Waste not, want not

by Diana Wichtel / 25 March, 2006
You have to admire an industry that continues to come up with new, increasingly sadistic, ways to recycle our small pool of semi-famous faces.

Louise Wallace has an enema. Dominic Bowden drinks his own urine. Entertainment or some fresh sign of the Apocalypse? Your call.

Anyone who thinks that South Park episode was offensive clearly didn't watch TV2's Shock Treatment, the latest in Julie Christie's fiendish plan to bring down Western civilisation, one reality-show format at a time.

It goes like this: trick a couple of celebrities into thinking they're taking part in a show called Amazing Journey. Instead, send them off to one of a variety of personal-growth boot camps around the world run by scary people with names like "Master Chief". Subject the celebrities to starvation, humiliation and all manner of bodily invasions until the spirits of both celebrities and any viewers who have managed to refrain from running screaming from the room are well and truly broken. Thus both celebrities and viewers are rendered powerless to resist involvement in further reality shows. Send Julie Christie to Iraq. She'd have them sorted in no time.

All this could be quite worrying. Television is increasingly filleting and plating up the human body in primetime in everything from the CSIs to Extreme Makeover and The Day My Boobs Went Bust.

The other night, 20/20 took us "inside" a sex-change operation. Youch. We live in an age awash with images of tissue, blood and fluid. This is at a time when torture is becoming newly fashionable, technology is overtaking any notions of personal privacy and we're increasingly living our lives on camera. Meanwhile, the business of government gets more opaque in the name of security.

Coincidence? I think not. Watching Mikey Havoc learn to like his cucumber juice and Dominic Bowden happily vowing to keep up the colonic irrigations, you couldn't help thinking of that heartbreaking scene in Brave New World where babies crawl cooing towards books and flowers, only to be given an electric shock. Run away, you wanted to cry. Whatever they're paying you ($5000 to a favourite charity, in this case), it isn't enough. Forget the Ayurvedic therapeutic vomiting. Save yourselves.

But let us not fall prey to conspiracy theories. That way lies madness and a lifetime subscription to Investigate magazine. After all, it's only television. You do have to admire the industry for continuing to come up with new, increasingly sadistic, ways to recycle our small pool of semi-famous faces. Waste not, want not.

And on the upside, it is possible, if you squint hard enough, to see Shock Treatment as a devastating critique of its own genre. "Remember," as the voice-over proudly proclaimed, "on this show the hosts don't know what they're doing!"

Some of the subjects seemed a little more bewildered than was strictly necessary to make that point. "You don't become a pregnant woman, no," explained the spiritual healer as she attempted to convey the concept of rebirthing to Dominic. He also had trouble with the instructions for the now obligatory reality-show enema. "Self-administered," he puzzled to his increasingly appalled-looking co-host, Peggy Bourne. "That means I do it to me and you do it ... hopefully ..."

Dear Lord.

As Dominic observed, "If I was watching this on television, I'd be going, 'This is such a load of rubbish, such a load of crap.'" Which it was, quite literally. "The shit, the waste, the poisons, the toxins!" someone called Moon kept crying. "Deed you ever drank urine een your life?" enquired someone with a disturbingly Transylvanian accent.

This obsessive emphasis on things alimentary threatened to see several of the episodes disappear up their own fundaments. Or as a starving Peggy Bourne wailed when she was covered in fruit and veges during some massage ritual, "I can smell papaya and cucumber and I can't even eat myself!"

Vinod, the shaman at the Thai retreat, didn't seem like the sharpest knife in the new age drawer, either. "The most insipid disease of modern society is the attachment to the illusion of separation!" he proclaimed. Surely he meant "insidious", but then maybe he doesn't watch a lot of reality television.

Some celebs held out longer than others against this sort of thing. Mikey Havoc snuck away from his Arizona funny farm while Louise Wallace was having another enema or something to buy a bag of clandestine Doritos. He was also sceptical about the enforced spirituality. "I think that's the thing that will irritate me most," he admitted, "unless I forget to put sesame oil on the plug of the enema, of course."

But in the end he was a changed man, running about hugging everyone. Even Louise. It was quite touching.

And you did learn a thing or two. In most of the episodes I've seen, the female lab rat cracked first. Thus it appears that the world would not necessarily be a saner place if run by women. But here in New Zealand we knew that already.

Hero of the series was Leigh Hart. Sent with April Bruce to the sort of spiritual retreat where they make you do push-ups for laughing, he remained bloodied but unbowed, driving his new age captors mad with such innocent enquiries as "How come we can get electrons flowing to our body but no cellphone coverage?" Well done, That Guy.

There was also the Ironic Television Moment of the year so far. "Everyone here is very spiritual," noted Dominic. "They're all against consumerism and capitalism and for that reason I kinda got into it." This from the presenter of NZ Idol, possibly the purest product of capitalist consumerism ever invented.

Wonderful. As I write, the series final is about to go to air, in which Outback Jack and Keri Ropati go to Thailand to punch each other in the head. Can't wait.

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