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Jewish World Review
Feb. 26, 2009
/ 2 Adar 5769
Tuning in to the English Channel
I was taken aback the other day when I read that the British economy has been experiencing a significant downturn. "Wait a minute," I thought to myself, "what on earth am I doing reading a story about the British economy?" I quickly turned the page in search of an item more likely to have an immediate impact on my life, such as the horoscope column.
But before doing so I learned that in Britain, just like here in the United States, a down housing market has been the primary cause of the English economic woes. According to the article, the ripple effects have been felt in slumping car sales, increased unemployment, declining restaurant patronage and perhaps most upsetting for the English people 1.6 million fewer pints of beer sold daily in British pubs compared with this time last year. On the bright side, British authorities also report 1.6 million fewer incidents of public urination per day.
But what surprised me the most about this story was that I had assumed the British economy was doing just fine. Admittedly, I wasn't basing this assumption on traditional economic indicators like the GDP (gross domestic product) or CPI (consumer price index), but rather on a dramatic increase in a statistic of my own devising called the NORTSFEN (Number of Reality Television Shows Featuring English Nannies).
You've no doubt at least caught snippets of this particular reality subgenre, with shows featuring titles like Nanny 911, Supernanny, Nanny Get Your Gun, Love is a Nanny-Splendored Thing, etc. These programs all feature a prim British nanny straight out of central casting, complete with umbrella, thick accent and disapproving air, who is dispatched to intervene on a dysfunctional American family.
Typically the nanny arrives to find a household in turmoil where the parents have lost all control and the children are screaming, fighting, cursing, discharging firearms and generally misbehaving so badly that they could easily be mistaken for adult reality show contestants.
After spending a day monitoring the children, the nanny sits down with the parents and patiently explains, citing specific examples from her observations, why she needs to get the hell out of there. Or at least that's what I'd do. The kids on these shows are so wild, they make a strong case for dosing the nation's Hi-C supply with Ritalin. And the feckless parents are no better with their misguided attempts at discipline after watching one child whale away on his brother with a wiffle ball bat for a few minutes, a dad will typically step in by saying, "Stop hitting your brother. Let your sister have a turn."
But the nannies somehow manage to straighten things out. They teach mom and dad more effective parenting techniques like following through on disciplinary threats, instituting a "time out" chair to punish misbehavior and not handing steak knives to the kids and telling them to go play by the electrical outlet. The kids, meanwhile, seem to undergo genuine behavior changes as all their aggression and misbehavior is redirected toward trying to figure out what the strange lady with the funny accent and bad teeth is saying.
Part of the appeal of these shows is that they tap into the uniquely American belief, passed down from the hardy early pioneers who tamed this great nation, that no struggle is too intimidating, no obstacle too insurmountable and no personal problem too embarrassing that it can't be solved by making a spectacle of yourself on television. Hey, it always works for the guests on the Jerry Springer show, right? I mean, once they get out on parole, that is.
And while I'm sure the TV networks tout the educational value of these nanny programs and how viewers can learn proper parenting techniques from the nannies' wealth of experience ("Honey, it turns out we're not supposed to store oily rags in the kids' closet alongside our collection of roadside flares"), but that's like saying people watch Survivor to learn what to do in case they're ever stranded on a remote island and their only chance at survival depends on their ability to form an "alliance" with a chiropractor from Van Nuys.
No, the truth is that many of us like to watch these nanny shows because we appreciate seeing hopelessly out-of-control real-life families that by comparison make our households look like we're taping episodes of "Leave it to Beaver: The Next Generation."
And frankly, that's what good reality television is all about allowing those of us at home to look around at the problems in our own lives the family discord, the relationship troubles, financial insecurities, the dishes piling up in the sink and say, "Well, my life may not be perfect, but at least I'm not competing to see if I can eat two dozen ox testicles in under a minute."
JWR contributor Malcolm Fleschner is a humor columnist for The DC Examiner. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
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01/08/09: Just in time, here comes 2009
11/20/08: Hotels go for the green
11/06/08: Something does not compute
10/30/08: Early adopters tech their chances
10/21/08: Cyberspace invaders
10/21/08: Keeping up disappearances
09/17/08: Victims of math hysteria
08/07/08: My newfound sense of self (promotion)
06/24/08: Getting the brand back together
05/29/08: Phrased and confused
05/13/08: Take this job and love it
04/17/08: News you can (re)use
04/02/08: Commercial (over)load
02/20/08: An overdose of reality
02/14/08: A developing situation
01/30/08: I can tech it or leave it
01/02/08: Confessions of a coke addict
01/02/08: Our bills are due
12/13/07: Going (to lunch) once, going twice…
11/28/07: Out with the old
11/06/07: My latest pet project
11/06/07: Can't tune it out
10/23/07: Something special in the hair
09/12/07: Can I have your attention, please?
09/12/07: Houston, we have an image problem
08/21/07: In the heat of fashion
08/09/07: Let's get in the game
06/13/07: You gonna eat that?
05/08/07: That's disinter-tainment
05/02/07:You Are (not) Getting Sleepy...
04/18/07: No time like Father Time
03/15/07: Deface the Nation
03/08/07: More gifts? You shouldn't have
02/22/07: Relationships can be such a chore
12/05/06: Who's calling the shots?
11/09/06: I'm taking selling to a whole new level
10/27/06: Some skills are beyond repair
10/18/06: You can't tech it with you
10/04/06: Award to the wise
08/24/06: Phrased and Confused
08/09/06: We're Gonna Party Like it's $19.99
07/19/06: Just Singing in the Brain
05/24/06: Who says you can't go home again?
05/11/06: When nightly news stories go off script
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03/16/06: The day the Muzak died
02/23/06: Checkbook diplomacy begins at home
02/15/06: Today's toys: Where learning means earning
© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner