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Can Someone Explain the Damaged Psychology Behind the Content and Success of the TLC Channel?

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | June 7, 2012 | Comments ()


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When early summer rolls around, in between Sundays -- where most of the good television resides during the summer -- you start to notice shows that have only existed on the periphery of your mind, shows that don't really register as real, just figments of someone else's warped imagination. Shows like "Toddlers and Tiaras," a show in which some hick toddler from backwoods Georgia who drinks Mt. Dew and goes by the name Honey Boo Boo who is getting her own spin-off, as though to reward her parents for being awful.

TLC is also the home of "Kate Plus 8," and "19 Kids and Counting," two more shows that reward bad parents for being bad parents. I saw an interview the other day in which the Kate from "Kate Plus 8" was kvetching about the fact that her show is no longer on the air. She's looking for a new show because, as she said, the kids really miss the cameras. Do they really? Or does Kate miss the money and attention?

There are also two shows that exploit little people, and another, "Strange Addiction," that mines the freak mental illnesses of others: One guy is obsessed with pulling hair out of shower drains, one dude likes to eat glass, another lady bathes in bleach, and there are people who have eating fetishes: Rocks, toilet paper, cigarette ashes. One dude even likes to fuck his car. "My Crazy Obsession" is basically the same show, only the mental disorders are more amusing than harmful: A million dollar obsession with Cabbage Patch Dolls or an overweight adult who will only eat baby food while wearing a onesie in a adult high chair by a woman wearing high heels. It's scintillating stuff, folks.

Then there's "My Big American Gypsy Wedding," which this very week will feature the marriage of first cousins because, as one bridesmaid noted, "'Our family believes in incest." Well, of course it does, otherwise why would TLC give them $50 and a standard release allowing the channel to document their their bad choices for the entertainment of others.

Jesus Christ, where are we? This stuff is worse than what was portended in Idiocracy. "Ow My Balls," is like goddamn Shakespeare compared to the woman that eats the contents of ash trays. Indeed, there's a misleading euphemistic quality to TLC's tagline: "Family, Home, Style, and Cooking." What they mean is: Dysfunctional families with too many members; Homes filled with drugs or two tons of trash; the style of a Gypsy who wears a Christmas tree top on her head and a fur coat to marry her cousin; and Cooking? Well, there's Cake Boss and DC Cupcakes, which glorify calories, I guess.

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I will never understand why is is that politicians will attack the rights of gays to marry, will decry fictional violence in film, and go apoplectic if someone shows a tit on television, but won't say shit about the TLC Channel, which not only exploits those with mental disease, it celebrates dysfunction and rewards shitty parenting. Where's Mike Huckabee on this?

Yet, I do know that reasonable people with reasonable levels of intelligence also watch TLC, although the reasons aren't exactly clear. Morbid curiosity perhaps? Because we like to wallow in others' despair? Or because we get a kick out of mocking freak-shows, fuck-ups, and the miserable? Having grown up in an environment not unlike that of a TLC program, I will never understand the appeal. Frankly, most of the people on these shows are suffering in a very permanent kind of way, and in most cases, they will pass that suffering down to the next generation. I think there's some damaged psychology on all sides of the equation: The producers, the participants, and the viewers. I'm not suggesting that the channel be pulled or that people stop finding escape in others' hardships, but I am troubled by it, except for the virgin show, because that's just harmless weirdness.



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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Lobo698

    When the Duggers grabbed their camera phones when their son fell, showed me just how much this family has sold out to TLC. They didn't even know if the boy was seriously hurt or even DEAD. Michelle said "So naturally, we grabbed our cameras". really? My kid takes a fall that bad, the LAST thing I would think of is my camera. The thing that drove me over the edge with the Duggers? Using your deceased child as a show plot of the week. Sickening. Kate Gosselin is STILL begging for a show. She really thinks she has some talent of some kind. Her kids are older not the cute stage any longer. GLAD that horrible woman is off TV. Good article. TLC lost me with the Duggers and I was barely hanging on, because they wouldn't get rid of Kate.

  • Sea World has a seafood restaurant called Fins. True story.

  • When Music Television makes it's money not playing music, the History Channel is making up the past as it goes along and Animal Planet airs shows that kill animals, I think we're beyond griping about the Learning Channel not teaching anything but hollow unintentionally ironic entertainment.

