A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
By Nina Pajak
I love me some reality television. And don't lie—so do you. It's okay to admit it. You're not alone. We're not alone.
But I prefer the brand of show that either highlights a particular skill set (say, designing clothing or being chefly) or those which exploit people who are begging (and paid) for it. What's the harm in taking some pleasure at the expense of a Real Housefrau of Piscataway as she laughs her way to the bank? The entertainment by schadenfreude is a mutually agreed-upon arrangement, and everyone comes away feeling fine.
I cannot say the same of TLC's new show, "Extreme Couponing," which debuted last week and has been the topic of much buzz. It's sort of like "Hoarders" meets "True Life: I'm completely whacked out of my skull" meets "Supermarket Sweeps." I could only bring myself to watch half of the episode, which followed one J'aime of Maryland on a mission to pay $100 or less for something totally insane like $1,900 worth of groceries. The cameras followed her as she dragged her resigned husband through their local supermarket and loaded up four carts with all sorts of reasonable purchases, like 150 cups of yogurt, 90 packs of cold cuts, and 527,000 bottles of mustard. And she reached her goal—or got pretty darn close.
But all I could think while watching this was how grateful I am that I don't shop at the same store as her. What if I wanted to buy some mustard that week? What if I wanted a single yogurt at some point over the next month (she actually was only able to buy the 19 or so which were in stock and took a "rain check" on the rest when new inventory came in)? Why must this woman own all the food in the Bethesda metro area? Her husband doesn't even like mustard! He muttered that fact sadly as he shook the contents of an entire aisle into their shopping cart while his wife reapplied her 40th coat of mascara. Do you know who does like mustard, Mr. Coupon Crazy Lady? People! People who live in Bethesda! Those poor, mustardless people.
Of course, nothing like this could ever work in New York. Our supermarkets are small and cramped and inventory is ordered and managed very tightly. And our shopping is typically done in kind. Most of us do not have entire basements and spare rooms and bathtubs which can be dedicated to vast condiment collections.
To add an extra layer of absurd to this already grim pastiche is the "controversy" which has now emerged about Miss J'aime. Apparently she is being accused by the honest couponer community of "coupon fraud" for using discounts meant for one item on another item within the same brand, or something similarly inane. I can't bring myself to read into it further or scroll through the many, many finger-wagging comments on her blog and others covering the scandal. I'm all for saving money and smart consumerism. And I hear she donates some of her bounty, but that's beside the point. This woman is not to be admired—she needs help before she winds up on the next episode of "Hoarding: Buried Alive," which happens conveniently to be housed on the same network. I smell a crossover! But that's too easy. I think J'aime and her couponing coven should team up with the pathologically large family from "175 and Counting" or the conjoined families on "Sister Wives." Then some of this food would stand a chance at getting eaten, rather than just being a vehicle for an expression of mental illness for a select few.
And perhaps, too, all those innocent mustards would not perish in vain. Please, friends, if you have $1.75 to spare, consider sending a bottle to Maryland. They may be below the Mason-Dixon line, but they are still our brothers. A family cannot live on ketchup alone.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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