Exploiting our Archives, Paternity Leave Edition: Joe (Francis) the Humanity! Milestone Case File #100 H8R
Well, folks, we have reached a milestone here at My World of Flops: the one hundredth entry. Oh, what a journey it has been! The column began as a twice-weekly feature in The A.V Club blog back in 2007, when a Golden God named George W. Bush inspired a nation with his Compassionate Conservatism, homespun wisdom and hypnotic Southern drawl.
It outlasted its original conceit and initial annum but held onto its name before I decided to revamp and rename the column by expanding the focus from exclusively film to the entirety of human endeavor, from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run to my ex-wife’s cooking and call the retooled feature My World of Flops. I retired the column after entry thirty seven back in 2013 when I left the A.V Club for the The Dissolve and resurrected it after I limped back to The A.V Club in 2015.
I needed the money, to be brutally honest, and from a professional standpoint going back to the most successful, influential and enduring thing I’d ever done seemed like a good idea. But I also always loved the work. I felt energized by it. Returning to the column felt like coming home. I felt like I was doing what I was put on earth to do.
It's hard to overstate the impact My World of Flops has had on my life and career. In the first entry, I coined the phrase Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which set me on a surreal, bizarre and unexpected path that has included being a question on Jeopardy (Manic Pixie Dream Girl-related, of course) and the phrase making it in into the Oxford dictionaries, which define it as:
manic pixie dream girl
(especially in film) a type of female character depicted as vivacious and appealingly quirky, whose main purpose within the narrative is to inspire a greater appreciation for life in a male protagonist.
‘she turns the male fantasy of the manic pixie dream girl on its ear’
More example sentences
Early 21st century: coined by the US film critic Nathan Rabin in a critique of the character type and its prevalence.
In Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which I coined to describe Kirsten Dunst’s irrepressible flibbertigibbet in Elizabethtown, the very first entry in My Year of Flops, I created a phrase that would be used for the titles of books and albums and NPR segments and musicals and will undoubtedly outlive and outlast me. If I'm remembered for anything, it'll be coining Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
It was a phrase I would go on to have a complicated and ambivalent relationship with as its definition became broad to the point of meaninglessness. At a certain point its original intent was lost and it became a catchall, pejorative tale for quirky gals, which was never my intention. So I wrote an article about regretting the coinage for Salon that got way too much attention and then later another embracing the phrase and all that comes with it that got an appropriate level of attention for the Globe & Mail.
Last year around this time The A.V Club tried to kill My World of Flops but the stubborn little bastard once again refused to die and has been thriving at its new home here at Nathan Rabin's Happy Place ever since. There have been a lot of twists and turns and stops and starts and digressions along the way, including a modest-selling book from Scribner, but I'd like to think that the column has found its rightful, permanent home here at Nathan Rabin's Happy Place. As with so much of my life and career, it took a lot of pain, rejection, hurt and self-doubt to end up where I should have been all along.
Consequently, part of what fascinates me about the disastrously received, short-lived (four episodes aired, while a whole bunch more seem to be lost forever in the Land of Wind and Ghosts), Mario Lopez-hosted 2011 reality show H8R is that on some level its aims aren’t terribly dissimilar from those of My World of Flops. The idea for both is to take something that is not just disliked but actively hated—often for reasons that have more to do with how they are depicted in the media than for their actual merits—and try to uncover its unseen worth and value.
Oh sure, I stray from that mission constantly but I genuinely want to seek out and shine an admiring, revelatory light on overlooked and unfairly maligned art and trash. And when I encounter a raging bonfire of human awfulness like H8R I want to give it credit for being as morbidly compelling as it is abysmal, and holy fuck is it ever terrible.
As with previous reality show My World of Flops case files I Wanna Marry “Harry” and Britney & Kevin: Chaotic this isn’t just an unusually sleazy and unethical reality show, that sleaziest and least ethical of television genres: its mere existence is injurious to the dignity of the human spirit. After watching the four episodes of H8R that aired before God Himself finally struck it down in righteous anger, I felt like I needed a long, cleansing, healing bath or all-day shower in order to ever feel clean again, and that’s only partially because the final segment of the show I watched involved a seemingly hard-headed and strong-willed “hater” conceding that, actually, Girls Gone Wild guru and appalling human being Joe Francis is a good dude if you get to know him a little.