  • twocharacters

    I think the 'C' in TLC stands for circus.  Right?

  • Mr Lich

    Well, freak shows and circuses went extinct while demand for them didn't. Something had to take their place.

  • RhymesWithSilver

    I cannot explain why I watch "Hoarders" and "Intervention". I need an Intervention Intervention. But those shows are actually instructional in a way; you see the kinds of trauma that drive people over the edge into those behaviors, and I imagine they've given at least one person a moment of pause. "Hmm...I've had a rough year, and now the amount of crap in my house is beginning to remind me of something. Waaaiiit...uh oh..." {calls therapist}

  • Bodhi

    I work at a hotel frequented by American gypsy families. Some of them are ok, a few are really nice, but moist of them are fucked up redneck trash from hell. My jaw pretty much hit the floor when I figured out that they are gypsies.

  • Bodhi

     Yeah, um, most not moist.

    Must.Remember.To.Proofread.

  • I try to catch "What Not to Wear".  I really miss those days of back-to-back episodes of "Trading Spaces" and "While You Were Out", those were some good shows.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Why is that poor girl wearing the mask from the "Saw" movies?

  • Lisa Bee

    All those shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, and Dance Moms and such are parading around these parents that have decided their children's entire lives for them. The children basically had no choice and have everything run for them, yet people still wonder and complain about how the upcoming generation is too dependant. How about you look at your parenting and the parenting that is being celebrated in these shows?

  • bleujayone

    A short time ago, humankind observed the milestone (?) of reaching a current living population at 7 billion people.  There has been a debate for quite some time before that as to whether or not the Earth has been overpopulated and if it can sustain such numbers.  Many an author of fiction has come up with fantastic scenarios in which the world tried to come up with methods of population control and reduction (culling?).  The problem always seemed to be that the method of selecting those that needed to go seemed to be either too broad and risked eliminating people desirable for survival and reproduction or  risked removing a vital keystone idiot needed for a seemingly mundane task that was in truth paramount for all.

    And then we have TLC.  If "The Learning Channel" is still a legitimate handle it's that I've learned that there are some people whose removal from the human equation would improve the overall sum. Sadly, there are far more "reality" based shows being presented on other networks too that prove that not only are there many unworthy members of the human race willing to showcase themselves but that there are so many other numbers who are equally guilty of such uselessness without a camera crew following them. Some are useless. Some are evil. Many are both. All need to go.

    I find it almost internally alarming when I can visually picture a better world without a large number of intellectually lethargic people in it. It isn't just that they are devoid of intellect, common sense and humanity but they are also overpowered with a sence of ignorace and want that make them a drain on society and a hurdle for the rest of us to overcome. A good portion of those people featured on these shows AND those that perpetuate their existence should actually be the first ones rounded up and eliminated. I figure most of these people's absences would improve the world at large and not to mention the broadcast schedule in general.

    Of course we cannot just forcibly rip them out of their homes in the middle of the night. So I propose a method in which we have them voluntarily lemming off the cliffs.  How? Well that's easy. The reality show to end all reality shows where we have everyone compete for the ultimate unknown "awesome" prize. Those that are eliminated are gleefully sent out the exit stage left door for their parting gift only to blunder into an abyss never to be heard from again.

    The real secret is that the show NEVER ends.

  • comma

     You're right, we could really use more wars and famine.

    No, seriously.

  • Craig

    And senses of humor...

  • dizzylucy

    I can't even get to the other stuff.  I have psychological damage just from that first photo.  Pink sparkles of doom.

  • falcor

    I have checked out Toddlers & Tiaras and Hoarders simply out of curiosity.    T&T made me so angry I had to stop watching.   I mean, I was stabby.   Hoarders, on the other hand, I watched all the way through because I kept hoping against hope that things were going to work out with the hoarder and instead they kind of just stalled.   I was massively depressed afterward.   No one should watch these shows, expect for What Not To Wear, because it's awesome.

    Oh, and Cake Boss has to be the STUPIDEST, most POINTLESS show EVER.   I hate all cake/cupcake shows.   I mean, really, why is any of that interesting?   There never needs to be that much drama surrounding baked goods.

