There is a fifth dimension beyond that
which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space, timeless
as infinity and cruel as someone else’s love story. It is the
middle ground between reality and fiction, between science and
superstition, and it encompasses the pit of man’s fears, the
summit of his knowledge and the unwavering stupidity of almost
everything he worries about. This is the dimension of the deluded.
It is an area we call The Train-wreck Zone.

Aubrey Henretty

Or, in layman’s terms, the Fox network’s prime-time
“reality” line-up.

Now, I have defended “reality” TV before, and I
still believe there is no better place from which to observe the
downfall of humanity than the comfort of my own living room —
preferably with pizza nearby — but this … this is just
creepy. There’s a new show coming out in a couple of weeks
called “The Swan,” and its premise is eerily
reminiscent of a classic episode of that eeriest of all eerie
television shows, “The Twilight Zone.”

First, “The Swan.” It will start with a bunch of
average-looking ladies. Then, according to the official Fox website
for the show, “each of the contestants will be assigned a
team of specialists — a coach, therapist, trainer, cosmetic
surgeon, dentist and stylist — that will work together to
design the perfect individually-tailored program.” Phew! For
a second I thought they were going to say “the perfect
individual.” Nice save, guys. The best (by which I mean
“worst”) part is, the ladies won’t get to see
themselves in the mirror at all during the entire three months of
filming, meaning they will be completely at the mercy of the
“specialists” and their whims.

Train-wreck Zone, meet Twilight Zone. There was an episode
called “The Eye of the Beholder” in which a distraught
young woman named Janet waited anxiously to see the results of her
11th and latest operation, the one that would either fix her face
or damn her to a life of exile with the other ugly people. Her face
was completely covered with gauze as she fretted at shadowy,
faceless surgeons who said they’d done everything they could.
The big surprise, of course, was that Janet was a knockout under
her bandages and nearly everyone else in her world was hideously
disfigured. Go figure.

As a side note, I should confess that I have more than a passing
interest in I-was-huge-but-now-I’m-hot stories. See, I was a
fat adolescent. I mean really fat. I had to buy jeans from the
fat-jeans store, which, for added humiliation, was conveniently
located right next to Petite Sophisticate at the mall. Fun, yes. We
are an interesting lot, we ex-fat kids, and I think most of us
would have traded our left kneecaps for a spot on “The
Swan,” were it offered at the right moment. I admit, part of
me wants to love this show for vicariously making my longest lost
and most embarrassing dreams come true.

But I don’t. I can’t. It gets worse. Once the ladies
have recovered from their invasive surgical procedures, the
show’s producers will bring in the professional primpers
(whose job it is to make sure the ladies are properly painted and
plucked) and hold a beauty pageant. As a reward, or something, I
think. Even allowing for the fact that some people actually
participate in beauty pageants on purpose, this still feels like an
especially sadistic thing to do to people who have as little
self-esteem as you’d have to have to agree to be on a show
like this in the first place. Hey, congratulations, you’re
not hideous anymore! But most of you, well, you’re still too
ugly to win our beauty contest. Sorry.

The final and perhaps ugliest insult of “The Swan”
is its smarmy reliance on the children’s story of the ugly
“duckling.” Fox’s web site goes so far as to
claim the show “mirrors” the “classic tale of the
ugly duckling that transforms into a beautiful swan.” There
are two glaring problems here. First, the eponymous character in
The Ugly Duckling was not an ugly duckling. It wasn’t a
duckling at all. It was a cygnet — a baby swan — and
secondly, it did not “transform” into anything. It did
not opt for elective cosmetic surgery or a radical wardrobe
makeover. It simply grew up. Surprise.

So, in the immortal words of our man Rod Serling, “Now the
question comes to mind … where is this place and when is it,
what kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty the
deviation from that norm?”

What kind of world, indeed. A lesson to be learned … in
the Train-wreck Zone.

Henretty can be reached at
“mailto:ahenrett@umich.edu”>ahenrett@umich.edu.

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