Double Dog: The The View Challenge

By Gabe Delahaye / January 13, 2009

I don’t watch The View. The obvious reason is because I’m a 49-year-old man, but what I will come to learn tonight is that plenty of 49-year-old men watch this show. In fact, there are men of every age in the audience. So that’s not enough of an explanation. Maybe I don’t watch The View because in the end I don’t feel like two former stand-up comedians, a sitcom actress, and a runner-up on SURVIVOR have anything to add to the discussion, no matter how “real” they’re keeping it. To clarify: my challenge is to attend a New York Times sponsored panel discussion with the ladies of The View and, if possible, to ask a question. To clarify: ugh.

Historically, this is not entirely accurate. I’ve watched The View plenty of times, happily even. I’m not immune to the charms of five idiots sitting in a fake living room talking about the day’s hottest nonsense. Maybe that’s why I find the show so annoying and unwatchable now: 2007’s set change. When the ladies sat at a breakfast nook table, the show seemed self-aware. You watched the ladies because you liked the ladies, and if you happened to glean some kind of boiled-down 10 word headlines out of it, all the better. But there was no confusion about what you were watching: a show for dummies with a big dumb-dumb cast sitting on a bullshit soundstage that was consistently kept at the temperature of Barbara Walters’s vagina. But now that they’re gussied up with a streamlined, “newsy” set, the whole thing feels like a pretentious lie. I’ve seen you Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

But back when it was just a breakfast-nook styled stupid-klatch, the show was watchable in some kind of laughing-both-with-and-at-it way. In fact, in 2000, my roommate at the time and I recorded “audition” tapes to be guest panelists on the show when The View was going through one of its infinite reshuffling phases and was hosting a contest in which regular viewers could match wits with Joy Behar.

The video is not nearly as funny as we thought it was at the time.

But there was, and probably still is, an ironic enjoyment to be had in watching the show. It’s like wearing a thrift store Christmas sweater to the office, or drinking Milwaukee’s Best past the age of 17. Women! Being real! Just chatting it up! But the thing about ironic enjoyment is that its exhausting, and fleeting. Eventually you have to move on, either to the newest irony, or to something real. And I moved on from The View 8 years ago. And then 9/11 happened.

The tickets say 8PM, and I get there at 8:05. This seems reasonable. Even movies don’t start at the time they say they’re going to start. But of course The View panel discussion has already started, and of course I’m the only person who is late. Already I am being reminded that this is not for me. It’s like entering the lion’s den, if the lion is a packed auditorium of people who believe that Whoopi Goldberg’s opinions are valuable. A man in a headset tells me to wait, because I am late, and then he tells me to take a seat in the very front row. Perfect.

Barbara Walters, irl, looks fucking INSANE. Until she opens her mouth, I’m convinced that there’s a sixth View lady that I didn’t know about; one who speaks for the immortals. If ever someone was old enough to actually write out the history of the great war between the Vampire and the Lycan from personal experience, surely it’s this woman. What does that to a face? A sensitive balance between embalming fluid and dark magic, I’m sure.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck looks great. Very pretty. But she’s dressed like an extra in Babylon A.D. That could be attractive if she was cool, but considering her well-known political beliefs is mostly terrifying. Still, very pretty.

The thing about having the women of The View host an unedited panel discussion is that The View is already the women of The View hosting an unedited panel discussion. Near the end of the event, when Whoopi is loudly talking over someone, because Whoopi is always loudly talking over someone–unless she herself is being loudly talked over by Joy–Barbara tries to calm her down and Whoopi actually says “sorry, sitting up here with all of you just feels like I’m at work.” Correct. I’m a little confused about just what the point of it all is. For the people in the audience–which, btw, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? That is a question I wondered the entire time and still wonder now–this must be their equivalent of a concert. That’s the closest parallel: going to see a band perform music that you’d be much more comfortable listening to at home. The main difference here being that in this analogy, when you get to the concert, all the lyrics of the songs have been changed to lyrics about what it’s like backstage and whether or not the bandmembers actually get along with each other.

