If you aren’t already horrified by nearly every reality TV trend, let me give you another reason: Skanks are becoming a beloved fixture on more and more shows. Although we mature, sophisticated viewers watch these programs in hopes of witnessing emotional train wrecks to make ourselves feel better about our own lives, I wonder if our nation’s youth are instead now considering skankhood as a viable career option.
It’s quite possible that we face a new generation of underachieving, liquor-swilling, bad-tattoo-wearing, drug-consuming strippers whose primary aim is to hook up with a dude with money. And it’s all because of skeez-glamourizing shows like The CW’s Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious (preceded, of course, by the groundbreaking Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll) and Beauty and the Geek; Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Orange County (and its sequel in New York); E!’s The Girls Next Door, focusing on Hugh Hefner’s “three girlfriends” who live with him at the Playboy Mansion; and, dare I say it, even NBC’s Deal or No Deal, with a few of its suitcase-toting models looking suspiciously close to having been Girlicious rejects.
“Skank” is, of course, a harsh word to describe what are presumably real, live human beings. It doesn’t simply refer to someone’s supposed promiscuity, but also (according to Wikipedia), “poor taste, personally degrading behavior, and low socioeconomic class.” And, even more damning: “Other skank behaviors can include being obsessed with celebrity lifestyle and emulating it.” If there’s one quality shared by all participants in the above-named shows, it’s a delusional belief in their own impending (and well-deserved) celebrityhood. This is despite the fact that, in the parlance of kids today, they are hopelessly busted in more ways than one. But why should they doubt their greatness? They’re on TV!
When it comes to utterly shameless skank exploitation, there’s really no comparison: Cable’s ultimate charnel house of reality programming, VH1, trumps them all. Tune in now for Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (porn star Mary Carey, former wrestler Chyna, and superstar Brigitte Nielsen!), My Fair Brady (TV’s Greg Brady marries the scary winner of the first America’s Next Top Model!), Flavor of Love (formerly important hip-hop artist Flavor Flav embarrasses all of humanity!), and the most skankified of all, Rock of Love 2 With Bret Michaels.
Michaels, if you’ll recall, fronts the pop-metal band Poison, which used to actually dress up like transgendered skanks back in the halcyon days of haystack hair and ripped Spandex. Now in his puffy, collagen-injected 40s, he wears boutique-biker outfits and tasteful eyeliner—but still manages to look mighty skanky himself. The show’s scenario installs Michaels in a mansion with 20 women all vying for his “love,” which typically means making out with him for the camera in hopes of not getting eliminated in a Darwinian contest of skankery.
“I’ve got to find the one girl who can compete with my one true love, rock ‘n’ roll,” Michaels declares (because, you know, he’s so passionately committed to his art). To determine who’s deserving of his affections, he (and the writers) force the women to run a gauntlet of demeaning objectives, such as getting hosed down in their undies and playing football in a mud pit.
What’s most unsettling here is that the women involved actually seem to be taking it seriously. They are truly willing to do anything in order to believe in the lie of a life with Bret Michaels. “There is no doubt in my mind I will stay with him forever!” vows one, shaking. Another competitor, the weepy yet vicious Kristy Jo, tells her husband over the phone that she wants a divorce: “Me making this phone call to my second husband is basically my way of telling the world, ‘I’m here for Bret, I love Bret, and I’m just ready to move on with my life.’”
Despite the fact that it’s just Bret Michaels, for God’s sake, Kristy Jo’s obsession appears frightfully unscripted—and it makes you wonder how many viewers she might be speaking for, or how many girls yearn to become a Pussycat Doll, or to be octogenarian Hugh Hefner’s next girlfriend... Maybe we’ll soon need an “s” chip mandated for TVs, too.