"The recent wave of reality programming about mad consumption … feels downright unseemly as investment banks are dissolving, and unemployment stands at more than 6 percent. … The timing couldn't be nuttier."
—The New York Times, "A Stylist Devoted to Making Idleness Look Chic," Sept. 15, 2008
"The people who have conquered the world now have only two interests — bread and circuses."
— Juvenal, Satires, second century A.D.
Oh, silly New York Times. Nutty? The timing couldn't be righter! When times are tough, what do Americans do best? We toss aside our bank statements, notch in our belts a little tighter and look for a way, any way, to escape reality. In the 1930s, moviehouses did a bang-up business in films depicting the fabulously wealthy. Today, rather than ignore reality completely, we choose to watch other people's reality: 16-year-olds getting $100,000 Mercedes convertibles on My Super Sweet 16; five-figures-in-15-minutes fur-buying frenzies on The Rachel Zoe Project; The Real Housewives of Atlanta and their $1,200 Vuitton handbag—shaped cakes.
This holiday season I'll be taking a stay- cation, yes, but rather than hiding under the comforter with a bottle of discount vodka, I'll be on the couch with my feet propped up on a slippery stack of imported fashion glossies (priced in lire, euros, pounds and yen). Here's my Christmas list of shows I wish I could watch — call it a pitch list for the Cockeyed Optimist Channel. Each of these might cost between $700,000 and $700 billion (that number rings a bell …) to produce, but for the viewer, the cost is minimal: a cable subscription (Bright House, $33-$125 per month) and plenty of ass time (paid vacation time, and lucky to have it). Air kisses!
Platinum-plated Iron Chef: Contestants must prepare five to eight dishes in one hour, using a mystery ingredient from a list of luxury foodstuffs like caviar, Kobe beef, foie gras, baby skin, cheetah steaks or arugula.
My Super Sweet 6: Affluenza-infected parents want to give their darlings the very best — meaning not just a diamond-encrusted animatronic Elmo Live, but also a diamond-encrusted box, since that's what they'll play with anyway.
Top Hat Design: Skilled designers compete to create the most over-the-top rooms imaginable. Challenges include "Redecorate the Dictator's Palace," "Endangered-Animal Wallpaper" and "Roman Villa Vomitorium." Hosted by Donatella Versace and the Monopoly guy.
Jon & Kate Plus $800 Billion: Wacky Fed chairman Henry Paulson decides to give the banking bailout (and then some!) to the Gosselin parents, who must choose whether to give the money to ailing financial institutions or gold-plate their children.
Duck Soup: Like E!'s seminal Talk Soup, which collected the week's best chat-show moments, Duck Soup will focus on the madcap moments of socialites, billionaires and moguls. Hosted by the ghost of Groucho Marx.
Clean for a Day: Switching gears from naked envy to schadenfreude, this moving and emotional game show offers sidewalk derelicts the chance at a shower, fresh clothes and laundered sheets. Audience applause decides which contestant's tale of rock bottom is most squalid and therefore most deserving of the hygienic reward.
My Man Kanye: It's a scavenger hunt! In a 21st-century update of My Man Godfrey, contestants race to find all the items on the list, including a goat, a bowl of Japanese goldfish and a "forgotten man" — tragically, there's only so much of Kanye West to go around, but any dropout will do.
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