Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I weigh in on Amazing Race abuse

I'll skip the background and send you to Swankette's fine review of it instead.

For starters, this is abuse. Yeah, I know I haven't seen them when the cameras are off or outside of the stressful environment of this race. Yeah, I know that the producers of a reality show can take the footage to emphasize certain aspects, attractive or unattractive, or an individual's personality. But give me a break. I am not a perfect human being--I can be a little insensitive, and I have a temper. But I have never berated a woman (or, for that matter, a man) as Jonathan is berating Victoria, and I have never--EVER--shoved a woman for carrying MY STUFF. He's been an asshole from the word go. His and Victoria's responses on their blog show even more that their relationship is abusive. He both downplays his behavior and blames it on "a heighten [sic] version of stress and obsession mix [sic] with medication for a sickness called Sarcoidosis." She insists that he's really a very nice guy when the cameras aren't running. Both of these responses are, if I'm not mistaken, fairly textbook examples of abuser and victim justifications for abuse. It heightens my belief in my own eyes. (Still, just in case, I looked up Sarcoidosis' most common drug treatment, Prednosone, on WebMD. There are seventeen side effects to huge doses of Prednosone. The very last and least likely of these are "changes in behavior." In Jonathan's case, of course, a change in behavior would have caused him to start acting kindly to his wife...so I think we can say his behavior wasn't caused by the drug.)

Because Swankette's blog has received so many hits over the past week from individuals searching on phrases like "Jonathan is abusive," I've become especially interested in this episode and what it all means. It's clearly touched a nerve nationwide. A search on Yahoo News for "Amazing Race 6" shows that there are loads of people in newspapers nationwide writing about last week's episode, what it means, and what CBS and the rest of us can do about it. And I've reached a couple of conclusions.

--First of all, I don't blame CBS or hold it culpable in this. Reality TV needs a villain, so casting an asshole or two is okay by me. Anyone who sees Jonathan for 90 seconds on TV sees what an asshole he is...and I trust the same is true in real life with him as well. So while I'm sure CBS knew it was getting an asshole, I don't think they knew they were getting an abusive asshole. Once he's on the show, their job is to show what happens, and this happened.

--Second, Jonathan continues to look worse and worse as he responds to this. In addition to his comments about passion, stress, and drugs causing his abusive behavior, he insists that he's been edited unfairly. Jonathan, that is BULLSHIT. At a moment your wife was crying and damned near physically broken from carrying your backpack, you chose to verbally berate her and then very nearly knock her to the ground with a push to her backpack. That's not editing, man. That's you. Even if it's your life's worst moment (and, given how much shit you've been giving her at every moment of every show, I doubt it is), it's a sign that you have a terrible problem.

--As angry as I am with Jonathan, I can't help but think about Victoria in this. Don't get me wrong: I understand the basics about domestic violence. I get that these women have low self-esteem, I get that they are terrified of their partners, terrified of receiving even worse abuse in response to fighting back. I get that it's the abuser's fault and not the victim. Honest, I get it. But that doesn't mean I can't be bothered by a victim's poor choices. At some point, Victoria chose this man--and at multiple other red-flag points, she chose to stay with him. This genuinely troubles me. Maybe it takes me back to those yucky high school days, when the beautiful girl I had a big crush on turned me down in favor of a guy who called her "buffalo buns." (I later learned she had an eating disorder. Surprising, that.) From what little I notice of Victoria over Jonathan's shouting, she seems to be a fairly decent catch. She's good-looking (Playboy's Playmate of the Month for January 1996), an artist (I won't gauge the quality of her art, but still, she gets points for that), and has a sense of adventure. She had a choice of men to be with--a much larger choice than many women have. She chose this one. And I don't get that. At all. But I guess I'm glad I don't get it.

Anyway. This has developed into a 2AM rant. I need to wrap it up.

Swankette has challenged us to make something positive out of this. I can't help Victoria, but I might be able to help one of her sisters in pain. I have therefore donated some money (not much--just the cost of a night out, really) to a local battered women's shelter. On the on-line donation form, I put "In response to Jonathan and Victoria (Amazing Race 6)."

I challenge anyone else troubled by Jonathan to do the same. 11 million people watch The Amazing Race every week. If enough of us do this--and write why--we can make something positive happen.

Spread the word.


Anonymous said...

"So while I'm sure CBS knew it was getting an asshole, I don't think they knew they were getting an abusive asshole. Once he's on the show, their job is to show what happens, and this happened."


After the Real World rape incident, you'd think that the production company (not the network, CBS) would exercise a bit more "due dilligence" in the casting process. And perhaps CBS should have exercised a bit of due dilligence in checking up on the production company. That's what background checks and private investigators are for. (I'm assuming that, like most abusers, this asshole doesn't have a criminal record.)

I'll take my abusive relationships in theatrical form, where I know that they're staged for my edification and/or entertainment.


Anonymous said...

I have never scene The Amazing Race.

Hitting someone is violence. Verbally berating someone is violence. These things are not OK. The bigger question is, is there a pattern of control behind the violence. It is possible that drugs can make a person more prone to acting violent - cocaine, alcohol, and steroids (predinisone is a steroid) are comment culprits. People with bipolar disorder can act out violently when they are manic. However, abuse is defined not just by a tendency to act out violently, assaultively, either verbally or physically, but by a pattern of control.

I am not sure whether Jonathan is controlling as well as violent, but there are a couple indications that he might be, including the reasons for his verbal violence - it sounds like he didn't like what she was doing or how she is doing it. If verbally berating her is his way of trying to get her to stop doing something, then that is being controlling and abusive.

Yes, it is hard to know what the couple is "really" like, because their actions are edited. But on the other had, if this is how they behave when their actions are filmed, what does that say about how he behaves when he is not being filmed?

As for Victoria, remember this: People seek out what they believe they need. We all do this. It does not always mean we seek out what is healthy for us - if we have grown accustomed to being mistreated, we may seek that out because it is familiar. And abusers seek out - often unconsciously - people who they can control.

Anonymous said...

BTW, that last post was from me, Eve. And what's with me typing "scene" instead of "seen"? Some sort of weird Hollywood slip?

TeacherRefPoet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
TeacherRefPoet said...


Welcome aboard.

As I say, I do understand that both abusers and abused seek out what they're accustomed to and "comfortable" with. What I don't understand, and possibly can't, is how anyone could be comfortable with what I'm seeing on the screen...and indeed, the far worse treatment that exists in our world. I mean, I get it as it exists in psychology textbooks. I intellectually understand that people put up with this. But I can't emotionally fathom how it's possible to select a man like Jonathan (or worse...OJ Simpson is dating again). That's all.

Anonymous said...

It's something that is difficult to understand. And it is difficult to watch someone in a relationship that is hurtful to them.

In psychoanalytic psychology we call it a "repetition compulsion" - the tendency of people to repeat a pattern or a relationship, no matter how bad it may be for us. It is often very painful to give up one's repetition compulsion, because we start to see it as a part of ourselves, and who wants to lose a part of themselves?