There are some things that are hard to admit:
· I have bi-monthly dreams about two of my ex-boyfriends, though not the ex-boyfriends anyone would expect still have the power to haunt my often-frazzled dream state.
· I have left items in my refrigerator for so long that they have morphed and evolved into being part of an entirely different species from that which they started. It’s probably best not to spend too much time explaining what can become of a spinach quiche, but trust me: there’s an excellent chance that a past-its-expiration-date dairy and vegetable combination might be responsible for the eventual takedown of our planet.
· I sometimes spend entire days, from sunrise to sunset, not leaving the couch other than to take Wookie for a stroll. And it’s not like I’m reclining on the couch reading Proust; I’m watching marathons of The Real Housewives. (To my credit, I only watch the women from New York or Beverly Hills as they devolve into beings without a shred of regard for what their media presence will do to their offspring. I mean, I do have standards – and, in this case, that means I won’t watch the Jersey lunatics shriek or the Atlanta shrews lunge at one another. You know – standards.)
· I take too much Tylenol PM even though I know it’s bad for me and I haven’t slept naturally for more than a few days at a time in years.
· I genuinely believed it was my fault that Hostess went out of business since I had embarked on a healthy eating kick right before the company’s devastating announcement. And just recently, when I saw the glorious sight of pink Sno Balls reappear on the shelf at 7-11, I jumped up and down with gleeful abandon, not even slightly caring what the people on line purchasing Powerball tickets and Marlboro Reds thought of me. Then I bought two packages. And I ate both within the hour.
But all of those revelations pale in comparison to this: I own all of Tori Spelling’s books. I have watched every single one of her reality shows. And when friends call me while it’s on, I either ignore the call or pick up and pretend to have been watching something less objectionable, which could be anything from My Cat From Hell to Mob Wives.
I think I'd be more comfortable displaying hardcore porn on my bookshelves than Spelling’s books – at least then I could blame a latex fetish instead of having to admit to embracing moments of such lowbrow taste. But I do have her books. Sure, you'd have to search for them; they’re hidden behind the row that includes more refined fare like the works of Thomas Pynchon and John Updike and the behemoth that is Infinite Jest and feminist volumes about viewer identification in modern horror. It’s only here – only right now – that I am attempting to embrace my Spelling Shame. And if that disorder has yet to be patented, I call fucking shotgun.
Let’s backtrack. I watched 90210 in high school and in college. It was big-deal programming. I remember what I was wearing the night Brenda Walsh lost her virginity at the prom. (Denim cutoffs and a v-neck tee embroidered with little flowers.) I remember what Brenda was wearing before she got naked too, and I still maintain that Kelly Taylor was a total bitch for buying the same dress after disparaging it so viciously in the store, though I also think that Kelly looked way better in it. But even then, fashion politics aside, something was clear to me as a fifteen year old viewer: Tori Spelling had been hired because it was her father’s show. And while I reserved the bulk of my hatred for Shannen Doherty’s weirdly lopsided eyes, I pretty much thought Spelling was a joke.
When reruns of the show began to air a decade later on a now-defunct channel called Soap Net, I again marveled at the hideous shades of hair Tori Spelling rocked during her time as Donna Martin, Queen of the Scantily Clad Virgins. I'm still torn between which was worse: the auburn helmet style or the blonde pixie cut made even more tragic by being accessorized with plastic baby barrettes. I can’t decide, and I think my uncertainty exists to somewhat shroud my embarrassment that, while I might have had better hair, I wore a lot of the same terrible outfits as the characters on the show. Baby tees? Had them in every color, including beige. Bunchy white socks with combat boots and babydoll dresses? I wore that outfit with pride, and I’d fling on a tiny black Prada backpack to complete the ensemble – and I was sure I had never looked better.
The 90s were a confusing time…
But bad hair and questionable style aside, there's little I enjoy more than a dishy memoir on a rain-soaked winter day, and when I heard Tori Spelling had penned one – likely with the aid of a ghostwriter – and that it would include gossip about the show I'd loved, I knew I was a guaranteed sale.
