It’s raining this Sunday morning in New Orleans, with the occasional growl of thunder and a constant leak from the gray skies overhead. When I woke up, this leak was a faucet, turned all the way to high and so loud I wasn’t certain it could actually be rain; my first thought was I wonder if the streets are flooding again and my second we have tickets to see The Last Jedi at one fifteen; will we be able to make it to the Palace theater in Harahan? As my first cup of coffee brewed this morning I checked to see if there are any reports of flooding in the city; there aren’t, and none are, apparently, expected. And yet any rain here carries with it the possibility of rising water and ruined cars, fears of hundreds of dollars in repairs if you are lucky, scrambling to find the money for a new one while battling with your insurance company and your lender in the meantime.
I worked yesterday, ran some errands, came home and made myself barbecue-flavored chicken nuggets in the oven; the TGIFriday’s brand, frozen food, heated for ten minutes on each side at 375 degrees in the oven. It’s easy and quick, doesn’t taste horrible, and fills the emptiness; Paul was also at work and we were going to a Christmas party last night in Uptown so I didn’t see any need in actually making any food that would make a mess; I’ve not had time to clean and organize and file this week; but I am hoping to get all of that done this morning before we brave the storms to see our movie. There’s something comforting and relaxing about rain, though, despite its imminent and constant threat here, I’ve always found rain to be a relaxing experience, a cozy one; safe inside from the wetness and able to witness it through windows, warm and dry and somehow protected.
Yesterday I finished reading yet another book, another one that I enjoyed tremendously; Reality Boy by A. S. King. I’ve had the book for quite some time, it’s been in my TBR pile for years now. I don’t remember why I bought it, other than an interest in the subject matter; the after-effects of being a reality show celebrity as a child. I’ve always watched, enjoyed and been fascinated by reality television; one of my early ideas for a Scotty novel involved a Real World type show being filmed in New Orleans (that show has filmed here twice; the first time in my neighborhood). Even early on, I saw, in The Real World, the classic Agatha Christie set-up: a group of strangers thrown together in a confined space, forced to interact with each other and all for the benefit of cameras, some hidden and others hand-held. It seemed perfect for a classical-style locked room murder mystery; the locked room, of course, being the cameras. I toyed with it and played with the notion for several years, before finally deciding on the bizarre plot that became Mardi Gras Mambo; the first iteration of that novel was the reality show plot that I eventually lost interest in and threw away so I could start over. Reality television has taken over our culture in so many ways; you are just as likely to see a reality “star” staring at you from the covers of the tabloids and celebrity magazines in the check-out line at the grocery store as you are to see an actor or an actress or a member of British royalty. I do watch some reality television still to this day, primarily franchises of the Real Housewives, some more so than others, and other shows I absolutely will not watch, as though some of these shows are somehow more highbrow, more morally and intellectually pure, than others.
As I said the other day, I had decided to get through some of the young adult fiction in my TBR pile once I’d finished Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire, and I greatly enjoyed The Truth About Alice. Reality Boy has been in my pile for quite some time; and I pulled it out and started reading it Friday night once I’d finished the Ritter and Alice. Reality Boy was, in a word, quite extraordinary; I’m not sure that I would classify it as full-on noir, but it’s definitely domestic suspense bordering on domestic noir.
I’m the kid you saw on TV.
Remember the little freak who took a crap on his parents’ oak-stained kitchen table when they confiscated his Game Boy? Remember how the camera cleverly hid his most private parts with the glittering fake daisy and sunflower centerpiece?
That was me. Gerald. Youngest of three. Only boy, Out of control.
One time, I did it in the dressing room at the mall. Sears, I think. My mom was trying to get me to try on some pants and she got the wrong size.
“Now you stay right there,” she said. “I’ll be back with the right size.”
And to protest having to wait, or having to try on pants, or having to have a mother like her, I dropped one right there between the wicker chair and the stool where Mom’s purse was.
And no, it wasn’t excusable. I wasn’t a baby. I wasn’t even a toddler. I was five. I was sending a message.
As much as I enjoy the reality shows I watch, one thing that has always put me off about them is when adults use their children as props on these shows. It’s one thing when you’re an adult, or when your children are adults and have the kind of agency to decide whether they want their life to be turned into a circus or not. It’s entirely another when parents decide they want their young children trotted out for the cameras like some dog-and-pony show to show off what great parents they are, or how talented their children are, or how cute they are. I particularly loathed those ‘nanny’ shows, where ‘problem’ children were trained by a some Mary Poppins stand-in to be behave better when their parents can’t control them; those videos and tapes are going to, I have often felt and believed, haunt those kids for the rest of their lives.
The premise of Reality Boy is precisely that.
Gerald, at ages five and six, appeared with his family on one of those nanny shows, and his particular problem was that he defecated as a sign of rebellion and protest; in his mother’s shoes, in the hallway, etc. He became viral and forever known as the Crapper. He is now sixteen going on seventeen, his family is still just as dysfunctional as ever, and he is regularly taunted, mocked and bullied for his reality show past. Being a teen is hard enough for any number of reasons–as explored in The Truth About Alice, for example–but imagine being famous/infamous for behavior when you were a small child, on television.
Reality Boy is about Gerald’s learning to cope with his past, learning to cope with his future, and recognizing, at long last, that he could have a future. It’s exceptionally well done, and as King reveals the layers of dysfunction that led to Gerald’s behavior, the truth of his life and his own reality, why he is been labelled a problem child and a disgrace, are even more horrible. And yet Gerald has to find the strength to cope, to deal, and to by the time the book ends, there’s hope that Gerald’s life is going to get better. It’s extremely well done, Gerald comes to fully-realized life beautifully on the page, and his burgeoning relationships with new friends and maybe, even, just possibly, a girlfriend–help him to grow and understand. It’s incredibly well done, and it’s also a cautionary tale that needs to be sent to anyone who’s ever trotted their children out for the cameras for fame and money. It makes you wonder what Honey Boo-Boo’s life is going to be like when she’s seventeen, or Teresa Giudice’s daughters (they’ll probably still be on television). It also makes you wonder just how complicit those of us who watch these shows are in the possible damage being wrought on these children.
My current Scotty book has me returning to the reality well, only this time with a Real Housewives-type show. I’ve already done nine chapters, and had already decided to toss those and start over because it wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to go; I wasn’t saying what I wanted to say in the book. I had planned on starting it over again, but now…now I am thinking I need to sit down and think through what I want to say in it, maybe plan it a little more than I’ve ever planned a Scotty book before. I don’t know, but I’ll be keeping you posted.