my best fiends
June 2, 2009
There’s this moment near the beginning of the premiere of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here where Janice Dickinson is leading her group of celebrities along this path to their camp in the Costa Rican jungle and suddenly she spots a monkey in the trees above her, “a big black monkey!” she shouts back to teammate John Salley, who plays with the racial implications of her saying this thing to him for a second before joining her and gawking up at the monkey, too, like, wow, a monkey, and the rest of the celebrities come along and Janice or John or somebody tells Heidi Montag about the monkey and the question that she asks is, “Is it real?“, we don’t see her asking this but we hear her saying it and see a shot of the monkey and the camera cuts to a close-up of John Salley who rolls his eyes, like, “What do you think, it’s a fake monkey?” he says, laughing, as if this is an impossible thing, and then these celebrities wearing waterproof microphones and being filmed for a television show continue walking along a marked trail to their carefully production-designed camp in an aesthetically pleasing and accessible portion of the jungle and all I could think of was Herzog, Herzog, Herzog, of the movie in the jungle with Werner and Klaus and the fakeness and the realness of things there, how they meshed and blended to create something else, how in the real environment of the jungle, things were fake, things including monkeys, how “to obtain the monkeys utilized in the climactic sequence, Herzog paid several locals to trap 400 monkeys; he paid them half in advance and was to pay the other half upon receipt. The trappers sold the monkeys to someone in Los Angeles or Miami, and Herzog came to the airport just as the monkeys were being loaded to be shipped out of the country. He pretended to be a veterinarian and claimed that the monkeys needed vaccinations before leaving the country. Abashedly, the handlers unloaded the monkeys, and Herzog loaded them into his jeep and drove away, used them in the shot they were required for, and released them afterwards into the jungle,” and then right after that monkey scene, there was a scene in which the celebrities were crossing a river and Patti Blagojevich was pulled down into the rapids and yanked downstream and this was not a planned thing, it seems, because the cameras snapped and strained to follow her as she was pulled along by the current and the other celebrities ran along the riverbank after her and as they did I was thinking of Herzog and the movie and how “at one point, a storm caused a river to flood, burying the film sets underneath several feet of water and destroying all of the rafts built for the film. This flooding was immediately incorporated into the story, as a sequence including a flood and subsequent rebuilding of rafts was shot,” and as the show went on and on and on, I was still thinking of Herzog except I wasn’t thinking of Aguirre: The Wrath of God, no, I haven’t even seen that movie, actually, I was just pretending to have seen it in that part you were reading a second ago, I was being fake, no, actually,
actually I was thinking of Stellan Skarsgård playing “Verner” on Entourage, playing a fictional version of Herzog in this fictional story arc on Entourage in which he fictionally abused fictional pretty boy Hollywood actor Vincent Chase who was being played by real pretty boy Hollywood actor Adrien Grenier, and how this fictional abuse was like a smooth jazz Hollywood version of Herzog’s abuse of Kinski and how all of it took place as they filmed a fake movie within the show, narratives stacked like nested dolls, and I just imagined Spencer Pratt watching it, because Spencer Pratt probably hasn’t seen Aguirre either, he hasn’t seen the real Herzog, but I know he’s seen Entourage, I’m sure, it being a fake version of the real Hollywood club scene he enjoyed in real life and also in certain scenes on his semi-fictional television show, and so I just imagined him there sitting on his couch in Hollywood and eating nachos and watching Skarsgård playing Herzog on Entourage and laughing his ass off at the whole thing, drinking it in,
because on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here tonight, Spencer was Herzog and Kinski, too, director and actor, and that’s hyperbole but this is a rant, okay, and I never really got that he had that in him before, I guess, I never really understood the depth of his talent because on The Hills he was always overshadowed by Lauren, literally, overshadowed, he was in the darkness in contrast to her face and the light and the way the two connected, it was kind of like how the male actors in The Passion of Joan of Arc are good and talented and everything but nobody’s fucking watching it for them, you know, nobody cares about them, like his ugly-ass beard was almost a symbolic protest to this effect, but it seems so apropos that the day after Lauren leaves television is the day that Spencer really becomes a star, because he did tonight, I don’t care what anyone says, I don’t care what the ratings say, whatever, like there was this scene in the first hour in which he and Heidi were threatening to leave the show and so they went off to this isolated area to make a scene only featuring the two of them, a strategy they employed over and over throughout the episode in order to guarantee them more screen time, and from this secluded position Spencer called fucking Ben Silverman on some producer’s cell phone and complained about the quality of the other celebrities on the show, how this was “devaluing their fame” and of course the other celebrities heard this and had this discussion about how they’re famous for real and solid things while Spencer and Heidi are just famous for being famous, for being reality stars, for doing this show in which they live their lives, and it was just so ridiculous
