TLC: The Lowest Common Denominator Channel

7 Oct

So Jim and I were working late last night at the Compound, developing new and exciting ways to make State of Affairs the place to be on the World Wide Web (no, I’m not kidding, and yes, there is some really cool shit coming down the pipe; stay tuned). We were getting a lot done, but Jim is only recently back from South Africa and I think he came down with a touch of typhoid fever while he was there, so he was a little out of sorts – and I haven’t slept a solid night in over a month – so we decided to take a break and turn on the TV for a while.

As usual, that turned out to be a mistake of legendary proportions.

tv sucks

In North America there’s a television station called TLC. Once upon a time, that acronym stood for “The Learning Channel”, but as it turns out, those days are long, long over. I remember back in the day my family would watch programming on TLC because it was informative (go figure) and entertaining. It was a lot like the Discovery Channel or the National Geographic channel; lots of documentaries and “how-it’s-made” shows that appealed to a wide demographic and made up for the sitcom-or-talk-show pabulum that accounted for most of the rest of the available programming in the mid-90s.

tlc logo

Then, towards the end of the 90s and the beginning of the new century, new shows started creeping into their daily lineup. At first it was a logical step forward: the first of the new breed I remember seeing were the earliest of the “how-to” shows: home renovation, cooking, that kind of stuff. I was into it because it was still informative; it still showed me how to do things I didn’t necessarily already know how to do. I watched, rapt, as some dude expertly patched a hole in drywall or installed a sink, and I literally took notes when the cooking lady prepared some kind of elegant-yet-simple pasta-based dish “for any occasion” (even back then I had ladies to impress, you see). So even though TLC was moving away from the straight-up educational programming I’d become accustomed to, I kind of liked the new direction.

trading spacesI lost track of TV for a good long time in the early 2000s, because I was in school and couldn’t afford cable. Rarely if ever would you see me staring at any screen other than that of my desktop PC because I was constantly in a state of balancing essay-writing time and work time, and the off time I did get was spent hunched over my guitar. Writing university English essays is a draining and intellectually damning process, and the last thing I wanted to do when I wasn’t working was try to expand my knowledge of the world, so TLC was off my list.


A few years later I was dating a girl who loved TLC more than life itself – and no, I’m not really exaggerating at all. She sat me down one afternoon for a TV marathon, mostly to keep me away from work for a while, and I relaxed on the couch with a rum and coke, awaiting what would doubtless be a stimulating few hours’ worth of intelligent television.

Yeah. Sure. Believe that and I got some prime beachfront real estate in New Orleans I’d love to sell you.

hurricane katrina

First on the docket was my girlfriend’s favourite show of all time: a reality-esque series called “What Not To Wear” in which some dude and his pointy female cohort are hired by the friends and associates of the fashion-challenged to repair the wardrobes of the subject in question. Said person is ambushed by the hosts and their camera crew and told (on national TV) that, in the opinion of their closest friends and family, their taste in clothing makes them look like an unwashed hobo doubtless infected with one or more social illnesses.

what not to wear 1

What follows is an hour’s worth of public humiliation in which the hosts rifle through the subject’s closet, passing haute-couture judgement on every piece of clothing they come across, turning up their noses and casting off what they deem unfit for public viewing. The subject is even confined to a mirrored changeroom in which he or she is made to put on some of the offending garments for the express purpose of the hosts’ amusement: they gleefully point out how this-or-that pair of pants makes the wearer’s ass look fat, or how their favourite teeshirt is “like, so 1985” et cetera.

what not to wear

The subject is then dragged to a local fashion district where he or she is forced to dress like a middle-class yuppie (thankfully on the show’s credit card); often a makeover, haircut or mani/pedicure is included in this process. All the while the show’s hosts go into spasms of orgasmic delight over every new outfit and accoutrement, waxing poetic on how the change in wardrobe will positively influence the subject’s life.

At the end of the show, the parties responsible for this shaming ritual gather to see the effects of their castigation first-hand. The subject is paraded around like a prized pet and the assembled “friends” gasp and clamour and cheer over the so-called improvements that have been made. The subject is forced to admit the change is for the better, and the hosts traipse off arm-in-arm towards their next unwitting target.

