Columns, Opinion, Reviews

Pop culture drama that was envisioned/predicted before it began

Conceptual art of a scene in “Shock Treatment” where Farley Flavors (Cliff De Young) and his henchmen propose to Janet Majors (Jessica Harper) that he can make her an overnight sensation. (Illustration by Danielle Friedmeyer/For the Muleskinner)

Whether on social media like Twitter or Instagram, talk shows such as Wendy Williams, or local news channels you have most likely heard about the Jordyn Woods and Tristan Thompson scandal circling around the various networks.  

“Keeping Up With the Kardashians” star, Khloe Kardashian, called attention to the situation on Twitter, calling Woods a “liar” in reference to the alleged hookup between her and Thompson, putting all of the relationship and the situation on full display for the public instead of handling it privately.

As I have seen this news going around for the past week, I realized something extraordinarily shocking. This behavior of making private matters public for the world to see — especially in Hollywood — has been predicted many years prior to its reality.

Fifteen years before “The Truman Show” was released — a film that discussed the lack of privacy caused by reality TV and consumerism — a lesser-known film hit the box office.  That film was the movie musical “Shock Treatment,” and the behavior of Woods, Thompson and Kardashian feel almost deja vu when comparing it to the film.

“Shock Treatment” was released in 1981 and was directed by Jim Sharman, with lyrics and the book written by Richard O’Brien.  According to O’Brien, the film is not a sequel, not a prequel, but an equal to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which was released in 1975 (lyrics and book related to the film also written by O’Brien and directed by Sharman). “Shock Treatment,” like its “equal,” was a commercial failure when it first hit the theaters but never reached the iconic cult status that “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” achieved.  

O’Brien’s “Shock Treatment” follows newlywed Brad and Janet Majors (played by Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper) as they and the rest of the citizens in Denton, Texas, pile into the DTV studio where they spend all day and night watching reality TV Shows, such as “Dentonvale.” While Brad and Janet are in the audience, they are suddenly brought forward by the show host, Bert Schnick (played by Barry Humphries), to participate in a game show called “Marriage Maze,” where Janet exclaims how unhappy she is in her marriage with Brad.  From there, Brad is wheeled off by “Rest Home” Ricky (Rik Mayall) to the white padded walls of the set of “Dentonvale”, a reality show starring the brother and sister doctor duo, Cosmo and Nation McKinley (O’Brien and Patricia Quinn).

While Brad is locked away — literally — in a cage, being fed bright pink sedatives to keep him quiet, Janet is told that she will be made a star, an overnight sensation.  Since Janet’s marriage is now on display, the audience is mindlessly watching and eating up the drama. Janet will be all the talk on the sets of DTV. After a makeover by the doctor and part-time fashion designer, Cosmo McKinley, Janet is transformed into a big-time celebrity, singing about how much she loves herself and how much everyone loves her in the song “Me of Me.”  She is a big hit for DTV, the fame instantly going to her head. The mastermind behind the shows, Farley Flavors (Cliff De Young), decides that she will headline for his new show on mental health, “Faith Factory,” that will not only broadcast to Denton but to the entire world. In preparation for the new show, all of the characters sing and dance in the song, “Look What I Did to My ID,” which is essentially about how much more selfish they will become as their level of fame increases.  

But here’s the catch in this bizarre and entertaining film.  Farley is actually Brad’s long-lost twin brother who is so jealous of him that he tries to destroy their marriage, hoping to seduce Janet and have her for himself. Janet eventually comes to her senses when Brad escapes the padded walls of “Dentonvale” to confront his twin brother about his jealousy and deranged plot, and all is well in Denton. Farley still gets the success of his new show, “Faith Factory,” the audience still hungrily consumes the media, and Brad still gets his girl.   

Looking at the scandal involving Kardashian, Woods and Thompson, it is incredibly shocking to see that 38 years later the depiction of reality TV and celebrity life being on display so accurately.  Even though the situation should have been handled privately, it was put on social media and it is alarming that to this day audiences around the Western world gobble up the drama, possibly to distract themselves from their regular, mundane lives.

While Tristan and Khloe’s situation is far less sinister — there is no evil twin behind all of this — “Shock Treatment” plays out more like a string of spunky ‘80s MTV music videos instead of a hard-hitting, real-life experience. The overall message of this criminally underrated film still stands prominent and prevalent in today’s reality TV and the hyper-consumer crazed world.

“Shock Treatment” is available for free on Youtube.

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