Sorry, Martha. Housekeeping’s not my idea of ‘reality’

Jes Alexander, Special to The Chronicle
Saturday, March 5, 2005

My friend Alison e-mailed me a few weeks before Martha Stewart left prison and forwarded me an application to be a contestant on “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.” Within 12 hours, I received similar correspondence from no fewer than seven other friends, all saying things like, “You would totally ROCK on that show,” and, “You MUST go for this!!” I am flattered. I am. It tickles me that I seem to have acquired this reputation as the sovereign defender of the home and the garden among my friends. It truly means a lot, because those things are important to me. I am sorry, my peeps, I must let you down and respectfully decline.

It has nothing to do with Martha — I actually like her. I don’t care where she got her stock advice, or what she and the SEC got into a huff about, or what kind of trouble she got into in Alderson. I don’t care that she lost 20 pounds on the Spam-and-peas diet (you just know there’s a diet book coming). But I still like her. Sure, maybe I’m not the type to make Christmas ornaments out of pomegranate seeds, lavender sprigs and a glue gun, but still, it’s not her. I promise. It’s more of a morality thing. I guess I just don’t consider home decor, gardening or the culinary arts to be competition team sports.

It’s not even Martha’s fault. Before Mark Burnett and his merry band of reality-show thieves (see: Donald Trump) hired Ms. Stewart to referee this smackdown called, “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,” there was “The Iron Chef” — a show where uniformed epicureans battle the clock and one another to the blissful satisfaction of some judge’s palate. Then there was “Wickedly Perfect” — a show that equally degraded the home arts by turning want-to- be Brie van de Kamps into sleep-deprived, backstabbing manipulators. Again thank you, but n’uh-uh. No way, sister. Not me. For me, cooking, interior design, gardening and entertaining are things that evolved into my life as pastoral escapes from an ugly world. Television executives want to take that away from me, however, and replace the solace of my interests with anger, aggression and what I am sure they consider “the spirit of competition.” They would prefer to have me engage a creative peer in a bathroom strategy session, our voices drowned out by the massaging jets of the shower; or use their night- vision lenses to catch me sleep-icing a wedding cake. It’s not about my interests, it’s about controversy.

So what’s really happened here? The TV people would have you believe that what they are pushing is real, and they even call it reality television. It isn’t. In the real world, teams of wedding planners and interior decorators and caterers do not band together to go head-to-head against a rival group of their peers (which sounds like a scene from some West Hollywood version of “West Side Story” — not that there’s anything wrong with that), for the chance at cash and fame. That’s not reality. It’s just low-budget television, which is cheap to produce and yields a high profit margin. But it’s not real; it’s cost-effective entertainment without union actors.

We have come full circle. First, they gave us a glimpse of people’s real lives, and called it reality television. Then, they make the reality fake — and still cheap — and call it reality television. Art imitating life imitating art; a catch-22; chicken or egg. By any name, it’s just insane. What’s next, man versus lion in a fight to the death? Wait a minute, that sounds familiar — that’s what they used to do for entertainment during the Holy Roman Empire … before it fell. What a brilliant role model.

I am flattered, but I could never do this. Thank you, my dear friends, but I shall not prostitute my interests in front of a group of celebrity judges. I shall not join forces with my neighbors to host a more fabulous cookout than a rival cul-de-sac. I shall never enter a bake-off. My interests are my own, and I refuse to share them with the robber barons of network television. I have all the reality I can handle right here at home.

E-mail freelance writer Jes Alexander at

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