Holy Jesus Tacked-Up Christ on a billboard.

jesus christ

I watched two episodes of this travesty. The first detailed a guy whose girlfriend and family decided he dressed too much like – well, a guy – to be considered appropriate in today’s image-conscious metrosexual paradigm. So they ditched the teeshirts, jeans and ball caps he was used to wearing for tailored shirts, designer slacks and a Ross Gellar haircut that was still all the rage at that time. He wound up leaving the show with an armful of bullshit he was supposed to use from then on – facial exfoliant, hair gel, moisturizers and even a lufa. I didn’t even know what a lufa was before watching this show, and I can confidently say I could have lived the rest of my life in blissful ignorance. This guy went from Average Joe to Metroboy in one fell swoop, and in bearing witness to this pointless emasculation, a little part of me died. It’s one thing if you choose to take that much care in your daily grooming – I’m not passing judgement – but to be told this is the way it must be was a little too much for me.

metrosexualThe second episode was even worse. Now I’ll admit the female subject wasn’t my picture of typical beauty by any stretch: her wardrobe choices consisted of ratty Iggy Pop teeshirts, torn blue jeans and a haircut reminiscent of the feral children of the early 1900s. But she was by far the most happy-go-lucky person I’d ever seen on television. She was genuinely hurt when the hosts showed up and informed her everyone she cared about thought she looked like hammered shit, and as the episode wore on, her depression only deepened. They gave her a video camera to record a daily journal in her hotel room at the end of each gruelling day of shopping, and each night her beer consumption went up another notch. The third day ended with her weeping openly into the camera, proclaiming “this is the first time in my life I’ve ever been self-conscious about my appearance.” I could have reached through the screen and strangled the life out of that skinny-fuck host and his bitchy sidekick.


Needless to say, I’m not dating that particular girlfriend anymore. I was aghast that she could derive so much entertainment from what amounted to a fashion stockade on national TV. It’s one thing if people sign up to make assholes out of themselves on television – I reference “American Idol” as the obvious example – but to be set up for humiliation, to be the butt of a bad joke for the rest of your life through no fault of your own; well, I have to say that’s just about the worst thing ever.

Or at least I would have thought so had I not kept watching TLC.

Let’s go through the gamut, shall we?

Jon & Kate Plus 8

jon and kate

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more disgusting display of Western excess as I have in this show. These people are famous for – what? Taking too many fertility drugs and cranking out eight kids when one would have sufficed? And let me tell you something else – I saw the end of that series coming a mile away. Apparently, the rash of reality television shows that end in tragedy haven’t taught people that putting a camera crew in your home 24 hours a day will bring ruination on your family. Sure enough, Jon and Kate are splitting up amidst a hailstorm of gossip-column speculation. What they’re speculating about is baffling to me: from the few episodes I was subjected to, I was able to glean that a) she’s a mean-spirited bitch, b) he’s a spineless sycophant and c) their kids are all going to grow into completely fucked-up adults. Speculate away: Alex James has discovered the answer. Reality TV sucks .

Table for 12

table for twelve

Jon and Kate with the volume cranked. Why not move the whole show to Utah and see what it really means to have a big family?

18 Kids and Counting

18 and counting

Okay, Arkansas is close enough.

I can just see the network executives sitting around puffing cigars and drinking scotch.

Well, “Jon and Kate” has huge ratings, but now they’re getting divorced. “Table for Twelve” is like “Jon and Kate”, only better because there are four more kids. And now we need another show to fill the prime-time spot. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Eight was good…twelve was better. How about – you ready for this – a family of eighteen?”

I can only assume a self-congratulatory circle-jerk ensued.

board room

Well done, you corporate whores. Not one, not two, but three shows about abnormally-sized families. All airing concurrently. Who’s doing your program planning? Rick Berman?

Little People, Big World

little people big worldYep, it’s exactly what you think it is. Following the exploits of a midget couple and their regular-sized children. Talk about gratuitous pandering and shameless exploitation of the physically disabled (differently abled? What you like, hippie). Plenty of heartfelt moments, most of which involve the trials of not being able to reach things on high shelves. Not to state the obvious, but I really wouldn’t shed a tear if this series got cut a little short.

The Little Couple

the little couple

More of the same: pint-sized newlyweds minus the jumbo order of offspring. Didn’t we say all we needed to say about Little People with the first show? Did we need to tag along for the wee wedding? If I wanted to watch a show about a severely-challenged married couple I’d go stream reruns of that Jessica Simpson disaster. If I didn’t know better I’d say TLC was coming up short on ideas. (Okay, I’ll stop.)