  • $27019454

    Not enough dope in the world for me to watch that first kiss video. Nuh-uh. Nagonnadoit.

  • e jerry powell

    Well, it's crap of this variety or back to 15 hours a day of home makeover shows adapted from British originals...

  • Edith

    I don't watch it, I find it revolting. BUT I will say that simply knowing of the existence of "Hoarders" makes me feel better about how long it's been since I mopped the kitchen.

  • hapl0

    That's how you celebrate your first kiss? *shakes head*

  •  This actually, literally made me feel nauseous. I had to stop eating my sandwich.

    See, I watched a couple of episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras. It was kind of fascinating in a horrible way. But then a few episodes were more than enough. The thrill of horrible just wore off for me. I've never been able to sit through "Hoarders" or "Intervention". It's just too much.

    I get the momentary fascination. I don't get the lasting obsession. At all.

    But I THINK people have always had a sick (but I think, understandable) fascination for the bizarre and fucked up stories. Stuff that you can't believe is real. Before, you could read about it, or watch it in movies like "Seven" or "Silence of the Lambs". Now they can watch the less-bloody versions on TV every night. And just get the thrill of being horrified.

    Someone up there mentioned circus freakshows. This is the same. Only more easily accesible.

  • Jezzer

    I'm surprised the virgin couple's First Kiss wasn't followed immediately by the First Ejaculation.

  • Ginger

    It's all ambulance chasing...sometimes literally.

  • TheEmpress

    Well, the guy in an intimate relationship with his car was only a freak because his car was also male, right?

  • Johnnyseattle

    My theory is that TLC got bought out by the National Enquirer to prove to us that all those covers we laughed at when we were kids weren't so fucking far-fetched after all.

  • Green Lantern

    TLC = The Litter Channel

    I believe if we were to put a halt to this type of reality programming, our national IQ would jump nearly 10 points.

  • Green Lantern

    Actually "Ow My Balls" is already on.  It's called "Ridiculousness" and makes about as much sense.

  • BWeaves

    Holy shit, who kisses like that?  Gross.  That's how little kids kiss who are imitating their parents "eating them up."  

  • dahlia6

    Here's why politicians don't go after these people. They vote. They vote for the crazy, balls-out stupidity that politicians thrive on. Face it, if it weren't for morons, most of the jackasses in Congress wouldn't even have found their way out of their own hicktown hellhole. Like meets like, and creates a swirling vortex of pain and misery for everyone else.

    Overly bitchy? Perhaps, but I'm dieting. Get off my back. I'd eat your face off for the calories right now.

  • LL

    Women. Sad, sad women with no lives of their own, who think that watching people even more fucked-up than they are is entertainment. 

    If it makes you feel better, these shows do not get giant ratings, even by cable standards. In fact, last year, TLC's viewership (ages 18-49)  went down by 4% (by contrast, FX audience went up 21%). TLC has barely 500,000 viewers. In a country of 315 million, that's not very good. 

    The channels that make these things do it because they're cheap to produce. But I can't imagine that they make much money off of them, and the opportunity for syndication seems pretty small. But I'm guessing they don't care. They figure if a show starts to tank, they'll "create buzz" with another thrown-together piece of crap that showcases another disturbing slice of American society. 

    I also watch "What Not To Wear." It's still awesome. I don't know why it hasn't moved to Bravo or some other slightly better channel. Maybe TLC makes tons of money off of it. It's the only TLC show I watch. The rest is utter shit. 

  • Edith

    Is there a reason you think the viewership is "sad women" as opposed to "sick men"? 

  • TheAggroCraig

    Sick men watch Spike TV.

  • Slash

    This. Only the men are sad, too. 

    TLC's viewers are 66% female. According to the one source I have. 

  • John

    They might not get giant ratings by traditional means, but they certainly get a lot of buzz. Jon and Kate got millions of viewers with the demise of their marriage, so someone is watching. Once you get used to watching, you probably don't stop.

  • Cody M.

    I remember when TLC had shows that made you, you know, learn stuff.  It was pretty cool, but as Reba mentioned, apparently no one watched them. I remember that channel being a true source of wonderment in my early teen years, especially when stuff about the human body came on. Whoo-boy, that close-up shot of a woman's nipple as she was getting aroused was... magical.

