I Like to Watch

Sing happy birthday to a nation of nasty despots, swarthy heroes and cringing, ineffectual oddballs, from Tommy Hilfiger to Bobby Brown!

Published July 4, 2005 8:00PM (EDT)

I believe I can fry!
So many years ago, this great nation of ours was born! It took a lot of blood, sweat and Big Gulps, but those courageous patriots (who were actually traitors to their own homeland, but no matter) fought for what they believed in. And what did they believe in? Freedom! Freedom from op-pres-sion. The freedom to march across tangled forests filled with dirty savages and proclaim, "All these miles of tangled forest are mine! Mine, all mine, baby!"

Imagine the freedom those courageous patriots (who were traitors back home and religious extremists to boot, but no matter) must have felt, as they chopped through those virgin forests, clearing room for their humble log cabins, the first baby steps down the path to a glimmering world of asphalt and strip malls and McMansions! Imagine the freedom those fine men must've felt as they passed out chicken-pox-infected blankies at the local powwow! How proud they must've been, returning home to their chattel and their children and their womenfolk, how proudly they must've spoken of purposely infecting the savage populace with infectious diseases! "And them that's left, we'll drive 'em West! West to the dusty Badlands where corn don't grow near as well, 'cause that's how we roll, yo!"

Today, as you gaze out at that vast and beautiful swath of Outbacks and Targets and Applebee's and Home Depots and Linens 'n' Things that butts up against the back wall of your property, as you peek through the vertical blinds and out the sliding glass doors at the blinking lights of Wal-Mart and Pier I Imports, as you sink your toes into the buttery wall-to-wall carpeting of your glorious one-bedroom condo, remember those extreme religious fanatics and their humble quest to conquer and destroy and strong-arm their way to freedom. And remember, freedom is still on the march! We've still got conquering and destroying and strong-arming to do, if we're going to bring nacho platters and Megaritas and rug and room deodorizers to those quizzical foreign peoples!

Then as now, if there are kneecaps to kick in and heads to blow off and national landmarks to destroy, that's what we'll do to make sure that there's a basket of barbecue chicken wings in every pot, and no man, woman or child grows up without fried food in his belly and piles of worthless shit packed into the closets and shelves and utility rooms of his domicile! God bless this great land of ours! Happy birthday, America, and amen!

The greatest shove of all
Freedom means having choices, chickens. Should I stroll down to Tower Records and buy the latest Foo Fighters CD, or should I watch "SportsCenter" instead? Should I read the Pizza Hut coupons I just got in the mail, or should I take a nap?

For a thrilling exploration of extreme freedom of choice in this great nation of ours, be sure to tune in for "Being Bobby Brown" (Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Bravo). You see, Bobby Brown is very, very rich, which means that he is very, very free ... except when he's in jail.

Have you ever wondered what very, very rich people who don't have to work anymore and don't have any court hearings to go to that day and can't really think of anything to do with themselves do? Well, "Being Bobby Brown" provides some clue, and all I can say is, no wonder Whitney can't put down the funny pipe.

As it turns out, going from court hearings to tropical vacations to Chinese restaurants really isn't as fun as you might imagine. Bobby Brown and his wife, Whitney Houston, seem to do nothing but eat, get drunk and try not to bicker, and while that makes them no different from most married couples, there's some core belief or interest or hobby that seems missing from this picture. I'm just guessing, of course, but if these two have any aspirations or thoughts beyond what to order for lunch, some editor somewhere decided not to share that with us.

One thing that limits freedom just a tad? Fame. This show makes fame look about as fun as being a carnival freak. During one scene, Whitney Houston is in the pool in the Bahamas, and a crowd of people gather around the pool and then just stand there, staring at her, like she has a second head growing out of her shoulder. In another scene, a woman stands about 5 feet away from Houston staring at her for several minutes as Houston tries to eat her lunch. Then, mid-bite, the woman asks her if she can take a picture of them together. When Houston says no, the woman begs. Then someone else asks. Then someone else. Then someone else.

Now, Brown has been accused of physically assaulting Houston. Houston has been accused of being nuts or being on drugs or both, depending on the day. But when you see these people standing around, staring, and then walking over and asking for pictures, even though Houston is shaking her head, as in, "No, no, leave me alone," the entire time, and they just keep coming and refuse to leave her alone? Well, it's no wonder these two are losing their minds.

But even without the torments of the google-eyed public, Bobby Brown makes freedom, 100 percent pure freedom around the clock, look terrible. Because, dear chickens, freedom without self-discipline or structure or aspirations or beliefs or guiding principles or even whimsical hobbies is ... well, it's hell.

