By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008
At first the video looks like just another shaming-by-YouTube. A scorned wife (blond, British, bug-eyed), fearful of being evicted from her Manhattan pad by her estranged husband, decides to air her grievances online. She rants about their nonexistent sex life and her husband's family.
But consider the subjects.
He: Philip Smith, 74, president of the Shubert Organization, which owns 17 Broadway houses and the National Theatre in Washington.
She: Tricia Walsh-Smith, 25 years younger, an actress and playwright best known for writing the play "Bonkers."
The video is 6 minutes and 22 seconds of utter and annihilating embarrassment, a low-production-value romp through the intimate lives of the rich and desperate. Walsh-Smith, who says that her tarot cards predict "victory," lights into Smith for "hacking my computer," and at one point refers to herself as the "biggest . . . idiot in the world" for believing that Smith's blood pressure prevented intimate relations.
Oh, and the entire video is annotated: Walsh-Smith gets the label "Good Egg." Smith gets "Mean, Bad."
As of yesterday the video had earned nearly 300,000 viewers, a mention on the "Today" show and the juicy bits quoted in the New York Post.
It's like Jerry Springer, like America's Most Horrifically Awkward Home Videos.
But somehow, not like that at all.
We are, after a decade of reality TV and two years of YouTube, quite accustomed to seeing sad sacks spill their hearts on screen. This display feels so much more uncomfortable.
Watch the guests on Jerry Springer and you think, "I can't believe she slept with his sister." Then you watch a while longer and you think, "Oh wait. I can."
You kind of expect it on a show like that.
These people do not have lawyers. Sometimes, they do not have teeth.
It seems entirely reasonable for them to rely on Bouncer Steve to mediate disputes.
Walsh-Smith? She is accomplished and intelligent. She does charity work, raising money for wounded Iraq vets and addicts.
In other words, she's doesn't need Bouncer Steve. She's got a publicist. (Calls and e-mails were not returned yesterday. A person who answered the phone at the Shubert Organization said that they would not discuss employees' private lives.) She also has a lawyer, Raoul Felder, the divorce attorney who has sued such famous men as Martin Scorsese and Johnny Carson. He describes his client as "powerless," saying that she was communicating in any way she could.
We expect women such as Walsh-Smith to quietly negotiate a divorce from within a mahogany-paneled law office until the sordid details are leaked the old-fashioned way, on "Access Hollywood."
Not on YouTube.
"Typically, YouTube videos are created by average people, people who never had access to anything," says Alexandra Juhasz, who teaches a course on YouTube at Pitzer College in California.
Juhasz says that Walsh-Smith's video is so squirmy because she's a fish out of water: "It blends the voice of a regular person with these very privileged circumstances. . . . She is a powerful person using the medium in a way more typical of a disenfranchised person."
Midway through the horror, Walsh-Smith decides to ring up her husband and clue him in on her production. He's on another call. His unsuspecting assistant offers to take a message.
"I don't know if you know, but you know Philip and I never had sex," Walsh-Smith says. "But he's got Viagra and condoms and stuff here, and porn movies. Just ask him what he wants me to do with them, would you?"
" Wait wait wait wait wait-- "
"You want me to ask him that now?!"
No! Ack! La la la la la. Can't. Watch. Anymore.