H8R provided an invaluable forum for a dude like Joe Francis, whom his “hater” earlier and accurately called a “reputation rapist”, to prove that, despite literally all available evidence, he’s a nice guy and not the misogynistic, rage-filled sociopathic he very much appears to be, particularly here. Furthermore, the show's format doesn’t actually require him to pretend to be nice, or rather "nice", for more than what appears to be ten minutes or so.
The wonderful concept of H8R is to allow reality show stars like Snooki, Jake from The Bachelor, Kim Kardashian and Scott Disick, whose images have been hopelessly distorted via their roles on highly scripted, manipulatively edited, fundamentally dishonest and disingenuous reality shows an opportunity to expose their real, authentic, true and lovable selves by appearing in a highly scripted, manipulatively edited, fundamentally dishonest and disingenuous reality show.
It’s the revenge of the undeservedly rich, powerful and famous over the non-rich, powerless and anonymous nobodies who dislike them, sometimes for petty, racist and sexist reasons and sometimes because they’re a sociopathic soft-core pornographer who has made a fortune destroying lives and single-handedly making out culture sleazier, more sexist and worse.
The idea is for misunderstood celebrities like The Bachelor’s Jake Pavelka, Kim Kardashian, Snooki and some guy from Dancing With The Stars to get a chance to reveal their true selves but in reality it’s a bizarre exercise in fake-nice-bullying and passive-aggressive generosity.
There’s an aggressive, even hostile element to the celeb’s sometimes lazy, sometimes frenzied attempts to win over the nobodies talking smack about them online, an underlying sense of, “Oh, so you think I’m a piece of shit, huh? Well, I’m going to use what appears to be the horrifically swollen budget of this nationally televised reality show to treat you to such an extravagant, expensive day of visually compelling bonding that you will look like a huge asshole if you say you still hate me at the end.”
H8R ridiculously stacks the deck in favor of the celebrities, many, if not most, of whom come off as huge assholes all the same, sometimes in wonderfully quotable ways. As a parade of jackassery, H8R is one for the ages. It’s full of moments I will remember and treasure until my dying day, like when broodingly handsome Dancing With The Stars stud Maksim Chmerkovskiy favors “hater” Rebecca, a basic blonde single gal who melts into a puddle of lust at his touch, with what I imagine is one of his stock lines, about how he's so intense about his art that he's pretty much living in his dance studio.
When Rebecca replies with girlish flirtatiousness that she doesn’t see a bed in the studio, the palpably irritated dancer growls, “It’s a metaphor” in a voice dripping with condescension and disdain. He doesn’t come right out and say, “Of course I don’t actually live here, you fucking moron” but his tone of voice and body language convey that message vividly. If H8R were to become the Jersey Shore-like guilty pleasure it had the potential to be had the universe not rejected it violently, “It’s a metaphor” would have ended up on a tee-shirt, possibly sold on the Jersey Shore Boardwalk.
I was also enamored of The Bachelor villain Jake Pavelka trying to convince his hater, punky-haired, sassy 20 year old Danielle of his bona fides as a secretly awesome human being with arguments that include, “Morally, I’m GREAT.” I love how he doesn’t soft-pedal the amazingness of his morals. He’s not saying he’s morally sound, or that morals are important to him, or that he thinks of himself as a fundamentally moral person. No, one of the many assholes from The Bachelor straight up says that when it comes to the entire complex field of morality, he is straight up killing it, bro, like he kills it at the gym to get those washboard abs the ladies love.
But H8R isn’t just a singularly misguided exploration of fame, anger and jealousy: it’s also the world’s most needlessly complicated, convoluted and pointless hidden camera prank show. For reasons known only to the creator, instead of simply having the “hater” audition to be on a show where they’d spend a day with a celebrity they hate to see if the celebrity would be able to change their minds or win them over, H8R goes to ridiculous lengths to get the “hater” to talk shit about the celebrity in public before their artificial meeting, and then to have some, but not all of the celebrities, really play into their public image by being as obnoxious as possible in public.
