I started watching UnREAL on Thursday. It is now Saturday, and I have just finished watching all 10 episodes of the 1st season of this outstanding scripted dramedy. UnREAL is about the behind-the-scenes action on a fictional reality TV show called “Enchanted”.
I am a huge fan of reality TV. As a teacher, it is my job to be sociable, patient, friendly, and emotionally available to students during the day, so I look forward to getting home from school, downloading a reality show, and being able to zone-out and observe different personality types and drama without having to react to them…or smile…or respond in any way. Therefore, I find these shows highly entertaining, and, yes, relaxing.
While I am a fan, I would also be an idiot if I were to deny the fact that the aspects of humanity that reality TV shows use to create drama are primarily negative. I believe that my life has been positively impacted by some of the stories I have seen shared on reality TV, but there are also many values that are promoted on most of these shows that are disgusting: judging women and men based on their physical appearance alone, taking advantage of people’s insecurities and/or mental health issues, and reinforcing racist, sexist, homophobic, and various other stereotypes about people.
UnREAL is the first scripted show that I have watched that honestly deals with the types of people who would choose to produce and work on reality TV shows. For example, the show’s protagonist, Rachel, is a producer. She is willing to use any information and any angle she can think of (and she can think of many since she is a highly intelligent and perceptive person) to get something exciting for the cameras.
One of the characters on “Enchanted” is Mary, who is a single mother, and she recently got out of an abusive relationship. For “good TV” Rachel finds Mary’s abusive ex-partner and brings him on the show to confront Mary and the “Bachelor” character, Adam, without Mary or Adam’s awareness that the ex was going to suddenly appear. A fight ensues, and Mary’s situation becomes incredible tragic (likely due to this and because of another factor that a different drama-hungry producer on the show stoops to an all-time low to create) as the series progresses.
This situation reminds me that drama is exciting, and it is a great distraction from my own life, but the lengths reality TV shows creators and producers will go to to provide me with “entertainment” can irreparably harm real people’s lives. Since I consume those shows, I am also contributing to the destruction of people’s lives.
Even though it would be easy to shrug it off and say these reality TV show characters/people/performers are asking for it by going on these shows instead of getting “normal” day jobs, UnREAL highlights how many of these shows are using desperate people, who may have pre-existing mental health problems, and exploiting them. I think that part of the stigma surrounding mental health is that people are blamed for their sickness, and the ridicule that is heaped on people who act “crazy” is somehow viewed as completely acceptable. I still see a variety of examples that lead me to believe that most of mainstream society still thinks that “insane” people are not sick people; instead, they’re bad people. When people who have “freak-outs” on these shows are discussed on social media, in real-life, and in the media the dialogue surrounding them must only make it that much harder for these people to move on from having a mental breakdown on national TV and build a life away from reality TV.
Most people want to claim that they are sensitive to people who are mentally ill, but based on what I have heard people say in real-life when talking about people who have been depressed, acted bizarrely, or erratically there usually seems to be a complete lack of compassion. On the one hand, people who exhibit a lack of self-control and bad behaviour should not be rewarded or given a pat on the back, but on the other hand, if a person is clearly not well or of a sound mind, does it really help to gossip about them and treat them like there’s something wrong with them?
During the summer, I biked to UBC to go to Wreck Beach. While I was locking up my bike at the tops of the stairs there was a man about 15 feet away who was screaming and shouting about “Pigs” (the police, I assume). I would characterize him as mentally-ill. He later walked around the beach area screaming at someone/something that was not there, and I am not a mental health professional, but he seemed delusional. There were a few young men across the street from the bike rack area who were taunting the man and making fun of him. When I see people, who would likely describe themselves as sane, do this sort of cruel thing it reminds me of how ignorant we all are about mental health and what it means to be mentally ill.
The biggest problem is not the man who was ranting and raving, instead it is the “sane” people who pick-on sick people, thereby increasing people’s paranoia and fear. Yet, my own choice to obsessively watch reality TV shows that do the same sort of thing, and much worse, to people who are already in a weak position in terms of their state-of-mind, makes me wonder if I am any different from those young guys who were yelling at the man who seemed mentally ill? I will keep on watching reality TV, but UnREAL provides a lot of food for thought about what I am actually taking part in when I watch these kinds of exploitative shows.