I have to admit, though, that I’m not immune to these ladies’ charm. I don’t personally find them funny or interesting, and the idea that five multi-millionaire celebrities somehow represent the ordinary views of women is laughable, but I get it. It’s not only easy to imagine people enjoying this show and finding what “the ladies” have to say refreshing, it can be hard to explain why you don’t. Especially in a room full of the type of people whose idea of a good time is paying 40 dollars to hear Barbara Walters and Joy Behar talk about how early they have to get up in the morning (5:30), being the only person who isn’t laughing makes you the sad, foolish one. Not them. It’s the same feeling one gets when one reads an email forward from one’s mom.

That being said, Sherri Shepherd is stupid. It says that in my notes. “Sherri Shepherd is actually stupid.” I don’t care if she plays Tracy Morgan’s wife on 30 Rock. (As if somehow you need to be smart to play Tracy Morgan’s wife on 30 Rock?)

The Q&A session begins. There’s a question about whether or not Elisabeth ever feels singled out or ganged up upon for her politics, and a question about what Barbara Walters thinks the future of news broadcasting holds (she definitely thinks the internet will play a role.) Then it is my turn. It didn’t come out exactly right:

“I’m wondering now that The View is such a successful and influential show if any of you ever struggle with the power your personal opinions have since they are just your personal opinions?”

Joy Behar tells me that she does not understand the question. But I think Joy Behar totally understands my question. Because this is basically my question:

“Why should anyone give a shit what you ladies have to say?”

And I think it probably has an answer. Sure, I’m being a little bit of a smartass here, but a lot of people give a lot of shit about what these women have to say, so it’s something I think The View ladies should think about, and be able to respond to. The fact of the matter is every single “Hot Topic” that comes across their divan is an issue completely outside of the areas of expertise of any of these clowns, because they have no areas of expertise. They’re just people talking who aren’t scared of cameras. And the argument that someone who does this on a nearly daily basis:

Is qualified to hold forth on electoral politics, or the environment, or foreign policy, is patently insane. Other than the performative chemistry these women have together, there’s absolutely no reason for any of them to talk about what they think every day, so how do they deal with that? I don’t think they’re stupid (except Sherri Shepherd), so surely they must have thought about this. A lot, even.

But Joy Behar telling me she doesn’t understand my question throws me off, and I begin back pedaling and trying to be both obsequious and pointed at the same time, because I’m in a room full of overly-enthusiastic The View fans making eye contact with Joy (Barbara won’t look at me) and mostly I just want to go home now because who needs this? I don’t need this, and the ladies of The View are making it abundantly clear that they don’t need this.

“I’m just saying, like, what, you know, the show is great, let me just say that first, that the show is really excellent, and everyone loves it, but, like, do you ever get nervous, like, about your opinions and stuff, because you know most people don’t have to share their opinions, and stuff?”

Ask a rambling, unsatisfying question, get a rambling, unsatisfying answer. Joy talks about how she comes prepared every morning by reading the newspaper. Elisabeth says that her husband is glad she has somewhere to go blow off steam. Whoopi thinks that The View represents a great American past time. Sherri, to her credit, is the only one who even comes close to saying anything meaningful by admitting that after a discussion on the show about Prop 8 she was upset by all the hate mail she got from people telling her that she was a bigot, which is at least forthright and vulnerable and honest of her to admit, although it also clearly tells you where she stands on Prop 8 so she basically is a bigot so whatever. She can be forthright and vulnerable and honest in JAIL. Barbara continues to refuse to look at me.

After that, the rest of the Q & A session descends into an ever-increasing cycle of sycophantic praise. By the end, people aren’t even asking questions. They’re just getting up to the microphone to thank the women. One woman actually says of the show “laughing takes you on vacation.” No, planes take you on vacation. And trains take me home. I’ve done my job. I am not wanted here. It’s time to go.