Absolutely crabulous
If sitting around chain restaurants sucking on Mai Tais and trying not to sock your wife in the teeth isn't your notion of the kind of freedom on which this great land of ours was founded (even though it basically was), then you might want to flip over to "The Deadliest Catch" (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Discovery), where heroic, swarthy men work hard for their money.

How do they make that money? By navigating their ships through the icy waters of the Bering Sea, north of Dutch Harbor in Alaska, dumping 100-pound crab pots into the waters, then pulling them up, filled with crabs!

Well, sometimes they're filled with crabs. Other times, they come up half-empty, or the weather gets rough and the crew gets injured or one of them dies because they're tired after pulling a 20-hour shift and they make a fatal mistake.

In other words, the stakes are high on this show. But these men are free! They stare out across the tossing, churning seas and know that ... Well, they don't have time to stare out across the tossing, churning seas, but if they did have the time, they would, and when they did, they'd know that they were lucky to be born in this great nation of ours, where a man can make a damn good living as long as he's willing to risk his life doing it!

And when the crabs pour in, my, what a sight that is! Four hundred crabs, 500 crabs to a pot, all crawling all over each other, every pot bringing the crew closer to the tall dollars? "Success is intoxicating," the host bellows. "The crew is high on crab!"

The crabs aren't high at all. And from the looks of it, those crabs would likely risk crabby leg and claw for a puff of the Mary Jane. As hypnotic and alluring as it is to watch those freezing-cold waves splash the decks, there's nothing more entrancing than gazing at all those crabs, crawling all over each other, getting dumped unceremoniously onto the deck, then shoved into holding tanks with brooms. Huge tanks, filled with crabs, one on top of the other!

Now let me be clear: I don't give a crap about crabs. They're big, meaty bugs as far as I care, bugs with delicious limbs meant to be boiled and dipped in butter. I feel extremely proud and courageous and free just thinking about dipping their juicy limbs in butter and chomping them down.

However, you watch enough of these crabs, millions of pounds of crabs, ripped from the sea floor, and your mind naturally wanders into uncharted territory. What was just one of those crabs doing that afternoon when it wandered upon a little fresh cod at the bottom of the sea? A few other crabs were snacking on the cod, and they called out, saying, "This stuff is delicious! Come try some!" The crab wandered over, had a bite to eat, and before he knew it, he was being hurled onto a ship, then shoved into a tank with thousands of other crabs. Millions of crab lives, cut short in just a few days!

Doesn't that make you feel powerful and courageous and free, to think of how we roam the seas and harvest its fruits without a care in the world for the creatures we slaughter, however lame and small and buglike they might be? Well, it should.

Spare us the cutter
If the suffering of crabs doesn't turn you on nearly enough, then you might want to check out "The Cut" (Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBS), Tommy Hilfiger's half-assed attempt at a vague fashiony/designy version of "The Apprentice," which is all about the suffering of crabby fashion types.

I wouldn't even bother describing "The Cut," except that I know it'll reaffirm your commitment to turning off the TV and spending the day outdoors, celebrating your freedom among your self-involved peers and adorable yet hopelessly irrational offspring and deeply flawed, crabby significant others.

In fact, if there's ever been a show that'll make you sure that the soul of humanity is locked in the trunk of a nearby car and we're all too distracted by Tom Cruise to hear its muffled cries, "The Cut" is it. First of all, we're all sick of "The Apprentice," so why would we want to peruse one of its weak little imitators? Second, we only end up watching "The Apprentice" because it features the sorts of vacuous but fiercely competitive but vaguely stupid yuppies we went to college with. "The Cut" doesn't have irritating yuppies fighting among themselves and being put in their places by their idol, The Donald. Instead, it has the usual ragtag assortment of ineffectual oddballs that you can find on every show, from "I Want to Be a Hilton" to "I Wanna Be a Soap Star" to "I Want to Be a Honey-Baked Ham." Here's the loudmouth who delivers an impromptu treatise on her coochie to a roomful of snooty friends of Hilfiger's. Here's the clueless fashionista who doesn't know who Sheryl Crow is. Here's the middle-aged woman from the Midwest who grumbles that gay people are creepy and she doesn't know how to talk to them. Yawn.

The crazy thing is, we've met almost every variety of ineffectual oddball on the planet now, and we don't care anymore, least of all when they're competing in "challenges" like "pimp Fabolous' ride" or "throw a party at the Cotton Club." Sure, we might watch a challenge where they staple boloney to their faces, then swim through the shark-infested waters of the Florida panhandle, but don't hold your breath. Reality producers are lagging light-years behind our needs these days, let's face it. (The producers of "Dancing With the Stars" being the obvious exception.)

