I Like to Watch

Escandalo! Hot lesbian teens on "The O.C."! Kelly and Ashlee lip-sync pop and pop pills on MTV! Plus: Fonzie thrills and monkey meat ills!

By Heather Havrilesky
Published February 7, 2005 9:00PM (EST)

Un escándalo de lesbianas!
The headline screamed at me from the magazine stand in the airport gift shop: "Un escándalo de lesbianas!" Luckily, it was screaming in Spanish, so I didn't understand what it was saying.

But the red-hot picture of Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek told a story all its own. "Lesbianas!" I whispered to myself. "Muy caliente!" And thanks to the wonders of Photoshop, there they were, facing each other, looking slightly embarrassed, yet mischievous! Pero las lesbianas son siempre furtivo, no?

Could it be that sneaky lesbians are all the rage these days? Could this lesbian trend be hot enough to snare A-list Latinas Penelope and Salma in its web?

It's not a genuine trend until it's a subplot on "The O.C." Yes, friends, Orange County: Land of the escándalo. And last week, Marissa (she's the tall, baby-faced, hot one) started to get a little crush on Seth's former crush, the street-wise but angelic Alex (I like how they took a Malibu Barbie type and dyed her hair purple in one spot. See? She's totally punk, dude.).

Of course, we're meant to believe that Marissa's only planning a recreational muff-diving expedition to piss off her mean mommy. Everything Marissa does is just another way of lashing out, see? Thus does she swig vodka from a flask, sleep with the gardener, blink her doe eyes at a modern-day Deborah Harry. God forbid that she simply likes to drink and screw hot Latin men and make kissy with fit little punker girls.

Isn't it possible that, every now and then, las lesbianas just like each other and have no interest in stirring up un escándalo?

Ashlee Ashlee, puddin' 'n' pie
Either way, today's escándalo is tomorrow's crappy reality sitcom, brought to you by the good people of MTV.

Remember how Ashlee Simpson was caught singing along with a pre-recorded vocal track on "Saturday Night Live" last fall? Well, last week on "The Ashlee Simpson Show," we got to see Ashlee's reaction to that queasy incident.

"I've worked so hard for what I have, and because of one silly moment, it might be over," she solemnly told the camera. "If my career is over because of this, that's sad."

Indeed, the world is a crazy, mixed-up place if a single TV show can rip a girl's pop stardom right out of her hands ... even if another TV show gave it to her in the first place.

Later, Ashlee called in to "TRL" and prattled on about swollen vocal cords and severe acid reflux to a fraudience of screaming girls. Not surprisingly, the more time Ashlee spends in the spotlight, the more disingenuous and flinchy she seems.

Perhaps in an effort to counterbalance said flinchiness, Ashlee performed some shows at high schools in Pennsylvania and sounded, well, a little uneven, particularly during one performance where her guitarist's instrument wasn't tuned properly. "That was horrible," Ashlee grumbled as she retreated to her van. Still, I did love the show she gave for that crowd of lesbianas dressed up like Catholic school girls for Halloween. That looked like a pretty swingin' event!

Oh -- wait. Those were actual Catholic school girls? How can they walk around dressed like that without everyone thinking that they're on their way to a Frederick's of Hollywood photo shoot? Their schools could make a lot of money by hiring teams of students out for private men's events. That's the kind of high-stakes fundraising that puts door-to-door Christmas card sales to shame.

Nothing's shocking
Yes, I know. To even suggest such a thing is sick and sad and utterly deplorable.

But it's not me, muffins. It's the world we live in. Look no further than escándalo-turned-sitcom No. 2, Kelly Osbourne. Osbourne checked into rehab for a pill problem last spring, and the whole thing is featured on a very special episode of "The Osbournes" tonight. That's right, tonight on MTV, we get to see the high comedy that goes down when Kelly develops a hankering for prescription drugs. Previews show Jack saying to Sharon, "I think she's on drugs," to which she replies disbelievingly, "Oh, no." Then Ozzy asks Kelly, "Nobody gave you any pills or anything?" Meanwhile Kelly stumbles around looking high as a kite. Haw haw haw!

So let's just review some notable features of the cultural landscape today: Hot teens on muff-diving escapades. Catholic all-girls schools populated by lesbian lingerie models. Ashlee Simpson, a pretty blond teenager masquerading as a black-haired lesbian toughie with really bad acid reflux. Kelly Osbourne, a teenager whose hair might be naturally black, but whose appetite for pills suggests she'd prefer to be as stupid and as spaced out as Ashlee Simpson.

Why does everyone want to trade places? Kelly wants to be Ashlee, Ashlee wants to be Kelly, Marissa wants to be Alex, who looks like Ashlee but who really wants to be Kelly ... Why can't we all just do what we do best? Ashlee, you're blond and you belong in hot-pink velour like your trashy sister. Kelly, for chrissakes, you've grown up with a living, breathing example of the dangers of taking too many drugs. What's it gonna take for you to resist the dark side? Marissa, as a wise friend once told me, you really don't know if you're hungry or not until Mr. Cheeseburger is staring you right in the face. Try to be sure that you're hungry before you order Mr. Cheeseburger, or you're going to have a heartbroken bisexual punk-rock girly on your hands, real quick-like.

Shot felt round the world
Enough with counseling troubled teens. You know what would make a really huge escándalo, an escándalo to end all escándalos? How about if a highly esteemed Western doctor were to blame for the spread of the AIDS virus? What kind of outrage would result if you could pinpoint the human being responsible for setting into motion the events that eventually caused the deaths of 26 million people -- and counting?