Up until now this article has been a downer, but UnREAL is not only dark and thought-provoking, it’s also hilarious. The characters are complex, lovable, imperfect, believable, and so brutally honest that a lot of the dialogue made me laugh. Shiri Appleby plays Rachel to superb perfection. Rachel does so many things wrong to other people, but we get to see that she is also seriously struggling with her mental health and her own personal life is just as negative as her work life. Rachel is always trying to figure out what she can use other people for, instead of focusing on what she can do to truly help them. I think that if people are being honest we all have the same thing in ourselves. Sometimes, I am more concerned with what I am getting out of an interaction than what I’m giving, but that is something I want to work on minimizing.
Rachel’s boss is Quinn. Quinn is played by Constance Zimmer, and she is everything you’d imagine a ruthless boss bitch would be. But, of course, Quinn also has a heart, and I felt compassion for her, even though I think her behaviour is appalling. Quinn has been having a long-term affair with the show’s executive producer/owner, Chet, played by Craig Bierko. Quinn is not as strong as she seems, and UnREAL illustrates through these characters’ personal lives that there is no on-and-off switch for using and manipulating people.
If you think it is okay to capitalize on people’s weaknesses for a reality show at any cost, then it is likely that you will do the same to people you are dating and friends with. And, they will do the same to you. Since I don’t want to give away any of the important plot points about the show, I will end my review here. If you love or hate reality TV, it doesn’t really matter, because I think this show appeals to both of those categories of people. UnREAL is a genius show in my opinion. Life is complicated, and UnREAL doesn’t shy away from looking at the darkest undercurrents of reality TV. I totally related to all of the main characters, though I’d like to believe I wouldn’t be willing to do what they do, though I’ve done some terrible things in my time. Just like Rachel, Quinn, and Chet, I’m not perfect. I am constantly trying to balance my own selfish desires with what I think will make the world a better place. UnREAL helped me feel better about myself while simultaneously encouraging me to think more deeply about the choices I make in life. Bravo to the show’s creators Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro!
“Yes, I always feel like a freak, like an outsider. But again, at the same time it’s a very safe place to be, an outsider, actually, you have the freedom to be yourself and no one is going to come and tell you to stop being this.”-Patty
Patty answers my usual questions:
1) What do you love about Vancouver?
2) If you have felt like a freak or an outsider, what helped you through it?
Tonight I went on a solo-trip to the movies and I was not disappointed. I watched director BENNETT MILLER‘s film (Miller also directed MONEYBALL and CAPOTE) FOXCATCHER. The film was painful, and it was a lot to take in, but it reminds me of how important (and healthy) it is for vulnerable emotions to be expressed (at the appropriate time and place) instead of held in. Nobody can be tough and all-powerful, and when we try to be the consequences are horrible.
If you do yourself a favour and go view this film, I think you will have the privilege of seeing a TRUE STORY represented on the big screen that proves masculine standards in our society, and the idea that being vulnerable is always a weakness, can destroy lives.
STEVE CARELL perfectly captures the pain of a person who cannot be open and vulnerable with other people: source.
CHANNING TATUM is touching, real, and outstanding playing real-life GOLD MEDAL WINNER for wrestling at the 1984 Olympics MARK SCHULTZ. MARK RUFFALO plays SCHULTZ‘s older brother DAVE (also a gold medal winner at the Olympics for wrestling in real-life). JOHN DU PONT is a power-hungry, jealous, bitter, and deeply sad individual who is played by STEVE CARELL. The end of this story in real-life is depressing beyond belief, and I don’t want to give away too much about the film. Nevertheless, I was totally sucked-in to seeing how the events unfold (I already knew what happened in real-life before seeing it) because the performances are done with such a sense of humanity and sense of respect for the individuals TATUM, RUFFALO, and CARELL are playing.
As much as Carell plays an unattractive individual who is mentally unstable and abusive, I could still see where the character was coming from and that is not an easy feat consider how much of a “villain” Du Pont could be considered to be.
