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The Real Secret of Aspen (What VH1 Didn't Tell You)

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

“My game is tight. I slay the Coug.”

So reads the facebook status of Da Bizzler, letting us know his take on the world. Da Bizzler presents himself as a weight-lifting, motor-sports revving, cougar-lovin’ 20-something, who spends his time watching 300 and dreamin’ of Da Cougs. A friend posts a greeting from a Spanish-speaking country to which Biz responds, “Las Cougarachas!”

Some days Bizzler will get psyched about an indoor bouldering route he’s finally figured out and, like any normal friend, he’ll share the excitement in a status update: “I sent the yellow tape. Cougs, you have been warned. The guns are toned; the pythons have been let out of the cage.”

Bizzler’s latest link redirects us to cnn.com, and a story on one family’s near-fatal run-in with a cougar. Family’s ‘Angel’ Dog Saves Boy from Cougar Attack, reads the headline. Apparently, the loyal family dog saved one lucky Canadian youth from a real-live cougar attack, getting to the cougar before it could get its claws on the boy.

Bizz adds his own comment to the link: “Be Prepared to Fend Off Da Coug.”

I laugh fully out loud (skipping the acronym altogether) and comment on Bizz’ post: “Too bad they had to kill the cougar. Cuz we have a Cougar Rescue program here in Aspen.”

Bizz responds: “Do they use Cosmos and Mojitos to lure out the Aspen Coug?”

Aspen Extreme first acquainted us with her but now, it’s 2010 and the cliché of the Aspen Cougar is played out; been there, done that, nothing remotely new or informative about the topic.

And yet the Cougar topic - in Aspen, and beyond - is hotter than ever.

But who is she, exactly? Is a Cougar simply an older woman and a much younger man? Or is she a wealthy older woman and a not-so wealthy younger man? My friend Dave calls 30-something women who dress up and go out on the town unescorted C.I.T.s, Cougars in Training. I think he was just being spiteful when we’d head out to happy hour without him but according to him, a Cougar had more to do with age than bankroll; just because he kept putting drinks on our tab didn’t mean we could actually pay for them.

Or maybe it was my shiny faux fur that provoked him.

And is that the defining characteristic, at least in Aspen? Do real fur and multiple carats necessarily a Cougar make? A new gal- friend from Manhattan explains in more detail: in NYC, women of a certain age who head out on the town, dressing wrongly for their age - too short a skirt, too much makeup, maybe a side-ponytail?- and travel in packs, are called Cougars. Here in Aspen, she clarifies, women in fur coats and real bling who linger in the hotel shuttle, loiter around the bell station or stare down the unsuspecting bus boy who simply wants to clear their plate, are called Cougars.

My friend coat checks a few days a week so she knows her stole, so to speak. Within minutes, she calls me out on my poser animal pelt. Whatever.
Scientific definitions notwithstanding, the Cougar phenom is all the rage. Details Magazine took a closer look at the topic in November 09’s Old Girls Gone Wild: “the term started as a form of slander in the mid-90’s, used (legend has it) by hockey players in Western Canada to describe washed-up groupies who clawed after them in bars. Today, the term cougar inspires in certain young men -or cubs- visions of smooth talking seductresses with tight dresses and loose morals.”

A recent article in the Denver Post, “Cougars on the Prowl in Denver Nightclubs,” gives us more from the Cougars’ perspective. "Guys my age are fat and gross,” says one Cougar, age 44. “Younger guys work out like I do. I want the total package. I deserve the total package. I want hot and funny." The article talks about a website started by University of Colorado graduates, urbancougar.com, which “revels in everything to do with romance between women and younger guys.”

I respond to Bizzler’s query about luring Cougars out with cosmos and mojitos: “Actually, Biz, they use them to lure the Cougars inside the bars and get them off the streets, out of people’s yards, etc.”

“Yeah,” he replies. “I saw that on the ‘Secrets of Aspen.’”

Secrets of Aspen, VH1’s Aspen-centered reality show, boasts an inside look at Aspen, “in all its catty glory! Amid all the screaming, one woman is accused of prostitution and another, of being ‘a crazy, psycho crack-headed bitch.’ This can mean only one thing: it’s gonna be a great season!”

Aspen Cougar, Gettin' Ready for the NightAspen Cougar, Gettin' Ready for the Night

The show has town, as most locals know it, in an uproar. At least according to Facebook.

As of January 17, 2010, the Facebook Group Aspen Against VH1’s “Secrets of Aspen” has 3,350 members; the show first aired on January 3, 2010. The group states its beliefs - if not its mission - and its ranks keep growing:

1. None of these people are Aspen People
2. They are perpetuating an Image we have been fighting against.
3. I puked a little when I saw the trailor
4. Go back to LA where you belong
** Above Comments are those of the Members of this Group**** We encourage Free Speech here and everywhere !!!”

Personally, I’m not good at joining groups; I abandon book clubs, I’m bad at team sports, in the words of Groucho Marx: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a me as a member.”

But aside from a few typos and the assertion that there’s an actual “Aspen” person (a stereotype in and of itself), I could see myself getting behind this one; I understand the motivation.

The show seems to perpetuate the same tired old clichés of Cougars in Aspen, the gold-digging culture, all things material and vain and not much to do with any of the reasons that many stay here year-round to live an active and cultured life amidst all that this unique mountain town has to offer. I understand the desire to join the group.

But first, let’s ask the hard questions:

When did we start turning to Video Hits 1 in our quest for knowledge and truth in programming? They don’t really even play videos! So why is their skewed programming suddenly so shocking? Since when did VH1 become PBS?

It didn’t. And I think that’s ok.

For someone who doesn’t have a television, I sure know a lot about reality programming; I’m not proud of this, but it is what it is. I trained for a marathon one winter and ran my fair share of miles on the treadmill, going back and forth between AMC and Tia Tequila, or Rock of Love; during crunch time, the smuttier the better. Throw in a little Celebrity Rehab for the home stretch. I’d like to thank VH1 for helping me cross that finish line.

Mindless TV has it point, is my point; sometimes it makes you feel better about yourself, not necessarily a bad thing and really, all things in moderation: if you’re regularly following reality on reality TV, it may be time to find a new reality.

So here’s the truth: there are Cougars in Aspen. There are zillionaires and private planes and pilots to go with them and private chefs to cook for private plane owners. But here’s the real secret of Aspen: there are also extreme athletes and visiting artists and talented local musicians and intramural hockey players and Postmen who love live music and ex-marines who make amazing salad dressing and talented stand-up comics who check your coat before dinner.

And while the VH1’s new show is totally in character for the network, it would have been a bolder, more curious endeavor to make a program that explores more of Aspen, than just its stereotypes.

That’s what we intend to do. Log onto aspen.com on a regular basis, for a series of articles on the endeavors, organizations and people behind Aspen; we’ll scratch beneath the surface, beyond the obvious and take a closer look at what gives Aspen its character, and its characters.

For a more well-rounded look at local Aspen culture, check out the movie Mountain Town, www.themountaintown.com. For more on regional Cougar sightings, http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_12464762.