Finally, there's Tommy Hilfiger himself. What a mincing little hose-bag he is! Jesus. Who thought we would want to watch this sniffling, egomaniacal fussbudget attack a bunch of glum, ineffectual oddballs, as ineffectual as they may be? Hilfiger is mean, and he's not mean in that "How entertainingly sociopathic!" way that Dennis Rodman or Richard Hatch is, nor is he mean in that "How delightfully archaic and hierarchical!" way that Donald Trump is, nor is he mean in that "What a terribly self-involved diva" way that Tyra Banks or Jerry Hall is.

The man has no flair. He talks about style with a haughty sniff in his tone, yet he looks about as stylish as a high school principal. He seems to have no sense of humor, and takes himself exceedingly seriously. Worst of all, he's to blame for some of the ugliest clothing on the planet, yet instead of stringing him up like a wild boar, we're listening to him whine unconvincingly about originality and vision. Originality, vision? How about we just make everything red, white and blue and use stuffy nautical themes and put our name across the front in 95-point Helvetica instead?

Hells yeah!
No, no! See, it's not that simple! Everyone is sooo committed to quality these days. Just look at Chef Gordon Ramsay of "Hell's Kitchen" (Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox). That risotto isn't good enough for him! Those bowls of soup are too messy! This pasta is too clumpy! Why are the entrées taking so long?

What seminar did all those reality-TV producers attend where the research analysts told them that what the American people really want right now is abrasive, unbearable egomaniacs bossing around hapless, ineffectual oddballs? Is our learned helplessness as a nation so high that we actually have to expunge our oppressed, caged feelings by watching cringing misfits suffer at the hands of outspoken tyrants? Why not just watch hundreds of crabs, crawling around on top of each other, flailing helplessly to escape being someone's rubbery, overcooked entrée at Red Lobster?

Rome, if you want to!
Of course, if you really want to know more about swarthy tyrants, why not go to the original swarthy tyrant of them all, Julius Caesar! If you tune in for ABC's six-hour series "Empire" (Tuesdays at 9 p.m.) you'll learn that not only did Caesar bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, conquering and destroying and strong-arming, but he was one hell of a guy, too! I mean, sure, he raped and pillaged and thieved riches from most of Europe, but he, like, totally wanted to share all the gold and the slaves and stuff with his peeps, yo! He wanted the citizens of Rome to be totally middle-class, with fresh mozzarella in every belly and a vomitorium in every ranch-style split-level home.

But then, along came bad-boy Brutus and those evil senators! They stabbed poor, sweet, loving Caesar in the gut and they would've gotten away with it, too, if not for those meddling kids -- or rather, a (fictional) gladiator/slave named Tyrannus! Tyrannus was good and brave, and he saved that silly boy Octavius and molded him into a hero as soaring, melodramatic music played!

You see, ancient Rome was filled with super-hot vestal virgins and buffed, tanned smoothies and a few creepy senator guys, all of whom say the same stuff over and over again, like, "Why'd you do Caesar like that, yo? That shit was cold!" and "How do we trick this (unconvincing, feeble) mob into following our rule?" and "What's in Caesar's will?" and "Where's Octavius?" and "Come on, does this city really need another Olive Garden?"

In fact, nothing will lull you into a peaceful sleep quite like the repetitive dialogue, sweat-glistened man titties and soaring strings of this triumphant, overhyped bore.

Time to sip Bacardi, etc.
But enough of pageantry. Onward, to sport! Time to scrape months of charred matter and carcinogens off the grill! Time to break out the processed meats and the squeeze bottles of condiments and the chilled beer! Time to tie up the dogs with double knots so they can't break free and run, run, run, past the Target and the Outback and the Wal-Mart, the second the first dozen fireworks are set off by the hooligans on the streets outside your one-bedroom condo!

But most of all, it's time to celebrate freedom! From the day spas of Atlanta, where Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston sip champagne and celebrate Bobby's freedom from criminal charges, to the floor of the Bering Sea, where the wily crab sneaks along looking for some free lunch, freedom is on the march! In a land where we cheer on TV tyrants like Chef Ramsay and Tommy Hilfiger for being bossy and small-minded and unbearable, while our fine leaders send bossy and small-minded and unbearable men across the seas to conquer and destroy and strong-arm to their hearts' content, freedom reigns supreme! We stand for what we've always stood for: freedom for us, and demeaning, menial jobs and dusty farmlands and chicken pox for everyone else! Hip, hip, hooray!

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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