I already know that Steve Carell can convey the underlying lack of confidence that drives people to be unlikable characters, but here he takes this to another level. The ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS are being announced on January 15th, and I hope Carell is given a Best Actor nomination. The way he plays the character showed me, yet again, that confidence and loving oneself is the first step necessary before you can create healthy and positive relationships with other people.
What a team! MARK RUFFALO (hugging Tatum) plays Schultz’s older brother DAVE: source.
I am a female and therefore I often focus on the oppression of women (and having studied Women’s Studies for my B.A. might also have something to do with my female-centred focus). Watching FOXCATCHER made me thankful to be a female, because as an Olympian-wrestler Mark Schultz does not have much room to express his feelings. He needs to work on improving his fitness and what is going on in the inside is mostly irrelevant.
Ruffalo’s portrayal of Mark’s brother Dave is inspiring. Ruffalo as Dave Schultz shows that men can be strong, masculine, and athletic while still caring about other people and how they feel. Dave Schultz focuses on trying to help his brother express himself. He tries to provide Mark with positive love and affection, but this is hard for Mark to receive as he doesn’t seem to have much love for himself. The relationship between the two brothers is beautiful. The relationship between John du Pont and Mark Schultz is horrific and reminds me of how horrible it is to be under another’s power and to feel helpless to resist against abuse because you think you need their support.
(STEVE CARELL as JOHN DU PONT and (right) real-life (now deceased) DU PONT: source.
Mark Schultz has already won a gold medal at the Olympics when he is contacted out-of-the-blue by rich benefactor John du Pont. John du Pont is one of those people I would totally be creeped-out by and would try to avoid. Mark needs funding to train to his best abilities and he does not have his parents in his life, so he is flattered by du Pont’s attention and du Pont’s belief in his potential.
Mark Schultz leaves where he trains with his brother Dave as his couch, and moves onto the isolated compound that du Pont resides on with his aging mother, JEAN DU PONT (played by VANESSA REDGRAVE). Mark thinks he has hit the jackpot when he is given his own large home to live in on the property, and the wrestling training facility also at the Foxcatcher compound is state-of-the-art.
Mark thinks he’s got it made, but as these stories go on the big screen and in real-life, there are always strings attached. Some people are genuinely giving and do not expect anything in return, but when things seem too good to be true they probably are.
Unhealthy relationships are cleverly explored in FOXCATCHER: source.
Gradually Mark begins to experience the negative downsides of being completely reliant on du Pont and under his tutelage, but he feels he is already in too deep to get out. The real-life Mark Schultz is currently claiming the film defames him because of one scene in particular that insinuates that there was a component of sexual abuse between du Pont and Schultz. I think that this seems entirely plausible given the real-life details of the story, but maybe the filmmaker is unfair to extend the facts to include this representation of the degree to which du Pont abused Mark Schultz.
It is interesting that the real-life Mark Schultz is so offended by this, because it might be a reflection of how hard it is for him to come to terms with the abuse that took place and he might feel shame that this man did take advantage of him sexually because there is still so much stigma surrounding men and sexual abuse. It is also possible that there was no sexual abuse and that is the reason he is bothered by this part of the movie, but either way, it draws attention to the stigmatization surrounding men, and in particular men in sports, who experience sexual abuse at the hands of their mentors and coaches. So many people still possess the idea deep-down that any man who gets sexually abused was “asking for it”. I think this mentality is disturbing, but I also believe it is still prevalent in our culture.
WHY IS THIS FILM HOPEFUL? I have mostly written about the darkness in FOXCATCHER. But, I left the film feeling hopeful. That is because it re-confirmed to me why I feel it is so important for me (and others) to work towards being honest and sharing with others what is going on in our inner-worlds. I think when you try to repress the hurt you have, and the rejection you have experienced at the hands of your parents or others in your childhood, it remains inside of you and influences what you do and how you treat others. I am proud to say that I go to a counsellor to help deal with the pain I still have inside of me, and to work on improving my own self-confidence and as a bi-product of that, my relationship with others.
Bottling up your emotions never works: eventually those emotions are going to burst, it is just a matter of WHEN and more importantly HOW.
Foxcatcher shows that if you do not attend to your own needs and deal with your painful past, then you might end up destroying yourself or the people closest to you. FOXCATCHER is tough to watch, but so very worth it!