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Where everything is meant to be seen

Baudrillard, the Pussy Cat Dolls, and Anna Nicole
By JAMES PARKER  |  March 14, 2007

VIDEO: Watch a clip from Pussycat Dolls Present: The Serach for the Next Doll

So I’ve been reading IntroducingBaudrillard (Verso). The prophet of hyperreality and author of The Gulf War Did Not Take Place died March 6 in Paris, age 77, and I felt it was time to deepen our acquaintance. His huge, compelling image, after all, was of humanity succumbing in a kind of cosmic trance to the forces of simulation, to a fake-beyond-fakeness that is accelerating into total autonomy, and he had a thing or two to say about reality TV. Of the Big Brother–style French show Loft Story, for example, he observed that “it reveals the possibility that human beings are fundamentally not social.” He additionally called it “a mirror of dullness, of nothingness.” Assaults on reality were no joke with him — in fact, he saw them more in terms of a jihad. “These are the stakes nowadays,” he wrote in a late essay. “We are being faced with a new fundamentalism, a genuine fanaticism that, with the help of all the data provided by all the technologies, is taking us further and further from the literal and material world, further and further from a truly literal world, off toward a world technically ‘real.’ ”

Rather a religious view, that, with its own teleology and urgency: the demi-urge of the not-real is slurping us headfirst into our screens. Craggy, substantial, broad-faced and benevolent in aspect, M. Baudrillard was an unlikely vessel for such thoughts. He looked more like the village butcher than a renegade theorist. (Did the producers of VH1’s The Surreal Life ever consider recruiting him into the household? That would been quite a coup: Baudrillard, his glasses all steamed, sliding walrus-like into the hot tub next to Traci Bingham.) We can’t be sure how much reality TV he actually watched: “In this space,” he wrote of Loft Story, “where everything is meant to be seen . . . we realize that there is nothing left to see.” Jean Baudrillard, how wrong you are! The alert viewer of reality TV is always on the lookout for those moments at which Life, the genuine mess, avenges itself on simulation. There is always something to see.

In last week’s premiere episode of Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll (CW, Tuesdays, 10pm), for instance, the show was suddenly awash in vomit. On the night before the first audition, with dozens of girls mutteringly practicing their dance steps in the rooms of a sad hotel, a cunning stomach virus saw its chance. “I think I caught something from the other girl,” groaned Jaime, and we saw her jackknifed over the toilet bowl, holding her hair behind her head with one hand. Some of the not-yet-ill girls went out to see a Pussycat Dolls show and ended up genuflecting in the weeds round the back of the theater, hurling loudly. Down they went, one by one, all through the night. “It’s spreading really fast,” said Anastacia at 3.14 am. “I just don’t know what’s going on. Girls are dropping like flies.” Melissa R at 4:15 was more high-concept: “I feel like we’re in a movie: When a Virus Attacks . . .

The next morning was no better. Plentiful throwings-up in the bus on the way to the audition (“Can somebody pass me a tissue?”), and the beautiful Mariela climbed out shakily carrying a doggy bag of fresh puke. But by this point the producers had a handle on things, and the vomit had been absorbed into the show’s narrative. Host Mark McGrath informed the auditionees that trained medical personnel were present at the theater: “They have IVs, and medication if you need it.” The sick girls lay wanly on blankets, and a Life Lesson was administered by chief choreographer Robin Antin. “When the Pussycat Dolls are sick,” she bellowed, “they get on stage and they PERFORM!” Antin’s brother, by the way, is the appalling Jonathan, preening centerpiece of the Bravo show Blow Out. We may be seeing something of Jonathan on The Search for the Next Doll’: according to the Web site he is “on board for sexy hairstyle makeovers.”

The most severely Baudrillardian thing on TV last week was the two-hour Anna Nicole: The Final Goodbye on the TV Guide Channel. Here a panel of experts — a woman from In Touch Weekly, a blowhard attorney — gravely opined upon the funeral of Anna Nicole Smith, in the Bahamas, and its legal and moral implications. The case is Gothically complex, like Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend reworked for the reality age. At the center of it all is Anna’s daughter, the blameless infant Dannielynn, with her paternity still uncertain: was she sired by Anna’s attorney/companion Howard K. Stern (booed at the funeral), or by Anna’s boyfriend Larry Birkhead (cheered at the funeral), or even by a tube of frozen sperm from the late J. Howard Marshall, the plutocrat to whom Anna was married for 14 months and whose fortune she had, at the time of her death, been pursuing through the courts for 10 years? Anna’s mother wants her daughter’s remains dug up and taken to Texas; Billy Smith, father of Anna’s doomed son Daniel, who predeceased her by five months, wants his remains dug up and taken to Texas. Said host Patrick Stinson: “It’s really, when you think about it, I mean it’s really sad. I mean it’s a circus and everything but it’s really sad when you get down to it.” “Truly, truly sad,” agreed the West Coast editor of OK! magazine.

Next week: some other stuff. Stay tuned.

Related: Taking the B-boys to School, Breast friends, Sweet delusion, More more >
  Topics: Television , Anna Nicole Smith, Celebrity News, Dance,  More more >
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