Imagine, if you will, that entertaining the masses had reverted all the way back to bread and circuses; that there were masses of people influencing the emperor to hold a thumbs up or down to eliminate the latest competitor, gleefully cheering as they are removed from view. Now imagine that instead of carnage and gore, idiocy and drama were the draw for the masses. Seem far-fetched? You must not have a television, then. Behold, the glittering gem balefully sucking us in to its hypnotic facets, Reality TV.
Once upon a time, there were game shows and documentaries and scripted shows. All was well. We could have reality revealed to us with a smooth narrative delivered by David Attenborough , as it should be. Another brand of reality was revealed to us in talent show formats, such as the Gong Show. Entertainment was given us by skilled actors, lovingly delivering their lines.
Sadly, this was not good enough for the masses of studio execs. Like the slow marching of the armies of Mordor, the tramping of something “new” approached the television masses. The dollar signs danced pirouettes before their eyes, as they realized they could get rid of paid actors and script writers in one fell swoop.
Arguably, the first step on the slippery slope was COPS, which allowed us collectively to laugh at how perpetually stupid criminals seemed to be. Between it and the talk show format that brought us increasingly idiotic situations (I’m looking at you, Springer), the landscape of television was forever changed. Kind of like a Chernobyl for the mind.
Then came Survivor: a bunch of people vying for a cool million, going out of their gourds on a “deserted” island, just ignore the caterers feeding the camera and lighting crew. I cannot imagine how this became a hit, nor how anyone can fail to understand that the drama is being whipped up by the production staff off-camera. Fear isn’t the mindkiller, schlock TV is.
My appearance on Survivor, should it ever happen, would last exactly 12 ½ minutes, and they’d have to convene the tribe specially to remove my cancerous obstinance. I’d break into the catering trucks regularly, sing and dance like a one man Tony Awards ceremony, and laze about during challenges like Dagwood on Sunday. Of course, I wouldn’t react well to being voted off prematurely, and the results of the after-affects of my binge drinking of every available mai tai in a 40 mile radius will be both predictable and terrible. I’d be winning, the Charlie Sheen way.
To return to the topic at hand, somehow it all went downhill after the Survivor landmark. A grand parade of shadenfreude began, an avalanche of shitty TV show after shitty TV show.
There’s a show where we can watch girls vie for the attentions of one “lucky” bachelor, competing for roses like a pack of sled dogs trying to get the last Beggin’ Strip. I imagine this could be made watchable with the introduction of velociraptors.
She'll eat the other girls on the group date, you know.
There are shows that attempt to resurrect the brief spark of celebrity that washed up has-beens once enjoyed. From Celebrity Rehab to Dancin’ with the Stars, from Gary Busey to Vanilla Ice, it’s all an exercise in squeezing the last 12 seconds out of the proverbial 15 minutes of spotlight.
Another show that would be better with raptors.
There are shows where we voyeuristically watch groups of people self-destruct in endless high school bullshit drama. If I understand correctly, the most ridiculous of these offerings is Jersey Shore, in which a duck-faced hobbit attempts to have “Snooki” with any half-attractive dude. I haven’t actually watched enough to know for sure if this is the real situation, though.
Dangerboy can't handle the Snooki. You know she's at least a 2-bagger.
These shows are as real as wrestling, and typically have scripts, or at the very least scenarios to improv scenes in. That, I think, is what I find most offensive about the genre. The true reality shows that operate as journalistic documentaries actually show you the way things are, only slightly skewed by the presence of a camera. Reality TV, however, destroys what it observes, like some bizarre twist on Quantum Physics. (If you put Charlie Sheen in a box, is he fucking wasted in every parallel universe?)
I’ll admit that I have a sliver of hypocrisy here, there are some “reality” shows that draw my interest. I’ve noted that it’s usually based on something I do or have interest in, or in the production values. If it’s produced well (i.e So You Think You Can Dance after auditions are over), then I can watch the art created by the “real” people, and just enjoy it. If it’s something I find interesting, such as tornados, I can ignore some of the “human drama” aspects of Storm Chasers and just watch cool HD footage of twisters. My hypocrisy goes only so far, though.
(Aside the first: Sadly rare on that show, I’d love for them to do a Blu-Ray of nothing but storm footage, with none of the “human elements.” Maybe David Attenborough could narrate it?) (Further aside: One of the dudes has gotten data from inside twisters now…show me that! That I’m interested in! I don’t give a flying crap if his cameraman is replaced by his girlfriend in a chase, I want to know what the atmospheric pressure was in the core of that thing!)
And so I salute you, Reality TV. But I salute you with one finger. Guess which one. May we all recover from your midget-cake-vote-sing-drama-rehab-fakefest and watch some art from time to time.
Another very special thanks to Wifefish for today's art.