Later that year, he was depressed again, which this time meant watching bad TV when he’d rather be reading good books, which isn’t to say that he didn’t subscribe to the whole TV renaissance theory of the decade; it was more that he couldn’t tell a good show from a bad show until he was two, three, episodes in, and by that point his completionist tendency had kicked in enough that he felt the need to finish the season, maybe the series, even when the show sucked, and despite the fact that finishing a show, or shows, never delivered unto him the oxidized blue jolt of accomplishment he felt finishing a story in a book or writing a story of his own, though perhaps there was some small pleasure in bad TV, like the happy ache he felt draining a bottle of wine, or draining his balls, a phrase he’d once allowed into his fiction that had, months later, seeing the phrase, in print, in the middle of an otherwise good story, in the middle of an otherwise good magazine, caused him to throw said magazine across the room, a thing he’d never done before, thinking, even as the magazine was airborne, how the very act of throwing a magazine across the room, seemed a thing done only in bad stories in bad magazines, but how here he’d gone and done it, and, hey, who knew, who knew which was worse, to let bad writing slip into your fiction or to let bad fiction slip into your life; all of which was still on his mind, that evening, as he worked his way through the tenth season of Married at First Sight, a reality show in which strangers wed, legally, and were left with a matter of weeks in which to decide whether to stay married or file for divorce, and, of course, very few of the couples stayed married, and, to follow their Twitter feeds, very few of the couples who stay married for the show stayed married for long, once the cameras shut off, once the cables were spooled, boom mics lowered, the crew returned from Atlanta to their families on the west coast, crewmembers invested in real marriages of many years, marriages tested by months apart in deference to the illusion that marriage might be manufactured by committee, all of which—the committee, the travel, the show—was designed to sell detergent and Clorox wipes and the beeping machines you might install in your home to tell you when you’ve run out of detergent and Clorox wipes, that the machines might do their magic-but-not-really-magic thing so that, three days later, a brown box housing all of your domestic needs might show up on your doorstep, and, in this way, everyone made money, not just the producers and crewmembers and people who made the machines, but the shareholders for the companies that owned the patents for the machines; and none of this was lost on him as he lay, depressed, watching TV at 2AM, nor was it lost on him that the show he was watching was not the sort of show that people who talked about TV talked about when they talked about prestige TV (except, what might it mean that, most nights, this was the TV he’d rather be watching, not because it was better, or because he believed that the overproduced show portrayed anything even approaching reality, or because he believed that the strangers involved were sincere in their search for a spouse, no, he watched it the way he read comic books, for the gutters between panels, the gaps, for the authentic human moments the show let slip through, or, despite editorial efforts, could not keep out, how, for instance, a young bride’s hands shook—again, cliché, he knows, shaky hands, but real, reality, like bad fiction, creeping in—how, hands shaking, she held aloft a box of Airborne vitamin supplements, doing her best to convince America she hadn’t been ordered to do so, as she lectured her groom of six weeks on the myriad benefits of ingesting said supplement, looking, for all the world, like a child, a terrified child who knows she’s not getting away with something, and soon the world will know, knowing, too, that she could walk away, that maybe she should walk away, but she’s scared, she’s scared because she’s been told that this advertising, this performance, it’s in her contract, and she’s not allowed to break her contract, and of course she hasn’t read her contract because none of them has read their contract, knowing too that no matter whether this is or isn’t in her contract, her future, her reputation, how this plays out on TV, isn’t—wasn’t ever—up to her, knows that her fate is in the hands of the producers, a fate she hadn’t realized was never hers to choose until week two of filming when several dailies “leaked” and it became clear that one of the show’s brides, who was really rather nice in real life, was being set up to be the season’s villainess, and while the woman holding the shaking box of supplements does not want the other bride to be portrayed as villainess, she wants less to be portrayed as villainess herself, and so she does the bit with the box, she reads the lines—trying to pretend she isn’t reading from the teleprompter carted in at the last minute when memorization proved, for her, too hard—terrified by the thought of what, in six months, when season twelve airs, people might tweet, and whether she’ll be the season’s slut or nerd, the boring one or the sweet one, or whether this season will make room for a second villainess), nevertheless, this was the TV he watched, watching TV not on TV but on his phone, earbuds in, wife in bed, asleep beside him, watching, thinking, considering the kind of human moments neither good books nor prestige TV can manufacture, the moments reality TV can’t help but capture, reality seeping through reality, so that, every so often, the camera pans, and, if you’re lucky, lingers, loiters, caught on those sad, frightened eyes, eyes that let you know that, if nothing else, in bed at 2AM, unable to piece together your purpose or what comes next, in life, for you, no matter what, no matter fucking what, at least—and, yes, here comes one last cliché—at least, at least, at least you’re not alone.
Silas Plum challenges the idea of objective vs subjective value. He believes strongly in the tired old maxim that the true value of an object is more than the sum of its parts, that the gut is a truth-teller, and that the Aristotelian notion of learning-by-doing is the best teacher around. Judge his worth at silasplum.com.
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