LA Ink

kat von d

I…well, I’d love to castigate this show, but essentially it’s Kat Von D spending her time being heart-breakingly attractive and drawing really amazing shit on the bodies of her clients, all of whom are entertaining for one reason or another, be it endearingly or because they’re dumbasses who think they have a chance with Kat Von D. And I’m learning about tattooing. Yeah. I’m learning about tattooing. This one gets a pass. Because I’m learning. About tattooing. Really.

Throw into this mix a bunch of one-off Lifestyle tear-jerking spotlights on children with horrendously unfortunate physical ailments (“Child Frozen In Time” about a girl who stopped ageing at two or three years, or “Mermaid Girl” about a girl who…well, who looks like a mermaid), and you’ve got yourself a recipe for – at best – mediocre television designed to appeal to walking stereotypes of bored housewives and disenfranchised teenage girls with gossip fetishes (if my ex-girlfriend is any indicator).

cluelessAll of this was enough to set my teeth on edge, as regular readers of this blog would likely figure. But the one that last night, sitting on Jim’s couch, took the proverbial cake – and not just the cake, the entire dessert table – was this fucking travesty of modern television:

Toddlers and Tiaras

toddlers and tiaras

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the bottom of the barrel.

It is my greatest wish that future generations will not somehow discover taped footage of this skidmark on the underwear of contemporary media and judge people like me on its content, because this is exactly what you’re afraid it is. It’s a televised reality show about candidates in a beauty pageant for girls not yet old enough to bleed from anything other than a skinned knee.

baby queen 1

Well, actually, it’s not really a show about these pint-sized future anorexics. If we’re going to be honest, it’s a show about their mothers: those greedy, grasping Kim Catrall clones, with a tarnished May Queen crown rusting away in a display case in the anteroom of their posh mansions in Rosedale, and an undeserved sense of entitlement.

Kim Cattrall

I would explain in greater detail, but I’d rather give you the straight skinny right from the horse’s mouth. Here’s the direct quote from the website’s “about” section:

On any given weekend, on stages across the country, little girls and boys parade around wearing makeup, false eyelashes, spray tans and fake hair to be judged on their beauty, personality and costumes. Toddlers and Tiaras follows families on their quest for sparkly crowns, big titles, and lots of cash.

The preparation is intense as it gets down to the final week before the pageant. From hair and nail appointments, to finishing touches on gowns and suits, to numerous coaching sessions or rehearsals, each child preps for their performance. But once at the pageant, it’s all up to the judges and drama ensues when every parent wants to prove that their child is beautiful.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a sweeping judgement call: these are horrible people. No, seriously. There’s no joke coming. These mothers deserve to be rounded up, locked in a cage, jacked up on diet pills and cosmopolitans, given bladed weapons, and made to fight to the death. Now that would be entertaining.

evil mom

This is the same shit I saw my friends dealing with in grade school. I was in class with a lot of aspiring hockey players (it’s Canada, what do you want?) and of all the guys I knew with aspirations of playing in the NHL, only one of their fathers was a cool guy. He used to tell my friend Shawn (who was a very talented goalie) that if he wanted to play hockey – that was cool. If he wanted to go be an engineer or a plumber or a university professor, that would be cool too. He could do whatever he wanted and his dad would support his decision. The rest of those asshole dads did nothing but pile pressure on their sons in an effort to recapture what glory was once theirs, when they “almost made it to the big leagues” before sustaining some practice injury and being forced to take a desk job for the rest of their miserable lives. It’s called “living vicariously”, and it’s a fucking crime.

hockey dad

These evil mothers are no different. Isn’t it enough that half the teenage girls in this day and age suffer from depression, eating disorders and a whole laundry list of other mental and physical ailments thanks to the pressure our culture puts on them to look just like Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie? You’re going to stuff them into a leotard or some kind of slinky dress, apply makeup with a masonry trowel and make them parade around on a catwalk, competing with other girls to find out who’s prettiest – when they’re five fucking years old?

baby queen 2Oh, it gets better. Here are some of the fun things TLC’s website informed me the “teeny beauty queens” (read: children) use to up the ante and prove they’re the sweetest piece of ass on the playground.

