Friday, December 07, 2012

my strange addiction to my strange addiction

I started bingeing on Mad Men a few months ago and finished season four, the last Netflix has to offer, Tuesday night. I love the show for all the reasons critics do—the writing, the exquisite muted painting that is each art-directed frame. All the characters simultaneously perpetuate and are broken by the worst of what mid-century America has to offer. There’s a great scene in which sexpot Joan and career girl Peggy smoke a cigarette and finally admit to each other that they work with a bunch of pigs who take them for granted. But it’s not just the girls who have it bad—Don has the instincts of a good man, but he’s always pushing them down with his desire to be the cool guy in the fedora.

But the real reason I like the show is because everyone is so wonderfully unhappy. Advertising preys not only on people’s existential dissatisfaction, but on their insecurity as well—their belief that just beyond the gate, other people are happy. All the fucking time. And that gate is a Lucky Strike cigarette or a pair of Topaz pantyhose. And the proof of the lie of advertising is the entirety of Mad Men. I watch it as my own antidote to the world of forced happiness.

Cigarettes: the perfect prop for your existential dissatisfaction.
But then I was done. AK came in and went to sleep and I could not. So I retrieved her headphones and opened my laptop again.

My Strange Addiction is no Mad Men. It’s not even American Idol. Like all TLC shows, it’s one step up from a snuff film. But, like Mad Men, it promises me that things are not just peachy for everyone, and I’m a sucker for that message, as uncomfortable as my schadenfreude makes me.

For the uninitiated, every episode profiles two people with odd, compulsive habits. It’s more about compulsion than addiction, despite the title. Inevitably, one of the people eats weird shit: household cleaner (Comet, judging by the green can whose label they never show), hair follicles, couch cushions. The other person might lay in a tanning bed three times a day or bleach her skin twenty times or own two hundred pairs of shoes.

Lately I’ve been torn between wanting to get the most out of each day and wanting to collapse into an exhausted heap. There’s no bigger waste of time than shutting yourself in the bathroom for two hours to pull out your own hair or pick at your scabs, but sometimes the world outside that small safe place is even less appealing.

"Scratch-Free" does not apply to your teeth.
As I told Andrew at work the next morning, “There but for the grace of something go I. I mean, if my parents had gotten divorced the same summer my cousin turned me on to eating couch cushions, I probably would have consumed seven couches by now too.”

The show sends everyone to a therapist and ends with an epilogue, usually along the lines of “Lauren is still part of the Furry community and doesn’t think she has a problem. But she tries to go out in public without her mask on sometimes.” (Personally, I thought someone should have steered Lauren toward a career in costume design. She was talented, and if someone had pointed it out, her self-esteem might not have been so low as to require her to hide inside a giant pink fox suit every time she wanted to go bowling.)

They are all sort of “working on it.” And doing a lot of backsliding, with the exception of the Comet-eater, who demonstrates the willpower you might imagine from someone capable of regularly swallowing bleach.

Although there is a guy who eats glass, a party trick that gets out of control, most of the people profiled are women. It’s a generalization to say that women turn their pain inward and men turn it outward, but it’s one I sort of buy. Dude eats light bulbs to shock his friends. Girl surreptitiously eats handfuls of couch foam from her purse at stoplights.


Kim said...

Did you ever watch Obsessed? Here's a profile of someone on my fav episode:

"Nicole’s disorder is rare in that it’s centered around just two people: her mother and her brother. Nicole can’t stand certain things they do with their hands, like touch something softly, or when her mother says the hard “K” sound. She responds by chiding them about “soft hands,” by repeating the hand motion they made, but harder, or by loudly saying the “K” sound herself."

Cheryl said...

I haven't watched this show, but I CLEARLY need to. Immediately.

lesbrain said...


Cheryl said...

Wow, Tempestt is a totally different cleaner eater than the woman in the episode I saw, but I love her too now! Especiallly the photo of her posing in a shower of Cascade like it's rose petals.

Sizzle said...

I've not watched much of My Strange Addiction but I get needing a show like that. I'm like that with Hoarders. Fascinated and appalled. I get why they would become hoarders (so often it's born from deep pain). When I was going thru all my cancer stuff I really just wanted an escape from my mind, from thinking about all the next steps and what ifs, and needed to tune out. I also felt guilty for doing so because of the fear of running out of time. Never before in my life had I felt both sides of the coin so acutely and it sucked.

Thinking of you.

Peter Varvel said...

Thanks for the 'Avenue Q' reference!
I am oddly stimulated by the phrase "giant pink foxt suit."

Cheryl said...

S: I think we think alike, Siz.

PV: It took me a minute, but...schadenfreude! And hey, if you need to go bowling in a fur suit, I won't judge.

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