Bullying is so tragically unhip these days that “bully” has become the new insult. Why, even Joe Biden was a bully for mocking poor ole Paul Ryan as the young congressman tried not to answer any questions during the VP debate earlier this week. From the looks of things, bullies are going the way of the woolly mammoth. Let’s make sure we burn all the bully DNA, too, in case some crazy scientists get the idea to clone one.
Ah, but humans are a sadistic lot by nature, and we still have to get our kicks. No matter the dictates of popular culture, some of us want to abuse people, and some of us want to be abused. Two of us formed the Eurythmics and wrote a song about it. The rest of us just like to watch.
Oh come on. I don’t mean we like to sit there and watch a buxom, leather-clad young woman whap an old man in the crotch with a sock full of butter while he hangs from a torture rack in his skivvies and has a red ball held in his mouth with a leather strap. Seriously, what aspect of this story led you to think it was going in that direction? Ya pervy creep.
No, we like to sit on our couches and watch TV series about stupid people who have no business owning a food-service or hospitality business getting humiliated by some right bastards, any of whom could play Vito Corleone in a stage revival of The Godfather.
These shows follow the same formula, which begins with an unbelievably aggressive prick/subject-matter expert arriving at a small-town dive so depressing that you’d rather be beaten with a live porcupine than eat there. The owners are revealed to be incompetent boobs. The owners get verbally abused until they lose the will to live. Then they get a makeover. Then everybody cries and hugs. The end.
This weird new wave of basic cable programming began a few years ago with Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible, and it has since become a tsunami of failed French fries, murky margaritas, and dust-caked décor. On that show, muscle-bound chef Robert Irvine arrives at a failing eatery, introduces himself, and then spends the next 40 minutes bellowing in owners’ faces, making them bawl, and declaring them hopelessly incompetent. Oddly, the recipients seem to like it. Stockholm syndrome with a twist (of lemon)?
Oh yeah, he sometimes smashes up particularly shitty dining rooms with a sledge hammer. Some favorite pronouncements of Irvine’s include “You SUCK at what you do!” and “Guess what? You can’t cook!” But he says “can’t” as cahn’t, on account of his British accent, which somehow makes it sound even more degrading.
On a recent episode, Irvine publicly humiliated the female owner of some shithole in South Bumblefuck by making the patrons tell her how awful her food was, which reduced her to a quivering mess of tears and snot in front of her employees. Later, when he learns that the woman’s husband is known to berate her with people watching, Irvine drags the man outside and starts screaming in his face about how he treats his wife. “How do you like it, you jerk? What kind of man talks to his wife like that? Huh?”
Come on, Robert. You Brits are supposed to be adept with words. Like “irony,” for example.
Also on Food Network is Restaurant Stakeout, a show in which New York restaurateur Willie Degel sets up hidden cameras at a struggling diner or bar and makes the owner watch as he zooms in on all the sexual harassment, thievery, and food spitting being perpetrated by the unruly staff. His routine involves turning to the owner again and again, saying, “This is your fault.” Later, he pops in on the employees and fires a couple of them for the sake of good TV.
Not to let the foodies corner the market on makeover sadism, Travel Channel offers Hotel Impossible, starring diminutive son of a bitch Anthony Melchiorri. The big problems on this show seem to revolve around dust and ugly carpets. Since this describes every hotel in the country, it may one day rival The Simpsons for longevity.
My favorite, though, is Bar Rescue on SpikeTV, partly because the ubiquity of busty waitresses (yeah, I’m a guy) and partly because these dives remind me of the places I used to play back in my music days. But mostly because the host, Jon Taffer, is an utter and complete bastard from hell. He looks like a mob hit man and he talks like one too. He doesn’t have to fire shitty employees, because half of them would rather quit than spend the next five minutes in his presence. Plus he’s got crazy eyes. Really. Crazy.
I hope you forgive a momentary tangent, but no wonder average Americans stick with boring chain stores like TGI Fridays and Chili’s. At least we know their food comes from Tyson bags and has the germs bleached out of it. We all hate corporations, blah blah, and we especially hate corporations when we work for them. But, believe me, as a patron, you are glad the chain restaurant you eat at has a douchebag for a district manager who all the employees hate. He’s doing everything he can to keep you from getting food poisoning. None of the clueless bar or restaurant owners on these shows ever seems worried about that.
Given the speed at which basic cable can rip off a concept (Syfy channel, those purveyors of fine original programming, aired a show this weekend called American Horror House. Guys, could you at least try?), it is not surprising that the Abusive Makeover genre has already jumped the shark. Spike aired a pilot a couple of weeks ago called Tattoo Rescue, in which Joey “Tattoo” Germinario goes to tattoo parlors and yells at them for being unsanitary.
Holy shit! Grungy tattoo parlors are unsanitary? Thanks for the warning, Spike!
The proliferation of these programs suggests that mankind is inherently cruel. If you eradicate one type of sadism, such as bullying or NBC’s Whitney, another type will arise, like abusive makeover shows or some other NBC sitcom.
Hey, wait! Why not combine the concept into a new series? Each episode will feature Larry David, James L. Brooks, and Norman Lear storming onto the set of some shitty half-hour comedy, telling the producers why the show sucks for 40 minutes, then handing them a script with likeable characters and wit. We’ll call it Sitcom Unwatchable.