Butt Glue

Oh, where to start. Apparently, this adhesive is used to keep the girls’ swimsuits in place. Will come in extremely handy when they spend the rest of their formative years being harassed by every sexual predator in their area code.

Fake Eyelashes and Nails

You know something? These accessories don’t look good on their hasbeen redneck mothers, and they’re certainly not going to look good on them either.


I’m having trouble getting through this list. What happened to bobs and ponytails? I have a sister, and if she ever got it in her head to start wearing hairpieces at that age (or if my mother ever insinuated it would be a good idea) I’d jack both of them immediately for the good of the race.


From the website (because I didn’t know what the hell these things were):

Contestants use temporary clip-on or snap-in teeth to enhance a crooked smile or cover missing teeth.”

Funny thing about being five; you tend to start losing teeth. That’s, you know, a natural part of childhood. Unlike flippers.


Ostensibly to protect lipstick finish from sippy-cup overflow, they might as well get used to taking their lunches through thin pieces of plastic – that way, the rolled-up twenty dollar bills they’ll use later in life won’t seem so foreign.

Skin Shimmer

I can’t go on. I’m about to have an aneurism.

head exploding

To the mothers of “Toddlers & Tiaras” — do yourselves, your children, and my sanity a favour, and please kindly go lie down in traffic. A grateful nation will thank you.

What kind of culture is TLC promoting here? Girls this age should be, I don’t know, playing with Barbies or something (I don’t really have a frame of reference; my younger sister was far more interested in my Ninja Turtles than her Barbies as a child – she grew up to be an auto mechanic, incidentally. And yes, she has a boyfriend before you go there, you bigots). They certainly shouldn’t be forced to essentially play the dancing monkey for their depraved children and whatever social rejects consider this bullshit “entertainment”.

Like I said at the beginning of this diatribe, I don’t watch an awful lot of television (though Jim and I have both written on the subject before), and the few channels I do watch are still dedicated to providing me quality programming (alternative news, documentaries and Star Trek, typically). I’m very sorry to see TLC sell their collective souls to the highest bidder and start producing this brain-rot fuckery to be consumed like so many Big Macs by the unwashed masses of the Western world.

All I can say is this: when “Trading Spaces” was the high point of your broadcasting history of the last ten years…well, as the internet meme goes, you’re doing it wrong.

Boycott this bullshit. Fuck TLC. Turn off your TV, read a book, quit judging everybody around you, and love your children.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go return this box to the soap factory.

soap box


One of my coworkers at the Compound just sent me a link about TLC’s newest addition to their shit-festival of rock-bottom programming:  MY MONKEY BABY.

I’m tapped folks.  I’m seriously fucking tapped.  I’m going to go drink myself into a defeated stupor and try to forget I ever saw this.

15 Responses to “TLC: The Lowest Common Denominator Channel”

  1. @ashleyomnom October 7, 2009 at 4:13 PM #

    i’m glad you stuck to your guns and didn’t venture into the hogwash that constitutes a reality show on MTV…it might have gotten personal.

  2. dianapoulsen October 7, 2009 at 4:24 PM #

    I agree. The pageant scene in Little Miss Sunshine was enough for me. It profoundly shocked me to watch such young children act in a provocative manner and for other people to find this normal. I am so glad I was only ever dragged to skating, swimming and Brownies (though I loved the latter 2). At least they provide useful skills of not drowning and starting fires. Also, glad that I was not born a Dugger; the idea of being married at 18 to someone my parents chose, that I have not taken for ‘a test drive’, and to start producing babies makes me shutter. Not choosing my future (if you want 18 kids, all power to you) up there with being eaten alive on my list of horrors. TLC is like watching train wreck; admittedly a guilty pleasure.

  3. Canadian Sports Chick October 7, 2009 at 4:33 PM #

    I refuse to go near TLC these days. Toddlers and Tiaras makes me actually sick. Doesn’t anyone remember what happened to poor Jonbenet Ramsey?

  4. Shayla October 7, 2009 at 4:36 PM #

    OMG, that’s DISGUSTING. I hope the “mothers” are putting away any money their children win at those contests to pay for all the future psychiatrist bills.

    But yeah, I totally know what you mean about TLC. I used to love it for the home shows on design and house-hunting, but now it’s seriously just gossip and stupidity. “What Not to Wear” has always turned me off. Who wants to watch a show that breaks nice peoples’ self-esteem while shamelessly promoting that level of consumerism? THIS is why I won’t get cable.