To cite a typically convoluted set-up, an episode featuring Kim Kardashian hater Deena begins with the already unnecessary complication of Deena thinking that she’s auditioning for a pop culture television show other than H8R. That’s where the taped footage of her talking shit about Kim Kardashian comes from. Then, in an equally pointless twist, Deena is led to believe that she’ll be participating in a yoga video but when she’s doing Yoga out comes Kim Kardashian to confront her.
All of this artifice and complication and acting and role-playing and manipulation serves no purpose beyond padding out the clock but Lopez exhibits such palpable, infectious joy over every step of his dumb little charade that you would imagine that he was a trickster God like Loki manipulating the affairs of foolish mortals from afar, not some lightweight jackass doing a joke-free TMZ version of Candid Camera.
H8R soars as unintentional self-parody, as an accidentally hilarious exploration of the vapidness of celebrity culture. In that respect, it reminded me a lot of Nathan For You and Comedy Bang Bang, both of which distorted the conventions of the prank hidden camera show in surreal and bizarre ways.
In Nathan For You and Comedy Bang Bang a big part of the joke involves making things that should be simple and to the point as unnecessarily complicated and convoluted as possible. H8R, in sharp contrast, is playing it completely straight and seems to legitimately imagine that making everything nonsensically, masochistically complicated adds immeasurably to the drama and to the comedy.
After all that set-up, for example, Deena spends a pleasant idyll painting and talking with Kim Kardashian and is moved almost instantly from sour judgment to what appears to be something of a low-level crush. Kardashian has beauty and star power on her side of course, but like every female celeb on the show, she’s able to silence her haters with the old, “I do a lot of charity work” line.
You can hate on Snooki all you’d like, but by doing so you’re disrespecting her work with burn victims. Got something against burn victims? Or orphans that are adopted, like Snooki was? I thought not. It sounds like maybe you have a problem with hate.
Why would a show all about how, actually, maybe it’s Joe Francis and Scott Disick who are cool and good and you who are wrong for not liking them (seriously, if you’re not crazy about either of those guys, take a look in the mirror: you’re probably a psychopath) begin by having Disick and Francis make-pretend to be even more horrible than usual for the sake of Lopez’s hidden cameras?
I have no fucking idea. Throughout H8R it feels like the show and its awful celebs are “negging" both the audience and the haters. It’s as if they’re being so intentionally obnoxious and aggressive off the bat that when they reveal a softer, more ingratiating and flattering side (the side they’ll need to seduce and flatter their hater into being a lover), haters and the audience are going to be so grateful that they’re not being insulted that they’ll accept the most feeble evidence as proof of a hated celebrity like Francis' fundamental goodness.
Of the eight segments in the four episodes of H8R that aired, the most riveting is undeniably the Scott Disick one. Like all of the segments involving dudes, it begins with a requisite display of boozy, bleary self-parody. In this case, Disick, who looks like a Madame Tussaud wax figure of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman comes to life, acts like even more of a creep than usual before Lopez pops up to explain the show’s premise.
Disick seems has his work cut out for him with Dayla, a beautiful black spitfire who objects to Disick for many reasons, merited and otherwise. He does not impress her with a ride in his yellow Lamborghini but when he turns on the charm and the faux-vulnerability during a bowling date/heart-to-heart she warms up and says that she’s made the evolution from hater to lover.
Disick has “won” this pointless game but he cannot live with that win. He asks a now charmed Dayla if she has haters and when she guilelessly replies that she doesn’t, he turns on her with a shocking quickness and severity. Disick can’t believe his hater has never been hated on, and becomes a huge dick because of that. It’s like The Scorpion and the Frog: Disick can NOT be a raging douchebag only about 98 percent of the time. That last two percent is beyond him, so he says that he can’t believe that someone who, in his charming words, “sits on her fat ass, talking shit about everybody” isn't going to be hated in return.
His voice mounting with anger, Disick, embracing his villainy, saying of his hater, “I think of her as less than nothing at this point. So, it was a fun experience to see if I could turn a hater around and she turned me around and now I hate the hater. The hater has been hated."
It’s as if the producers coached Disick and said, “That was great, but now can you say it in a way that makes it seem probable that you’ve murdered at least three women in a coke-filled rage? Thanks.”
As human drama, H8R is fascinating and revealing. As television, it’s consistently appalling, all but baiting audiences to hate everything about it.
