"We've still applied the standard network reality casting percentages : fifty percent male, fifty percent female; sixty percent white, thirty percent ethnic, ten percent undetermined; balanced dispersal of ages from fourteen to eighteen; plus the four Golden Tokens: gay, foreigner, disabled, and orphan. As per usual, we'll be throwing all sorts of plot bombs and crazy situations at the poor bastards - with the new added twist of a live segment at the end of each episode."
What happens when a reality television packager decides that there is nothing good on the air anymore? Or when an underfunded space agency decides that it will open any door in order to get some recognition and much-needed cash? In an age of ultra-sensationalist programming, endless sponsorship opportunities, and shamelessly exploited teenagers, the solution lies in a new show called Waste of Space.
DV8 productions, helmed by Chazz Young (think: a TV host incarnation of Ryan Seacrest-meets-Caesar Flickerman of The Hunger Games) decides to send ten teenagers into outer space, in partnership with “NASAW”, and livestream the fallout aboard their living habitat. There’s just one thing: the kids aren’t actually in outer space. They’re really confined to a soundstage—completely unbeknownst to them—and at the whim of DV8’s manufactured situational drama.
An epistolary novel collected by a television studio intern-assistant-cum-whistleblower, Gina Demarco’s Waste of Space takes good old fashioned cynicism to the next level. The story, combining transcripts from episodes, video interludes, diary entries, and other memos, follows the different cast members, show runners, and disgruntled scientists through the eponymous television show’s first season. Ostensibly, the book is meant to deconstruct character stereotypes, reality television, and the mindless gullibility of the consumer-zombies who devour such shows and feed the perpetual cycle of crap. In order to accomplish these ends, Demarco wields satire like a sledgehammer, taking huge hacking blows at American consumer capitalist society. Demarco’s humor is over-the-top, front-facing, and without any nuance or subtlety.
The result? Your mileage may vary. I personally felt the reading experience to be akin to that sledgehammer analogy—getting slammed into, multiple times, by a heavy, blunt object. Waste of Space reads a lot like Beauty Queens by Libba Bray: I loved the idea of the story more so than the actual story.
The most incisive and effective part of the entire satire, in my opinion, is Demarco’s focus on the willfully believed lie. That is, the public wholly buys into the lie of unsupervised teenagers on an outer space jaunt, with losers getting dumped out of an airlock for their transport back to Earth. Clearly the technology doesn't exist (the show is set in present day); clearly, apparatus falls off walls and screens malfunction, revealing them to be TV monitors. But that's the point. There is no real challenge to DV8’s fiction—because people don’t care if it’s real or not. They want to believe in the fiction--and that is, ironically, the core truth at the heart of the novel. In the earliest parts of the broadcast, one of the characters openly speaks about how the entire show is clearly fake—but the character is speaking in Japanese that remains untranslated in the broadcast, so no one knows what she's saying. (Of course there are definitely people on Earth who are watching the show and can clearly translate her speech—but once again, the willfully believed lie is the point here.) Demarco's insight into our desire to be misled, to buy-in, wholesale, to the most fabricated truths is a harsh and powerful reality.
Beyond this insight, however, Waste of Space struggles to find its footing. Demarco’s deconstruction of stereotypes doesn't quite work—the narrative follows ten contestants that are packaged and presented as reality television archetypes. The nerdy, homeschooled weirdo girl obsessed with sci-fi, the shy skater dude, the bratty rich kid, the drunken party girl, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough to care about.
In Book Smugglerish, 6 disgruntled teens out of 10.