  5. Ryan October 7, 2009 at 4:39 PM #

    Although I’ve never subjected myself to watching an entire episode of any of this nonsense, I’ve seen enough to warrant an alternate view to your argument.

    Consider that TLC is not “promoting” any culture. The same way Marilyn Manson’s music doesn’t necessarily promote suicide. (A separate argument.) Consider that they are merely a broadcasting medium exposing these human horrors for the moral abortions they are. TLC may be a more appropriate acronym for “The Lowest Common Denominator”, but you can’t deny that you didn’t learn SOMETHING from this channel.

  6. Brent Chittenden October 7, 2009 at 4:40 PM #

    Sounds very similar to my rant about how A&E used to stand for Arts and Entertainment.

    Now we get a lot of true crime shows and Steven Segal: Lawman….wait that last show sounds like a train wreck of awesome…um…er…nevermind

  7. skyler hype October 7, 2009 at 4:50 PM #

    aren’t you ‘learning’ about how stupefied our culture is becoming.

  8. the mule October 7, 2009 at 4:52 PM #


  9. Mary Gaboury October 7, 2009 at 7:31 PM #

    Nice article Alex! I just don’t get this kind of entertainment. It would be more interesting going to Tim’s or Husky and listen to the babble there.

  10. maggie October 9, 2009 at 11:48 AM #

    I must admit, I never heard of the show “Toddlers & Tiaras” and I have to agree that it is absolutely disgusting and disturbing that anyone would put their child through such atrocity.

    As for the families being on TV and becoming “famous” for having a large number of children…for some strange reason the “Paris Hilton is famous” phenomenon comes to mind….Paris is famous because well…did we ever really find a reason again?? Oh right…she’s a “Hilton”.

  11. 150cc motor scooter May 2, 2010 at 6:08 AM #

    That was a awesome read,You learn something totally new every day.

  12. Elizabeth James July 2, 2010 at 10:55 PM #

    you’re very wrong about what not to wear. stacy and clinton aren’t there to put other people down, they’re there to build them back up. most of the contestants have been struggling with self-esteem issues and stacy and clinton improved those issues by helping them with makeovers. and it’s not just about clothes, hair, and makeup. stacy and clinton use all of those things to help people become successful or happy with themselves. they’re both terrific people and what not to wear is an inspiring show. your opinion is a little obnoxious.

  13. Alex James July 3, 2010 at 6:33 AM #

    Thanks for your comment Elizabeth; I appreciate where you’re coming from and maybe if I’d had the patience to watch the show beyond the episodes I did I might change my tune, but honestly the episodes I did see really turned me off both hosts and their presentation. Aren’t we always taught “it’s what’s inside that counts”? The whole premise of the show goes against that assertion. Even the name suggests negativity: they could have called it “What TO Wear” but they didn’t, because at the end of the day a big part of the reason people are watching is the same reason they watch the early part of the season on American Idol; that is to say, to watch people look foolish. And therein lies my other issue with the show. If you can’t sing and you decide to enter a karaoke contest anyway, that’s your fault and you deserve the mockery. If all your friends and relatives get together and essentially stage a fashion internvention because they don’t like your choice of tee-shirt or whatever, well, that’s a little different, isn’t it? I mean, can you see where a lot of people might be humiliated to have that happen on national television? I know I would. To me, I don’t think they’re necessarily helping people become happy with themselves: they’re just continuing to promote the capitalistic fallacy that you *do* need makeup and particular clothes and a certain haircut in order to be happy. I’ve never believed that, personally.
    Thanks for reading, just wanted to address your comment.

  14. Elizabeth James July 4, 2010 at 1:43 AM #

    i also respect your opinion, thank you for writing back. to address your point about American Idol and the mockery, you have a point, contestants on what not to wear are being ambushed. but they do have a choice to go on the show or not. generally, most contestants have seen the show before being ambushed, so they know their clothes are going to be made fun of. if they didn’t want to be in that situation, they wouldn’t have said yes to the show, nor would they be laughing along with stacy and clinton’s comments.

  15. Elizabeth James July 4, 2010 at 1:48 AM #

    also, stacy and clinton didn’t choose the title of the show or any of the contestants. both stacy and clinton are terrific, kind, giving people, and i know you don’t like the show’s message/concept, but stacy and clinton shouldn’t be degraded for that.

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