  • MurderBot

    I think this'll all sort itself out in time. Once they start broadcasting "Hard Target:Live"  the number of freaks should begin thinning out considerably. There doesn't seem to be many Van Damme's  amongst them!

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    I can answer your question with math, Dustin.  It's something that they started teaching in grade four upon being introduced to fractions and it's known as the lowest common denominator. You want to make that fucking fraction as simple as possible so that all the people that are scared of big, complex numbers feel comfortable and safe as your skull-fucking the last remnants of intelligence out of them through the gelatinous puddle of what remains of their eyeballs.

  • Sassafrass Green

    Here's my read on that situation: if you're putting off even your first kiss till your wedding day, then there's some serious underlying issues and fears going on. I have complicated feelings about sex (it's likely we all do to some degree), but I feel like if you've dated that long with no physical intimacy beyond cuddling, there's something going on. Like not just a fear of sex, but maybe a fear of physicality. 

    I could be totally glib and wrong about it, but it's for that reason that I watched that clip with some mild gross feelings. 

  • AngelenoEwok

    A lot of people I knew had that mindset in our teen years.  I had friends that legit believed that if your hands so much as brushed together in the popcorn bucket, it opened the door to all kinds of depraved kinky fornication.  I think some of it had to do with being raised in conservative religious homes, but we were also children of the 80's and 90's, so fear of AIDS and teen pregnancy was huge. 

  • $27019454

     " if your hands so much as brushed together in the popcorn bucket, it opened the door to all kinds of depraved kinky fornication"

    I'm into butter, too!

  • AngelenoEwok

    Aw man, now I'm having flashbacks to Last Tango In Paris.  Not exactly ideal for bost lunch break contemplation. 

  • Bert

    This has been another Great Moments in Christian Hookup History.

  • TheAggroCraig

    "
    One dude even likes to fuck his car. "

    Does he have a Mercury Mistress?

  • randomhookup

    He was quite disappointed to learn that the Swedish cars were actually called "Volvos".

  • comma

    The sideshow/freak show was always one of the more popular parts of the traveling circus, wasn't it? And the circus doesn't come around much anymore, except on TV. Inevitably TLC will have some guy biting the heads off chickens every week. It is the Way.

    And what evidence do you present that the Duggars are bad parents? Are their kids going hungry? Are they neglected or abused? Did they turn the kids into vicious ax murderers? Or do they just have oddly different religious beliefs from you, like the Amish or the Mormons?

  • Jezzer

    "Oddly different" is one thing.  Brainwashing and homeschooling your children into believing that a woman's only purpose is to serve her husband's every need and pop out as many kids as possible is another.  Mrs. is basically slowly killing herself via reproduction just for her husband's vanity, and the children are being kept so sheltered from the world that they have absolutely no chance of becoming anything but smiley, thoughtless baby factories.

  • John

    They're not that sheltered. Other family members do not have the same beliefs as them and yet they still interact with those family members. They're not a cult. I think it's gross and disgusting, but those are both the husband and wife's beliefs. Not only that, but the family traveled around campaigning for Huckabee. Traveling around the US and meeting different groups of people can't be that sheltered, not matter if you agree or disagree with his politics.

  • Jezzer

    If you're traveling around the world and only meeting fellow Huckabee supporters, that still counts as sheltered.  You're not going to find a lot of dissenting opinions in Wingnut Central.

  • jenn

    Point is, they're simply people you disagree with.  You'e not going to find a lot of dissenting opinions in Berkeley either; that doesn't make it an inherently bad place.  The Duggars are strange, sure, but they do travel, they meet other people, and they don't shun or cut out people who disagree with them.  They're just different.  It's not a crime and it certainly doesn't make them bad parents.  

  • Jezzer

    Yes.  Yes, it does.  

  • Muhnah_Muhnah

    I'm quite certain this shit is covered in the Geneva Conventions. But y'know, since the US has decided to play fast and loose with those, you only have yourselves to blame.

  • Minxdelovely

    I like that show about wedding dresses, but that's only because I like wedding dresses. The rest doesn't make sense to me.