Not surprisingly, this scandal is known as medical science's most hated hypothesis, and there's no shortage of doctors, scientists and naysayers anxious to discredit the notion, put forth in Edward Hooper's controversial 1999 book "The River," and in an upcoming documentary on the Sundance Channel called "The Origins of AIDS" (Monday, Feb. 7, at 9 p.m. EST), that the polio vaccine caused the initial spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Back in 1955, a doctor named Hilary Koprowski was using monkey tissue (minced kidneys, to be precise) to culture a polio vaccine, but insists that only safe monkey tissue was used -- never, ever did he use the more risky chimpanzee tissue in producing his vaccine. Chimp tissue often contains SIV, a virus considered a precursor to HIV. Strangely enough, though, at the same time Koprowski was administering mass polio vaccinations in Central Africa, he was operating an animal laboratory that housed huge numbers of chimpanzees. In the film, several witnesses who worked in the lab testify to having removed chimpanzee kidneys, and a few say they were used in producing the vaccines. On top of that, in his book, Hooper demonstrates a strong correlation between the mass polio vaccinations of the '50s and those areas where AIDS first broke out.

While there are plenty of arguments against the hypothesis that Hooper and the filmmakers present, including tests performed on old polio vaccine samples, which failed to find any traces of SIV or DNA indicating that chimpanzee kidneys were used to prepare the vaccine, it's tough not to emerge from this engrossing documentary with a distinct feeling of distrust. The gaggle of scientists and doctors circling the wagons at a conference at the Royal Society is more than a little eerie, and Koprowski's lack of documentation of much of his work during that time doesn't do much to ease suspicions. The main point of investigating the ideas Hooper presents is not, after all, to point the blame at a respected doctor whose work with polio vaccines has been widely praised, particularly since the implications of using chimpanzee tissue weren't completely understood back then. The point is that further study is clearly warranted, yet the utter disdain for the polio vaccine hypothesis seems sure to impede such studies and is antithetical to the kind of open, inquisitive approach that's demanded by any scientific inquiry as important as this one.

But then, let's face it, the medical community is about as good at admitting its own culpability and failure as Fonzie was. In this crazy mixed-up litigious world, you can hardly blame doctors for getting their backs up when someone suggests that they were wr... wr... wron...

These days are yours and mine, pending litigation
Luckily for the Fonz, he was rarely wrong, and even when he was wrong, he was still cool. Last week's "Happy Days 30th Anniversary Reunion" not only reminded me of just how cool Fonzie was, it also made me feel a lot better about my own relative lack of cool.

See, when my future children (they might be adopted from a foreign land, or maybe they'll just be really intelligent dogs) ask me why I'm so incredibly lame, I have a plan mapped out in my head. They'll be dressed from head to toe in nouveau hip-hop gear -- something even cooler than hip-hop will emerge, no doubt, making crusty parents like myself feel even more hapless and outdated -- and they'll speak some combination of hip-hop, Starbucks and Spanish, all languages I don't understand. This will mean I won't have to listen to them most of the time, which will be nice. But every now and then, I'll catch a few words, like "estupido wack-ass gilipollas-uccino" or "venti no-foam chucha," and we'll have to have a little talk.

I'll corner them. Just as they're sneaking out the door to swill vodka and screw hot Latin men, that's when I'll pull out my "Eight Is Enough" DVD and say, "See, this is my generation's version of 'The O.C.'" Soon, their mouths will gape open in horror as they witness ultra-nerd Dick Van Patton upbraiding Nancy and Joanie about their overly revealing gauchos.

But watching snippets from "Happy Days" made me feel a little better about the coolness of my heritage. You might remember some shows like "Eight Is Enough" as entertaining or cool, when, in fact, they were hideously bad. But "Happy Days" was actually funny and well-written, and Richie and Ralph Malph and Fonzie and even Mrs. C had really great comic timing. Joanie and Chachi both look like they've taken post-"Happy Days" life the hardest, but other than that, "Happy Days 30th Anniversary Reunion" was surprisingly light-hearted and escándalo-free. Which was nice, because great as it was to know that the Brady kids made out and Chrissy of "Three's Company" was a lunatic, "Happy Days" is one show that should remain as innocent and as carefree as the '50s themselves. (Stifle those snickers, old folks. What we don't know won't hurt us -- at least for another decade or so, at which point our generation is officially doomed to repeat history.)

Now all I need is a T-shirt that says "Ayyyyy!" across the front to establish my extreme dorkiness among the hip-hop Spanglibucks-speaking, slutty, gun-toting teens I'll eventually feed and clothe and provide with piano lessons, college educations and years of expensive therapy, not to mention trips to rehab and room and board at pricey mental institutions. Hooray!

Shanghai surprise
At least we know that Kris and Jon of "The Amazing Race" will be really good parents, since they're both really positive and friendly and super hot and they never lose their tempers, not even when those bad Chinese cab drivers are creeping slowly through Shanghai. I hope to hell that they win it all in the finale tomorrow night, instead of bickering dorks Hayden and Aaron or snotty hotties Freddy and Kendra or short mortals Adam and Rebecca. Actually, it wouldn't be so bad if Adam and Rebecca won -- it would be truly amazing, in fact, given the steady flow of bickering and humiliation they've endured from each other from the very start. (Casting exes was a disaster waiting to happen; see also: an utter streak of genius.)

Speaking of bickering and humiliation, the new season of "The Apprentice" also looks surprisingly promising, considering the pig-headed nature of all involved. Did anyone notice, though, that after blasting each other out of the water in the boardroom, Stephanie and Michael linked arms in the elevator, right before the doors closed?

Yes, I know. It's time to get TiVo, estupido grande tartlet-tizzles.

Next week: The delicious inanity of "Taxicab Confessions." Plus: Why is Jonny a Zero?

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.

MORE FROM Heather Havrilesky

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

I Like To Watch Television