I got the second Moderna vaccine at 11:00pm on April 19th so yeah, I spent 4/20 eating Dominos and watching a reality show about party girls getting sent to live in a monastery. The weirdest thing about Bad Habits, Holy Orders was how quiet it was. I was prepared for goofy and distasteful and melodramatic and instead I got a reflective, engaged, and sporadically upsetting meditation on self-worth. The set up was ridiculous, the exact sort of thing that it’s astounding anyone would think up and also astounding that no one already had. Five 19-22 year old (girls? young women?) who drink, a lot, and fuck, a lot, signed up to be on a reality show where they’d go on a spiritual journey because they were unhappy with their lives. They were expecting pedicures and meditation; they got the Daughters of Divine Charity.
The producers clearly wanted Drama. Each “next week on” promises fights and rule breaking and raised voices. But the episodes never really lived up to their promises. The incident they built up the most— a very drunk girl comparing the emotional experience of breaking her nail to being unhoused and the nuns’ disapproval of this comparison— took only a tiny bit more context to prove to be a moment of kindness and patience and a modeling of how to choose your battles. Their big “this is hell” pull quote wasn’t actually about the convent they stayed at, but about a different one they were sent to for a few nights where they were literally not allowed to speak and were required to wake up in the middle of the night to pray.
I have a very strong and very uncomfortable memory of watching the pilot of UnREAL and realizing that I would be an excellent reality TV producer. Reality TV producers and editors work together to create stories out of thin air. They manipulate the stars and turn them into characters, squeeze the stories they want out of them. They film non-stop and take away their phones and give them too much alcohol or take it away completely. I think all the time about how the sixteen Are You The One? queers shared a single bed/room for two and a half months and we saw a grand total of ten hours of it. (I also think all the time about how I would not make it through a single day of Are You The One? and how I wanna be on it so bad, but that is neither here nor there.)
I’ve always thought of reality producers as Knights of Swords. They see and want and get and are perfectly willing to stab and slash in order to succeed. But Bad Habits, Holy Orders made me realize that actually, they cannot literally make it up. They do have to have the material to cut from. And while they can decontextualize all they want, suggest and imply and obfuscate, they can’t make words come out of anyone’s mouth. Knights of Swords only have one tool in their toolbox, and when it doesn’t work, they’re left with a goal and a desire bigger than they know how to handle.
The strange depth of parts of Bad Habits, Holy Orders felt more like a private mistake that I’d stumbled onto than something that was actually made with the intention to move me. I felt like the knights had lost their swords, and in trying to figure out what to do, they had to create something new. I’m not saying Bad Habits, Holy Orders is a work of art of anything, or that it’s inoffensive (it is not) or narratively well-structured (it is not) or even something I’d recommend watching (I’m not even really sure who it’s supposed to appeal to). But part of the challenge of the Knight of Swords is to see what happens when you put down the swords, and this feels, at least, like an example of what might happen if they get taken away.
Pop Tarot will end in May so I’m not going to advertise subscription anymore, but get in touch any time for a tarot reading, tarot tutoring, or if have any questions, and you can tip me at @james0ctober on Venmo and Cash App and at jamiebeckenstein at gmail dot com on PayPal. Be safe, watch TV. <3