We have reached a point in society where everyone is entitled (or required, I’m not sure) to be featured on a reality television show. Groups of rednecks, guidos, wealthy men’s girlfriends,angry chefs, and spoiled rich children are given a lot of money to let cameras follow them around while they embarrass their mothers. For some reason, they are able to parlay this into getting paid to go to clubs and creating signature fragrances. Most painfully for frustrated writers, they get listed as “New York Times bestelling authors” thanks to their ghostwritten books.
I’m not one of those people who doesn’t watch reality television because I’m so smart and better than that. “What? I’ve never even heard of that show. I don’t have cable, I just watch Downton Abbey.” (Side note: stop saying you don’t have a television set. You have a laptop, the internet is TV now. It’s like Paul Rudd in Forgetting Sarah Marshall saying he quit wearing a watch when he moved to Hawaii. Because there’s a clock on his cell phone.) I enjoy some reality shows. Where else can you watch a grizzled backwoods septuagenarian tell a class of horrified third graders about his experience in Vietnam? Or gain empathy for what meter maids in west Philadelphia go through in the course of a day’s work?
I would never describe myself as a “reality TV junkie.” I lose interest fairly quickly and can never remember anyone’s name, and I generally prefer to watch Kathy Griffin make fun of people instead of watching them myself. But it’s good to keep up on these things. I would have been completely lost in my last girls’ group if I didn’t know what “The Bad Girls Club” was, or who the characters on “The Jersey Shore” are assaulting these days. It allowed for some teachable moments. I also worked with a boy who updated me on “Basketball Wives” weekly. Whatever, I was starting where my client was.
Everyone now thinks that their family, social circle, or workplace are wacky enough to earn them a spot on Bravo. Most of them are wrong. You’re rarely quite as funny, fucked up, interesting, or original as you think you are.
Except for social work agencies. If it weren’t for that stupid, stupid confidentiality, we would probably have our own network.
The Real World (back when it was interesting and not a cry for help) taught us that there are specific types of “real people” that go into making compelling reality television. Sheltered Christian, Politically Engaged (otherwise known as Angry) Black, The Feminist, The Women Who Enjoys Sex (otherwise known as The Slut), The Gay, and The One Trying to Launch a Rap/Comedy/DJ Career.
It’s a little different in social work, but the archetypes are still there. We wouldn’t even have to involve the clients.
This person has been in the field for decades and has seen a whole lot of changes. They often call the local child welfare agency by the acronym they haven’t gone by since the 70s. They alternate between feisty attempts to change the system and (probably) napping in their office. That office is so dusty it makes SJ itchy, by the way.
Catchphrase: “I’ve been doing this since before you were born!”
The Secretly Sassy One
This person is a hardworking professional. They grew up near the community based organization where they now work, and occasionally allude, in a cryptic manner, to their high school days of brawling in the streets. This person invokes the tough guy/gal persona only as needed.
Catchphrase: “She hung up on me? If this was 1992 I woulda told her…you know what, let me stop.”
The Shit Stirrer.
I never thought about how gross that phrase was until just now. Anyway, this is the one who always has some gossip. Often an administrative assistant. They’re the first to know when someone is getting fired, going on maternity leave, making the higher-ups unhappy, or feeling that their group co-leader isn’t pulling their weight. They don’t want to cause trouble, they just mention what they’ve heard.
Catchphrase: “Pfft, I don’t know anything, I’m just telling you what she said.”
The Secret Client
This is the worker who is straight scary, and is often assumed to be in the office because he or she is seeking services. She talks about threatening to come at ten year old bipolar children and thinks that some clients just need to get their asses whooped.
Catchphrase: “You don’t know me!”
The Twenty Three Year Old
This worker is fresh out of school and is ready to implement all of their lessons. They’re here to listen, to join, to be where the client is, and generally change the world. They’re politically engaged. The Secretly Sassy One sometimes wants to punch her perkiness in the face.
Catchphrase: “This reminds me of something my public policy professor said.”
Sometimes the Real World gets it right.
Catchphrase: “Another mom tried to set my up with her niece.”
Open casting starts next week.