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Joe's Neighborhood

The reality of Reality TV

2/12/2014

Watching reality TV is like peeking down the alley into the curtained windows of the Red Light District. Titillating to be sure, but certainly not something you want to know too much about. Right? Listen, of course she’s on break from her final year of pharmacy school at Drake University. That’s what her bio said. Satisfied? Too often we are.

Aren’t you just a little curious if “reality” is really reality for reality TV stars? Do they sit down during a break from the show, shake their heads at what they did onscreen, smoke a cigarette and quietly watch the diaper commercial? Does Kim Kardashian, amidst all the concern about her public displays of lactating through her clothes, just noiselessly step away from the camera, nurse her kid and wait for us to get back with the popcorn? And Honey Boo Boo? Seriously?

And then this brouhaha when a reality TV figure says something that shocks our sensibilities so badly that we vote them off the island. Like the character from “Duck Dynasty” who made anti-gay comments recently. This must be confusing to them. Aren’t they supposed to shock our sensibilities? Isn’t this what the audience wants? The more unusual their behavior, the more they turn traditional good manners upside down, the more they act out as bad boys or bad girls, the more the audience loves them. We ask them to edge some undefined line, and then we take away our love when they miscalculate. It’s a precarious existence for sure.

The Dutch love reality TV. In fact, they are the creators of a fair chunk of what you see out there. Jon de Mol, yes, the man who was the spark for “Big Brother,” is the king of reality TV. De Mol is Dutch, and his reality shows usually first appear in the Netherlands before they get exported. Most recently, he sold the Dutch reality show “Utopia” to Fox for distribution in the U.S. “Utopia” seems to be the horrible idea of abandoning 15 people for a year to create their own society — with all but the “indispensable” persons gradually being cut from the show. I’m thinking this isn’t going to work out well for “the poor, the orphaned and the widowed.”

Right now in Holland, there is a reality TV show centered around a gal the public knows as “Barbie.” Her actual name is Samantha de Jong. Her shows are compared to “Jersey Shore.” It’s all in Dutch, but my Dutch friends tell me that Barbie is quite a wild persona. “She says whatever crazy thing comes into her head,” they say. “The more inappropriate the better.” Marriage proposal, birth of a child, fighting and making up with her husband. My friends shake their heads. But they all watch it, along with a million of their neighbors. Yup, a million. Except usually the first episode of the season. That’s 1.5 million.

joes1Two other characters appearing each week on the show are Barbie’s sister and the sister’s fiancée. The fiancé, Patrick Huegen, is the solid-looking man on the left. Yup, the beefcake.

Patrick, 30 years old, arrives early to our meeting. He waves back to everyone greeting him — and there are many, as we sit at the small table. He is curious about others, he solicits feedback and he appears to be just one of those truly “nice guys.” Oh yeah, he also can’t stop smiling.

When I ask him about the show, Patrick is visibly excited.

“It’s a very popular show. Everybody in Holland talk about it. ‘Did you see that?’ They say each week. There happens a lot of crazy stuff in the show, but they like it. Maybe that is the power of the series, because when there is something, we say it. People who don’t do that, we are an example. A lot of people talk about it.”

Patrick shows me clips from past episodes where he is a major character: “I give my brother-in-law some tips for his marriage. And here, my brother-in-law got implants for his hair. We are together at the clinic. We are always laughing. It is nice when we are together. And here, I am driving back from vacation in Spain.”

I watch the old episodes at home. Barbie talking, laughing, crying, shouting. Episode after episode. I don’t understand a word. It doesn’t matter. This is voyeuristic heaven. Lord, there is even a hazy clip of Barbie making love to her husband. Amazing.

“In about two weeks, my fiancée is getting implants, we are going to film that,” Patrick tells me without a blink.

Really? Is he kidding?

I have to tell you, Gentle Reader (as only Miss Manners can put it), my neck is getting sore. My morals are getting bruised. And I’m feeling self-righteous indignation about reality TV. Enough is enough.

Ah, but of course Patrick, in his uniquely expressive English, has more to tell me.

“I was raised in The Hague,” Patrick explains. “With my parents. My parents break up when I was 11 years old. My father goes this way, my mother goes another way. My dad has gone the wrong way. He has gone to prison. A lot of criminal activities… He doesn’t drink anymore. I learn from his mistakes. I rarely drink. I learn from him. His faults he make, I try not to make. It was learning.

“I was a window washer for almost 10 years. Low to high buildings. I worked very hard. I always worked six days in the week. No vacation. No holiday. Not much money.

“I started small on the show. Everybody wants to be on TV sometime in their life. It was good. I did not expect more. The second time they said come again. The third time I got a small contract. This is my third contract. I enjoy it. I’m a character, but I am not crazy on the show. I am just myself. I don’t say curse words or bad things. I am the same off the show. I enjoy it. I go on vacation. I get to eat anywhere. I am happy.”

And when the show ends?

“This show is not forever, it is not forever — I hope to get my work out of this for personal training. It comes extra. Maybe some guy watch the show and will come to me for training. The show is advertisement for my training profession. I’m happy when I finish this. I am a happy guy. When the show is on TV, I can get a lot of response from clients. It is a big opportunity for me. Everything from TV is extra.”joes2

Patrick looks at me with clear eyes and no smile.

“Listen, I know it is reality TV… At least we don’t have to sing.”

And if they do ask you to sing?

“Then I can do it.”

Mmmm… how’s that self-righteousness thing working for you? CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at www.joesneighborhood.com.

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