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Reality Mattresses: On-Airing the Dirty Laundry 

Tuesday, Aug 12 2014
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Reality shows that take place in hotels have three degrees of fearless falsity. This means that Gordon Ramsay's Hotel Hell is the triumvirate of fake. It's a hologram reproduction of something that actually happened, based on a place that pretends to be something it's not, all broken down into zeros and ones and then re-spewn in a television broadcast. This is probably why people hate reality TV: It's TV-ier than real TV... an extra layer of BS.

I, however, love bullshit. Surrender to reality TV. Life will be better.

Which brings me to the premise of Hotel Hell, one of my favorite shows. It's based on the same concept that Gordon ran with in the now-cancelled Kitchen Nightmares, where he showed up to failing restaurants, bitch-slapped the dysfunctional family that inevitably ran the place, and redid the decor and menu. Shit always looked mighty helpless before he intervened (canned salmon? Noooooo!) and the last five minutes always reveal a marriage reinvigorated, a son and father business team no longer plagued by alcoholism, a kitchen that runs smoothly, and whatever the visual representation of Pharrell's "Happy" might look like. The schtick started to get old, and perhaps that's why he has said goodbye to the franchise. I can't really explain why Hotel Hell basically does the exact same thing but feels fresh. Whatever neural pathways FOX has forged in my brain are behaving in obedient lockstep.

Instead of Kitchen's roach-infested walk-in coolers, with Hotel Hell we have sperm-strewn lampshades and waivers that guests have to sign upon check-in. Ramsay knows a bit about how hotels operate because he's on a show in England called Hotel GB (available on YouTube). He and another host take a handful of young adults who have no jobs and on real prospects and mentor them in hospitality management. Not that you need a degree in that stuff to tell struggling innkeepers to keep the rooms clean, don't have loud bands play until 2 a.m., and don't cuss out your patrons when they complain. Trade secrets, revealed!

Something about all the postmodern layers of meaning and representation that this show offers really gets my neurons firing. Drop some DMT and consider the following: This type of show is called "reality," but we all know that editing, scripting, and forced conflict run rampant. If Dracula is "undead," then reality TV is "unreal." Second, it takes place in a fake home environment, the room at the inn made to replicate a cozy bedroom you probably wish you had in your own house. Hotels are like a Disneyland ride called Housetopia, where you get jettisoned through 24 hours or more of animatronic bellhops, front desk people, room service, and showers with optimal water pressure. Finally we have our host, Ramsay, who tears down the fourth wall by turning to the camera and giving commentary. We are watching the action, but he is pulling himself out of it to address us.

We are special.

Finally — and let's face it, this is why reality TV is so popular — the show is full of total idiots that make us feel enlightened and smart. Not only that, but Gordon will rip into them and tell them what we are all thinking: "You have your head so far up your arse..." or the old standby, "Get real." On top of all of that, these people usually have lots of money that they are throwing into a giant chasm of lost revenue on a monthly basis. You might sit there struggling to pay your PG&E bill and this dipshit has $7 million that he is slowly chipping away at because he doesn't seem to get it that people don't want to hear the proprietress do her Cher impersonation every night in the dining room (from an actual episode). If you don't end an episode of this show thinking, You're dumb, I'm smart, then, well, maybe you are dumb. It has also given me the false notion that I could run my own B&B. Surely that's an editing trick designed to make everything look easier than it actually is.

I do have one complaint. Every single episode either has Gordon naked in the shower or a tub, or in his Speedos getting ready to dip a toe in the green algae of the swimming pool. I love the guy, but let's stop trying to pretend he's a sex symbol. He's a well-respected asshole, not Javier Bardem. Get real.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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