”Weakest Link” is S&M TV
Until now, it was possible to watch the Fox’s network’s incredibly annoying ”Boot Camp” and conclude that its success was due to the novelty of seeing discipline meted out to softy Americans; armchair sadists like seeing gluttons for punishment being screamed at by members of our armed forces. I find the decible level of ”Boot Camp” repelling — it gives me a headache, and I cannot become involved with the show’s contestants because I couldn’t care less about people willing to be bossed around by military bullies in any situation other than a threat to our national security.
With Monday’s debut last night of ”The Weakest Link,” however, I wonder whether America is beginning to reveal a side of itself to which we don’t often admit: that we like being scolded, punished, pushed around. ”Weakest Link” is the huge British hit whose host, Anne Robinson, has been imported to give American contestants the tongue lashings she regularly administers to hapless Brits who fail to answer her quiz questions. Robinson’s trademark dismissal, ”You are the weakest link — goodbye!,” would seem to contradict everything a generation of self help twaddle has told us: that we should feel good about ourselves; that we are each ”special”; that no one is better than you.
On ”Boot Camp,” that sort of malarkey is disproved in the name of patriotism. On ”The Weakest Link,” we are permitting a foreigner to suggest that we are ill educated dolts — certainly, the contestant who didn’t know that Putin presides over Russia and another who thought the Bible’s four Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, John, and Job were examples worthy of Robinson’s scorn.
The thing is, I suspect that millions of viewers are going to find Robinson – – with her schoolmarm glasses and leather coat and spikey boots — as discomfiting as I find the scream and spittle squall of ”Boot Camp.” I like ”Link,” even though I’m already sick of its overused title phrase, which Robinson seems to mutter every 30 seconds. It used to be thought that the British had a higher tolerance for — indeed, a naughty fondness for — masochism, for feeling an erotic thrill at being punished. But if ”Link” takes off here, and ”Boot Camp” continues its pummelling popularity, America will be revealed as a nation that yearns to feel the crushing heel of domination in the soft spot on its back. We don’t want to celebrate it, certainly — otherwise, that Marquis de Sade biopic ”Quills” would have been a hit — but ”Boot” and ”Link” are the kinds of shows Sade probably would have programmed into his TiVo.