The stories did not disappoint. Did you know that Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty almost had a fistfight in a parking lot once? Did you know that Ian Ziering called Doherty a cunt when she kept showing up late for her call time? Did you know that Spelling’s mom told her she’d be pretty – once she had her nose fixed? You did not. And isn’t life better now that someone else’s memories inhabit the crowded recesses of your mind? Wait – your life’s not better? We probably won’t be friends then.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me as I read her book was that I found Tori Spelling kind of likable. She seemed good-natured and zany and rather self-aware. I mean, I giggled every time she talked about the craft of acting, but I found her fun. Okay, so I didn’t tell anyone I had become a fan, but it hardly seemed necessary information to share. It was one book, one time. It was like when I hooked up with that guitar player. Only happened once (fine, twice – okay, but definitely not more than three times), and again, information hardly worth mentioning.
But then Tori Spelling came out with a reality show starring her incredibly pregnant self, her constantly-wearing-a-pink-satin-dress pug, and the man who had recently left his wife and his child to marry Tori.
And I watched it.
And it was silly, frothy fun.
And I thought, “She’s kind of cool. I’d be friends with her!”
And her PR rep hopefully earned herself a nice raise for turning a certified homewrecker into basic cable’s newest domestic goddess.
It was a new time in entertainment and there were lots of channels to fill with programming. Spelling struck while the post-affair attention shined down like a camera’s flash upon her, and her life became her career. After the success of the show’s first season, it was renewed. More seasons followed; I think there were six in all. I watched Tori open a bed and breakfast and eventually close it. I watched her gain pregnancy weight only to lose it later in the season in a spectacular fashion. I watched her decorate homes and throw fabulously chic parties that ended with the reveal of the most amazing dessert tables I had ever seen. This girl might not be able to act her way out of a paper bag, but she could attach rhinestones and glitter glue to that bag and turn it into the most glorious craft you have ever seen. Creatively, this chick’s got skills.
Another book was released, and then another. It seemed one came out every other year. I never checked out the page numbers inside, but it felt like each memoir got shorter and shorter. Maybe there wasn’t that much to say anymore. I kept buying them, though. I would read them in less than a day. It felt simply like a harmless, light escapism.
A lot of what she wrote about had to do with her marriage to this burly guy named Dean, who was apparently an actor, though I didn’t recognize his name or his face. As the show aired and the books continued to be published, he racked up a few credits in TV movies with titles like Santa Baby 2. (How had I possibly missed Santa Baby 1?) Yeah – he had that kind of middling success, but he seemed like a nice guy and their relationship was affectionate and it seemed real to a judgmental viewer like myself. The only thing that kind of icked me out were the constant sexual comments he made to his wife. Look, I’m all about verbal filth, but dude, cameras are on you and you have kids and you’re one of the producers of the show. We get it – you enjoy banging your wife. Stop trying to look cool by wearing your virility like a condom in size huge.
After a few years, the reality show wound to a close, which I guess is somewhat inevitable. (I’m not sure what will be the tipping point that finally makes all things Kardashian disappear into the waiting abyss, but I pray to several deities daily for it to just happen already.) Spelling’s last book included anecdotes about how the executives at Oxygen had simply and rather insensitively cut the show loose. Now she was worried about an income. She couldn’t afford a new house. And her kids missed the cameras. That last one caused me to laugh out loud.
Then, around Christmas, US Weekly gleefully announced that Dean had cheated on Tori. It was on the cover: Tori was betrayed! Dean’s a sex addict! She had thrown him out! And the woman he had slept with had the last name of “Goodhand.” It could only have been better if her last name was “Rimjob.”
There were no expected public denials, no craftily released statements by a harried representative. In photos, Tori began to look more emaciated than usual. It seemed the rumors were true.
After reading and watching what felt like every moment of this woman’s life, I felt weirdly invested in her happiness. I didn’t share the common sentiment that since she and Dean had both cheated on their former spouses, she was deserving of his infidelity. They had been married for a long time. They had kids. I had experienced in my life how cheating can almost destroy all that you are. I hoped Tori would be able to find peace, and I figured that I’d eventually read about what had really gone down in her next book, which I would secretly purchase from Amazon.
Turns out there would be no need to wait. A press release was brandished on every entertainment website: Tori Spelling was filming a new reality show in almost real-time that explored her life as it was crumbling down around her. Two cameras would follow her as she tried to figure out if she could put her marriage back together. The cameras would be granted access to Dean’s rehab center, where it appeared he was getting treatment for some kind of addiction. The kids and their devastation about missing their absent father would be a major plot point.
