As far as I'm concerned, reality TV—Worst Cooks in America excepted—is part of the problem. What problem? Oh, I don't know. All of them? Off the top of my head, it's easy to blame bad reality programming for the dumbing down of entertainment, the decline in scripted television, the continued survival of checkout line tabloids, and anything else that's bothering me at the moment. But one thing has been irking me in particular lately, and that's the abuse of a specific phrase.
A week or two ago, I seemed to spend the entire weekend washing the dishes. While I was consumed with this oddly monumental task, my girlfriend amused herself in the other room, indulging in a consciousness-destroying cocktail of The Sims and a variety of housewives, each more real than the last. The toilet paper I crammed into my ears did not create a tight enough seal, forcing me to listen over the roar of my sink to hours and hours of only on Bravo-style "drama."
And every five or six minutes, it seemed, someone was accusing someone else of throwing them under the bus. Here is a typical exchange, from a drama-filled house party that the producers stretched out over two episodes:
Housewife 1: "I don't want to throw anybody under the bus."
Housewife 2: "You don't want to throw anybody under the bus, but she's throwing all of us under the bus."
Housewife 3: "She's throwing all of us under the bus."
There are a lot of words and phrases that have been abused by reality television—drama itself being one of them—but none sticks in your ear more than this particularly ugly bit of public-transit related metaphor. It's become popular despite its length, its awkwardness, and the fuzziness of its meaning. Actually, it's meaning shouldn't be fuzzy. In its purest form, I think the phrase means something like "to make a scapegoat of." But in its current diluted state, as used by every reality show contestant from Beverly Hills to Hells Kitchen and beyond, it seems to mean "betray," "work against," or "do something I didn't like."
Reality TV feeds on petty people overreacting to minor disagreements. To get a sense of how asinine these storylines can get, just count how often this phrase is used. If you hear someone accuse someone else of throwing them under the bus, you know three things:
- The speaker is stupid.
- The disagreement is meaningless.
- You should check and see what else is on your DVR.
The abuse of this particular phrase is a shame because, used sparingly, it evokes quite an effective image. If you saw one Beverly Hills shrew literally throw another underneath a Los Angeles Metro bus, you would have to think, "Boy! Those housewives are really angry at each other!" But instead, the phrase is meaningless—indicative of nothing beyond another hour wasted on the couch.