes in television history, you've had to steel yourself and coax yourself into reading on. If you had a big breakfast, you're not reading this anymore. And those are just words on a page. You haven't even seen the close-ups of flabby stomachs and women wrapped up in bandages, doubled over in pain.

The excuse that executives like the unhinged demons at Fox use to justify deeply unnerving programs like this one is that they are "just giving the people what they want." I just want to know, in which mall did market researchers locate the ill humans that demanded to see a show about "average looking women" who get thousands of dollars of painful plastic surgery, then compete with each other in a beauty contest? What corner of this country -- which you're tempted to think of as a sad, sick country, after that two minutes of programming -- was crying out for a show about unattractive, insecure women who believe that reimagineering their bodies will bring them happiness? Gee, could this be a show that was born in the heart of Los Angeles?

But of course. Naturally, executives who live in Los Angeles dreamt up this disturbing pile of excrement, and, crazier still, they produced it, and, strangest of all, it aired on your television last night. I hope your teenage daughter was watching!

Thanks, overpaid monsters, for cursing us with your most debased notions, concepts that your average American would be deeply ashamed to mumble to his dog. Yes, their names are flashing across the screen right now. Kent Weed. Arthur Smith. Nely Galan. Heroes!

Now here's -- who else? -- Amanda Byram from "Paradise Hotel." I'd love to tell you more about what she has to say, but honestly, I can't watch this. I watch trashy TV every single day, but this show is making me queasy.

"Our goal is to transform average women into confident beauties," says one of the plastic surgeons.

It's three minutes into "The Swan," and I hate every person remotely associated with this show, and so should you. The only way to express that hatred, and to send a message to Fox that evil will not triumph over good, is to refuse to watch this show, and to refuse to discuss it without shutting down the conversation entirely, as in, "Only someone with no soul could endure more than (generously) five minutes of that show."

Who wants to be holier than thou about television? Who cares, right? Well, "The Swan" has the distinction of being so upsetting, such a reflection of all that's rotten in this town (not in the entire country -- don't be tempted to think the way the demons do -- they're merely justifying their own pathological missteps), that it can make any person -- man, woman, child, teenage girl -- depressed. The funny thing is, it doesn't just make you depressed about plastic surgery and sad women and sleazy TV executives. It also makes you depressed about the war in Iraq, the frailty of the human ego, the undeniable soul-sucking lameness of our culture, and the impossibility for real beauty at a time when such confused animals roam the earth. "The Swan" is bad for you. It's bad for me. "The Swan" is bad. Openly reject those who discuss this show. Go ahead. Ostracize them. Limit their freedom of speech. Let the FCC roll its cannons onto this battlefield. Why do bare tits outrage us more than this tragedy in motion?

You could feed an infant grape Kool-Aid and he might reject the breast. Does that mean you should keep feeding him grape Kool-Aid until he crumbles in a diabetic heap? The force of evil that brought this bad, bad show into the world should take responsibility for itself and refuse to spread this level of cultural pollution.

Anyway, there. That's 1,014 words. That's 200 more words than I needed, and I still have 57 more minutes of "The Swan" to watch. I'm deleting it from my TiVo instead. I can only hope that my three minutes was enough to prevent you from drinking the Kool-Aid. I'd drink it myself to demonstrate its ill effects, but I don't hate myself nearly enough for that. Too bad so many Fox executives do.

By Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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