  • Mr_Zito

    I'm proud to say most of those don't get to Brazil. We have TLC, but here it means Travel & Living Channel (even though they use the same logo of your The Learning Channel), and it's a new version of the old Discovery Travel & Living, which basically aired shows from your Travel Channel. They only added cooking shows and it became TLC. The bizarre fucked-up people  TLC shows we do get air on Discovery Home & Health (very healthy!), but the only one I recognize from this post is Toddlers & Tiaras.

  • I have a very well educated friend who watches a lot of those shows. I can't do it. Waaay back in the day, TLC actually had interesting programs - but no one watched those. They will, however, watch an entire show dedicated to other people's garbage. I don't understand it at all.

  • Bemgrovi

    They haven't been "The Learning Channel" in a long time. I remember there was a show back in the 90s called The Operation and they would show you how different operations were performed. It was an excellent show and you actually learned something.  

  • John

    They had harmless shows like Trading Spaces. Even the original Jon and Kate show wasn't that bad. It wasn't until fame got to their heads that it became insufferable. Once Hoarders became a thing, I think TLC decided to go into a different direction and unfortunately, it's one that actually gets them press.

  • NGG

    "Tiaras and Toddlers" and all the shows of that ilk are evil incarnated...I will stab myself in the eyeball if I ever watch those shows.... I have actually fogotten TLC was still "on", because I never watch that dumping pit of a station.

  • Phaedre

    The woman in the header picture reminds me of that infected lady in Slither that could not stop eating. It's the double chin I think.

    That little girl and I are going to meet tonight in my nightmares. She seems soulless.

  • randomhookup

    ...and toothless.

  • Aislinn

    ....Virgin show?

  • L.O.V.E.

    Explain the damaged psychology behind the content of TLC?

    Its the the name:

    TLC: The Livestock Channel.

  • BierceAmbrose

     It used to be "The Learning Channel", demonstrating that everything eventually becomes a mockery of itself.

    Like here. Since when did we have standards?

  • L.O.V.E.

    At least they had the self-awareness to drop any pretense that they were an educational channel.  It really is the worst.

    TLC = Terrible Life for Children

  • Bert

    This Looks Catastrophic!

  • PaddyDog

    Why did the virgins ave to wait until they got married to kiss?  What weird new bastardization of the Jesus story tells people they're not virgins if they kiss before marriage?

  • AngelenoEwok

     I know at least one person whose wedding kiss was their first kiss ever.  That individual's church didn't really endorse dating at all -- you were supposed to "go out" with odd numbers of friends and potential spouses, and then have one on one "courtship" at home, under parental supervision.  My friend was technically being a rebel by going on actual dates.

  • space_oddity

    omg. that kiss. maybe they should have practiced?

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    That was one of the most uncomfortable kisses I've ever witnessed.  It reminded me of the watching the giant goldfish at Benihana's eat when you toss them pellets.

  • abysmal

    I thought they were faking awkwardness... my first kiss was not that bad what the hell.

  • linny

    I recently attended the Redneck Games in Dublin, Georgia -- it was about forty minutes from where I live, and had a cutesy premise -- different "events" like horseshoe tossing with toilet bowl lids, a mudpit for a belly flop event, watermelon seed spitting, bobbing for pig's feet -- basically, it sounded like the stuff my (redneck) neighbors would come up with for one of their block parties.

    When we got there, the whole place was crawling with television crews from reality television shows. There were more film crew people than locals. It made my stomach turn. And guess what? TLC was one of them. Following around this family of girls and their obese mom, and one of the girls was obviously pregnant (hair in pigtails, shirt tied above her protruding belly). They had one of the girls bob for pigs feet.

    It was bizarre.

  • space_oddity

    Mt. Dew MIXED with Red Bull.

  • BWeaves

    I confess that I watch "What Not To Wear" on TLC.  

    The rest?  I might stop for a minute while channel surfing, but I never watch the other stuff on purpose.  It's just too, too much.

  • Bert

    At least they're actually being kind of helpful.

  • Edith

    What Not to Wear is awesome. 

  • PaddyDog

    All I can tell you is that I despise all of this type of television and typically consider myself superior to it and its viewing ilk, but I could not drag myself away from the original Big Fat Gypsy Wedding that featured Irish travelers (not the ha ha ha ha watered down American gene pool version) .  I simply could not stop watching.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    Train wreck.

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