One thing about the wife going away on a business trip - you get to spend quality time with your children, where you learn about their hopes, their dreams, and the most appalling TV shows out there. Thanks, kids, for introducing us to perhaps the most frightening show currently being broadcast on our local screens. We refer, of course, to MTV's My Super Sweet 16.
Back in the day, even we were known to turn on MTV once in a while to catch a cool music video. And we admit that we're considered "past it" by most people of our children's generation, even though we do occasionally enjoy some of what passes for music these days.
But MTV's since branched out big time, creating more channels and its own reality show programming, much of which we submit is downright awful, but even worse, disturbing.
Take My Super Sweet 16, which essentially follows young American girls as they plan their big party. Nothing wrong with that, on the face of it. A Sweet 16 is a well-known cultural phenomenon in the US and elsewhere, and seemingly unobjectionable.
But wait - this is MTV we're talking about, where reality programming has to be big, brash, and - if at all possible - offensive. So viewers don't see Suzy Q. Public of Iowa having a cookout with her girlfriends. Instead, it's out to the Coast, for the biggest bunch of spoiled, disgusting kids they could find.
Here we are in Fremont with Jessica, Ashley and Candace, triplets who somehow missed out on their Sweet 16, and instead are throwing a bash to mark their 18th birthdays. Quickly we establish that the girls, whose parents are divorced and whose mother cleverly never made a single appearance in the show, are filthy rich. Their house has an elevator, and Dad's got a Ferrari in the garage.
"People say: 'I hate those triplets; they're rich brats," says one of the girls as we're introduced, and they do little to prove that assessment wrong. "I hope people say: Holy crap, I've never seen a party like this before," says another sister. The theme: how about something wholesome, like Las Vegas. Yep, that works for the girls.
Soon Candace ("the cocky one"), Jessica ("the jealous one") and Ashley ("the wet blanket) are off to the party planner, with a budget as big as the national debt. It's clear these girls love each other deeply. "Candace is going to try to make the party about her," fumes Jessica. "They better let me have my spotlight," says Candace. Meowwwwww. Poor Ashley can only moan; "It's my party, too," as the poor thing goes off to try on fancy dresses.
Then it's off to deliver an invitation to (cue dreamy music) gorgeous guy Michael Born. "Oh my G-d, what am I gonna wear?" asks Ashley. "This is one of the hardest decisions I've had to make in a very long time."
"Have you guys given up trying to look better than me yet?" hisses Jessica. "I think that if Michael Born decided he liked one of us, we'd kill her," she admits as the girls set out by limo for Michael's place.
Poor stud muffin Michael's vocabulary is pretty much limited to "awesome." But hey, looks are everything in MTV-land. "If you guys want to give me anything for my birthday, give me Michael Born," sighs Candace.
Whether it's trying on showgirl outfits or learning magic for their big night, the girls are stoked, each now with their own surprise planned: a song with a band for Candace; a tango number for Jessica; and an even bigger surprise for the more down-to-earth and therefore despised Ashley.
Now it's party time, and here comes Michael in his SUV. He's got a rose for each of the girls but damn - our hunkasaurus can't remember which one's which! There's confetti, magic, and it's L-O-U-D! Fortunately, MTV captions some of the exchanges, which considering how teens talk, probably required some help from the UN translators' pool.
Candace rocks with the band and of course raises the dead with her awful voice. Poor Michael's busy asking a friend: "Tell me, which one is which," and still gets it wrong. And then it's Ashley's moment, as she wows 'em with her showgirl outfit. "It's time," she says, for her to "be outgoing for once in my life!" And look - hot band Sugar Cult's been hired by Dad!! For just $40,000!!! In other episodes, the Sweet 16 get a car from their folks.
If teenagers are drawing values from MTV, arguably their favorite channel, then perhaps My Super Sweet 16, Jackass, and Bam's Unholy Union - featuring an obnoxious skateboarder preparing for his wedding - are sending the wrong message.
There's nothing wrong with being cool and out there, but telling kids that they have everything coming to them, that nothing matters but money and having fun and damn the consequences is doing them a disservice.