Helen Chappell - August 2010


Guilty Pleasures of Trash TV
Helen Chappell


So, you’ve been under the weather, and you’re under doctor’s orders to take it easy. And by under the weather, I mean the weather we have every single summer around here. The kind where humidity climbs until the atmosphere is the consistency of raspberry Jell-O, and you can breathe it, if you could just cut it into inhalable-size chunks with a spork. The kind of sticky humidity where you go outside and within seconds you’re drenched in sweat. Yes, that kind of under the weather, where it would be easier to survive on one of Jupiter’s moons than on the front porch with the cruelest hint of a breeze that always seems just out of reach.
As to taking it easy, that always sounds like fun for the first few days, when you don’t feel so hot and just staggering to the refrigerator to get a ginger ale feels like an accomplishment. Then it starts to get dull, and that’s when the trouble starts.
The following are forbidden for a while: working out at the gym, too much company, company bearing rich and delectable foodstuffs, especially chocolate, and anything requiring sound judgment and rational thought.
The following are not forbidden, but pretty hard to accomplish: reading anything with more than one syllable, current events and breaking news (do you want to break your heart along with your body?), staying awake for more than four hours at a time.
Of course, you’ll heal up as good as new and be hitting those weights and complex information delivery systems in no time, but meanwhile, it’s a steady diet of mindless mental junk food for the hapless invalid.
The mind that once upon a time actually finished a Proust novel can now barely take in the latest issue of People without drooling on the photos of starlets and himbos of the month. Reading even the sixth grade level gossip prose about what Real Housewife of Whatever is up to now is hard.
My lips move as I study photos of young women wearing seven-inch heels covered with enough strapping to UPS a small country. Who are these people? I don’t know and I don’t care. If I don’t have to think about anything more important than what they’re wearing on the red carpet, it can keep me entertained for hours of recovery time.
I’m not going to pretend I didn’t know daytime TV existed before my convalescence. My readers are no fools, and many of them are loyal followers of the soaps. (You know who you are, and I know who you are, so let’s just say that Adam’s nasty little secret is safe for the rest of the summer).
But I confess. Je m’accuse. In my dotage, I’ve become a judge show addict. For those of you who have better things to do, like work in the afternoon, judge shows are a form of entertainment where former or retired jurists preside over studios designed like small claims courts. The great unwashed come before the judges with their sudsy, sometimes surreal, claims. The judges issue binding arbitration to the biggest, most pathetic collection of life’s little losers.
Even if you feel as if you were run over by a truck, which then backed up and hit you again, you will still feel superior to the kinds of litigants who are anxious to tell their stories and have their fifteen minutes of TV fame, no matter how humiliating.
Actually, I suspect many of these folks are oblivious to humiliation in any form. Be they trailer trash or ghetto fabulous, or some wonderful combination of the two, they appear before the cameras, anxious to tell the world how the plaintiff or defendant has used them up like a box of Kleenex and tossed them aside.
A random sampling on a recent afternoon revealed more than two or three litigants made a living as “exotic dancers” of both sexes. We also have a fair share of folks with no visible means of support, and people who are clinging to minimum wage jobs like their last hope of salvation, which maybe it is.
Cases generally involve some no-good two-timing man who took some poor hapless woman for every cent he could get, then dumped her for her cousin Betty Lou. Betty Lou is more than happy to appear as a witness for the defense. This is a place where the Other Woman is a job description.
Sometimes, sadly, cases involve animals, usually pit bulls, which have killed or injured someone else’s pet. This makes me wish irresponsible people who own pit bulls, or other animals they can’t take care of, would be hauled off to a human pound where they have to be trained in pet ownership before they could be released.
Many times, the dispute involves vehicles. If you buy a used car and you don’t have enough sense to get a mechanic to check it out, maybe you shouldn’t be driving in the first place. Or letting your drunk boyfriend who hasn’t had any auto insurance since 1998 drive your car anywhere. Not a good idea.
One thing you learn from judge shows is that when love goes bad, it goes bad big time. You might think some of the Seven Deadly Signs of Bad Love might include faux-hawks, sleeve tattoos and pink hair. Apparently not, since some fool always seems to fall in love with someone fitting this description and lending them a ton of money they’ll never see again.
Which is why the judges are so much fun. They come in all shapes, races, ages and genders, from the very dignified Judge Joe Brown, who is quick to call slackers out on needing “some man training,” through Marilyn Miglan, of The People’s Court, a bright, very funny young woman you’d want to have lunch with, to the legendary Judge Judy Sheinlein.
Now, I love me some Judge Judy! She’s tough as nails and one of the smartest jurists on or off TV, and she’s not afraid to call someone on his or her foolishness. Well, I mean, she’s Judge Judy, and you wouldn’t want to cross her, but you would want her as your judge if you thought you had a case. She spent thirty years as a family court judge in the Bronx, and she’s honed her act to a finely polished gem. I just worship her. I think she ought to be on the Supreme Court.
But, most of all, I like judge shows because they remind me no matter how poorly I’m faring, there’s someone out there who’s in a lot worse shape than I’ll ever be. And that’s sort of a comfort to an invalid.