Now listen: I can forgive a lot when it comes to reality television and its participants. I’ve read the contract potential contestants on Survivor must sign that explains that the network is not liable for contestants being maimed or killed. I realize that most people who aspire to be Real Housewives have either an undiagnosed psychological disorder or a book they want to sell, a gym they are desperate to promote, or a toaster oven to market. (Speaking of the toaster: really, Sonja from New York? A toaster oven is not going to rescue you from financial ruin or make your mortified daughter ever speak to you once she finally reaches her twenties.) I don’t completely begrudge people embracing opportunities, even if they are ones I wouldn’t take. But when did being cheated on become a career opportunity?
“I need to get my voice back,” Tori explained in a way I’m certain was supposed to read as brave in the opening moments of the first episode of True Tori.
You’ve written memoir after memoir, I shouted at the television. We’ve heard your voice!
“What have I done to deserve this?” Tori wailed to a friend at the end of the episode.
You fucked a married man, I knew thousands were shrieking in living rooms across this great nation.
“There is a clusterfuck of paparazzi,” Tori grumbled, pulling into the rehab center where she was to be reunited with her bloated, philandering soulmate.
Could it be your camera crew and the lighting equipment that alerted them of your presence? I thought to myself.
“The last time we were on time for school was back in December,” said Tori in a sequence filmed in her kitchen in early April.
That’s fucking ridiculous, I muttered, and I’m pretty sure that Wookie picking up her head from the pillow at that exact moment indicated that my dog fully agreed with me.
Here’s the thing: I’ve read all her books. I know she has a live-in nanny. I know the nanny’s name and what she looks like. I would recognize her in a crowd. I wish I did not know those things – much like I wish I had never seen Human Centipede – but I do. Once you’ve put your life into the public eye, you can’t completely change the story. You can’t start acting like it’s just you and your tragic clavicle attempting to get your family out the door in the morning. You’ve already told a markedly different story and you’ve marketed it as truth.
Watching the therapy sessions between Tori and Dean where he claimed to be a suicidal-cheating-sexually-insatiable-addict-and-alcoholic made me feel gross, so during the second episode, I fast- forwarded though them and instead watched Tori take two of her kids to a party supply store. Like I said, this girl throws insane theme parties, so I was excited to see what she’d do when the theme might as well have been "Springtime Marital Crisis" with a color scheme of lemon yellow and lime green. But what they were actually there for was stuff for her seven year old’s birthday, and watching this child have a full meltdown in a store in front of a camera that never stopped aiming at his face to make sure every viewer at home saw this child’s psyche being destroyed in close-up was it for me. You want your voice? Fine. I’m not sure why it must be recorded on a high-definition camera and by a boom mic, but fine. You’re an adult; it’s your choice. But to follow your children with cameras at a moment in their lives when they sense the altered home environment is due to something gigantic and real and upsetting? It’s amazing, but I think a line, finally, has been crossed.
I know there are all kinds of theories that this cheating scandal was devised to get Tori and Dean back on television, and there are some compelling arguments that might support the idea. Jezebel lays out some facts worth questioning on their site, and I read it. I don’t believe the story has been fully manufactured; I don’t think Tori Spelling is a good enough actress to fake this utter misery. I could be wrong. I almost hope she’s faking it, because anyone who would choose to project personal humiliation and the evident confusion of her children should be studied – and not by the kind of psychologist who is willing to sign a release to appear on this trash after already making a star-turning appearance on the Gene Simmons reality show.
The silly escapism I achieved by reading books written by a girl who grew up with a gift-wrapping room in her mansion and eventually became a seemingly down-to-earth woman who excels at interior design has ended for me. I will not buy any more of her books. I will not watch another episode of her reality show. I will not stare as she loses more and more weight. I will not pretend that real or constructed human devastation makes for compelling reality television.
The show is a total downer. The participants are genuinely fucked up. The situation Tori Spelling actually wants us to watch her deal with got progressively worse and worse over those first two episodes. When your husband tells you he is an alcoholic and a drug user and he slept with someone random because the sex life you have after shooting out four kids in about five minutes isn’t satisfying to an insatiable D-lister like himself, you should put on a pair of stylish Nikes and run for the fucking hills.
The promos on Lifetime show her quietly saying, “I don’t know if this will have a happy ending.”
I’m willing to bet my now-vintage mini Prada backpack that she takes this douchebag back, and the solemn instrumental score I know will be used in the televised moment already makes me queasy.
I guess when it comes to delving into the bottom of the reality television barrel, I’ve finally hit my limit.