Christ, part of Joe Francis’ pitch to his hater Peggy as to why he’s not the arrogant sleaze bag she thinks he is involves pointing out that Michael Bay lives in his neighborhood. With a mocking edge, Francis introduces his hater to the bikini-clad women in his mansion, all of whom are being carefully stage-managed in the manner of Stalin parading foreign journalists before towns made up to look like socialist utopias, “This is my new friend Peggy. She thinks you’re being exploited” and insists, with coked-up self-delusion, “I’m a woman lover. I empower women!” and “<aterialism is not important to me.” (something Lou Pearlman and Donald Trump similarly assert in their respective memoirs/business guides Brands, Bands And Billions and The Art of the Deal, respectively, and about as convincingly) and this seemingly tough-as-nails defender of the virtue and dignity of underaged woman nevertheless is won over by Francis having three sisters (something that impresses her disproportionately) and Girls Gone Wild having what I imagine is a legally mandated “remorse policy” that allows girls to nix an appearance on one of their products if they choose to opt out within a certain time frame.
All it takes for the hater to go from fretting of Francis’ mansion, “All I see is lost souls and tears” to drinking champagne and smiling with Joe is a little eye contact and a little one-on-one seduction. On one level, Francis’ “victory” is appalling and literally angry-making. I got legit angry, like, trembling with anger, over the show’s whitewashing of Francis’ life and legacy. On another, it’s not terribly surprising. After all, everything Francis has is the product of his ability to talk women into doing things they shouldn’t do. Why shouldn’t that apply to a matronly hater as well as a drunken eighteen year old pondering whether or not to make a perhaps inadvisable swap of their tops and dignity in exchange for Girls Gone Wild booty shorts?
That this woman could look into Joe Francis’ cold, dead, sociopathic, probably-the-last-thing-some-people-have-seen-before-passing-out-screaming shark eyes and see a good man who will be devoting the years ahead to empowering women and personal growth betrays the fundamental emptiness and dishonesty at the show’s core.
In H8R, we aren’t seeing a hated celebrity’s authentic self for the first time: we’re seeing an awkward photo op inexplicably fused with the world’s most misconceived and under-realized hidden camera prank show. This is so many layers removed from anything remotely resembling reality that it might as well be a silent screen comedy or Kabuki. Incidentally, I hope those were both ideas for an aborted second season. I would love to hear Lopez say things like, “Jenna thought Jack MacBrayer was fake and that his accent was annoying and that he wasn’t even funny. Will that change when they reenact a Laurel & Hardy short together? Find out on H8R” and “Delray thinks Justin Bieber is a no-talent who steals from black artists. Will an afternoon together spent exploring the colorful and exotic world of Kabuki at a local theater make Delray a Belieber?”
It's fascinating and poignantly pathetic how little of H8R's ambitions were realized. According to a 2011 article in the Hollywood Reporter, “The CW’s new reality series H8R, which pairs celebrities with the everyday people who hate them, has a wish list that includes Sarah Palin, Lady Gaga, Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzeneger and Anthony Weiner, to name a few."
The article goes on to say, “Producers, which include Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey and Mike Fleiss, have booked more than 20 celebrities so far, including Kim Kardashian, Kat Von D, Eva Longoria and former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds and have offers out to more.”
“We want Sarah Palin, that’s who we want,” said Fleiss, who also exec produces The Bachelorette and The Bachelor. Added Gregorisch-Dempsey: “And Joan Rivers.”
Oh, and you might be familiar with Mike Fleiss' cousin, Heidi (seriously). They're involved in similar lines of work, but Heidi's a little more open and honest about it.
Needless to say, dear reader, that did not happen. H8R was apparently beneath the dignity of even Sarah Palin, but Levi Johnston did unnecessarily continue his life-long project of humiliating himself by taping an unaired segment on the show. There was talk that CW would burn off these episodes after the show was quickly cancelled but that never happened. That’s probably for the best for everyone involved, and for television as a medium. And Western Civilization. And humanity.
H8R was designed to illustrate that the distance, ignorance and selective knowledge that fuels hating celebrities would dissipate in the warmth of time spent together and candid conversation about who the celebrity really is. Instead, it just ends up proving that a lot of the time, the haters are right, particularly people hating on the show itself.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Fiasco
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