because what all the other celebrities besides Heidi and Spencer don’t seem to understand is that to be on reality television show, you have to be on a reality television show, it involves performance and not just existence, it involves making your existence a performance, active, not passive, so that while in the first episode most of the other “celebrities” were content with just being in the jungle, sitting around by the fire and swatting mosquitoes and swimming in the river, Heidi and Spencer actively took over every minute of the show, all two hours, and did this by being completely aware of and self conscious about the conventions of reality television and how to play with them to create story and effect and meaning, so that their performances throughout the episode were sort of a greatest hits of reality TV tropes, Spencer beginning the episode by playing some combination of Richard Hatch and Will Kirby, the archetypal reality villains, Heidi going all Elizabeth Hasselbeck Filarski, the good Christian girl with a heart of gold, and with these personae established they were off, controlling their scenes from start to finish, so that when Patti Blagojevich got swept away by the river, Heidi was immediately in the water to save her and Spencer was right on the shore, in the frame with her, always in the frame, and then when they got to the camp, almost as soon as everyone had been introduced to each other, Heidi and Spencer went off to have a love scene alone together, creating a couples moment, and then they were back with the group and, seconds later, when that got boring again, there was a new story, they were threatening to leave the show, Spencer ranting and raving and filling the screen, and then that was dealt with and then the next morning when all the other celebrities woke up and began to do chores, Heidi and Spencer pretended to sleep in their hammock, which was strategically located at center stage, if a jungle can be considered a stage, and they stayed in the hammock pretending to be asleep so long that the other celebrities watched them and talked about them and finally got out cameras and took pictures of them, like, in the middle of the show, the other celebrities stopped to take pictures of them, like they were tourists or paparazzi watching some big stars, all according to plan, and then when Heidi and Spencer finally woke up, they staged another exit, creating an absence of narrative which only they would be able to fill, and then there was a big fight scene in which Spencer went totally faux-Kinski on one of the female comics on the show, screaming and raging at her about this shampoo bottle of Heidi’s that had been stolen, Heidi in the background crying and halfheartedly pleading with him to stop but Spencer went on, ranting and raging at the woman comic, all up in her face, and everyone clustered around him and tried to stop him, John Salley holding him back as if he were going to kill her, and he just kept reprising the scene, letting it die down a bit as if it was going to end and then coming back again and again like James Brown falling and rising from the stage, prolonging the moment, and at the apex of the fight, he got back in the woman’s face and started yelling, “Stop making stories! Stop making stories! Stop making stories!“, just yelling it over and over again in the middle of this big, loud story he’d just made for himself, this starring role which he had created out of nothing but shampoo, this pure soap opera, and then he finally let it die and throughout the rest of the episode, Heidi and Spencer continued to dominate every scene, sometimes by big gestures as before but other times just by doing small things, such as how Spencer kept hugging his teammates during the food challenge in order to stay in the frame with them as much as possible or how during the live challenge at the end of the episode, Heidi kept spraying herself and Spencer with her hairspray, creating visual interest to catch our eyes, directing the scene without ever touching the camera,
but the best example of this, okay maybe not best morally but best in terms of art and entertainment value, was when Spencer took the initiative to do “The Patti Blagojevich Scene,” because, again, he was self conscious about how the show would work, what it would be like, how it would be received, and he knew that even people who didn’t care about him or Heidi or Janice Dickinson or those stupid comics from VH1 would still be interested in “The Patti Blagojevich Scene,” that they would still want to know if she would talk about the story, the “elephant in the room,” that there would be a lot of newspaper stories and magazine articles and TV reports about her talking about her story, and so Spencer knew that he had to deliver this scene, had to, and so he did it, he made the scene, produced and directed and starred in it, at first playing the thoughtful interviewer, asking polite and respectful questions and making good eye contact and everything, and then, after he’d gotten her to open up to him and the cameras a little, he started asserting himself more, finally saying that he thought Patti and Rob Blagojevich were like “the Heidi and Spencer of politics,” superimposing his brand over theirs in some kind of hideous palimpsest, and then all of this culminating in a prayer, a real live prayer on prime time TV, Heidi invoking the name of Jesus more than I’ve ever heard outside of The 700 Club, the three of them linking arms and praying there right in front of us and Patti Blagojevich crying for reasons we can’t know but which created this image, this prayer image, which will be a part of any story about Patti Blagojevich now, the crying and the praying on television, and that’s kind of why it doesn’t matter if Spencer and Heidi “win” I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here in the traditional sense, which they almost surely won’t because nobody likes them, because they’re evil, but it doesn’t matter because in some way, they’ve already won, because tonight they took two hours of expensive, heavily promoted, prime time network television and they controlled it completely, they made it a two hour commercial for their brand, they won. It’s not how you win or lose, it’s how you play the game, and Heidi and Spencer won tonight because they played the game, because they understand the game better than anyone, because in some ways they made the game what it is today, they invented the moves, the plays, the strategies. Together, they will rule this entire country, they will endure, they are the wrath of God.