Just last fall the networks pushed out a large dose of new dramas, situational comedies, sitcoms, and action shows, bringing new and old stars back to the small screen. Four months later we’re stuck in the dead of winter and some of those shows have found critical praise, some have found audiences, and some have gotten the axe. To fill in the gaps the networks have decided to bring back more “Reality” TV.
Longtime RazorFine readers know my stance on “Reality” TV – I believe it’s one of the first signs of the apocalypse. Last week’s premiere of Armed & Famous and now tonight’s return of American Idol show, sadly, that the “Reality” TV beast has yet to be slain and has returned from the wilderness to attack our village again.
Why do I hate “Reality” TV? Why would I rather sit through a Paulie Shore movie marathon, watch Jean Claude VanDamme perform a one-man Hamlet, or watch the Duff sisters argue the philosophy of SpongeBob SquarePants, than watch a single moment? Well, let me spell out for you my reasons…
1. It’s NOT reality: When was the last time a girl jumped at the chance to marry a complete stranger who would also be wooing a dozen other girls at the same time (The Bachelor)? How about the chance to compete with other complete strangers to win the hand of a fake-millionaire (Joe Millionaire) or a creepy one (Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire)? How much to live in a house with strangers and compete in idiotic contests (The Real World) or travel across the country and compete in pointless tasks (Road Rules, The Great Race)? Aside from these contrived set-ups, that make recent romantic comedy flicks seem plausible, the shows are often staged, the environment is strictly controlled, the “performers” are coached, and scenes are shot, re-shot, dramatized, and edited to manipulate the “reality” of the situations (Laguna Beach, Survivor, The Restaurant, The Hills, and others). And does anybody else have a problem with the hypocrasy of the contestants of shows like Survivor struggling to fend for themselves in front of a camera crew with hourly breaks at the Kraft service table?
2. It creates talent-less Game Shows and/or are voyeuristic bores: Most of “Reality” TV shows are set around the chance to win a prize, not by performing athletic or intellectual feats but by showing how far you will go to humiliate yourself or others. Is this the only “talent” Americans have left? See, that’s not reality – that’s a Game Show. The remaining “Reality TV shows that aren’t structured around competition involve a group of random people, who would never room together, being put together and encouraged to act out and perform for the cameras. I often think of these as monkeys in a cage shows since the “stars” spend time locked up yelling, jumping up and down, and throwing feces at each other. Often these show promise surprise twists or the possibility of scandal (yeah right, on network TV?) in order to entice and lure viewers, but the result is more often snooze-inducing than titillating.
3. It rewards mediocrity: Who are the stars of “Reality” TV? Jessica Simpson, Nick Lashey, Bob Saget (America’s Funniest Home Videos) and Kelly Clarkson. ‘nuff said.
4. It’s mean-spirited: Want to see couples broken up and relationships and lives ruined for your amusement (Temptation Island)? Want see parents conspire to break-up their child’s relationship in an attempt to run and/or ruin their life (Parental Control)? Want to see people get fired and voted off in tears (The Apprentice, Survivor, Big Brother, and others)? Want to see how stupid celebrities really are and how incapable they are of living in mainstream America (The Anna Nicole Show, The Girls Next Door, The Simple Life, The Surreal Life, Flavor of Love, and others)? These shows are purposely cruel because that’s what sells. Do you know when the ratings of American Idol hit their peak? It’s not the finals, it’s the first episodes of each season where talentless “singers” are brought in to make fools of themselves in front of millions. Why? They obviously aren’t good enough to compete, so why show these scenes if the true reason for the show is to discover raw and undeveloped talent? Because the real purpse isn’t to find or create a good singer, but to humiliate all but the most talented hack from the mediocre talent pool they are able to draw from – to the unending cheers of American audiences.
4. It promotes the idea that debasement is worth five minutes of fame: How much money will I need to offer you to eat these worms (Fear Factor)? How much to stuff you in a phone booth with ugly naked people (Distraction)? Want to watch women compete to be as slutty and skanky as possible to win the favor of a complete loser they wouldn’t give the time of day if there wasn’t a camera around (Elimidate)? Shred your decency and pride to be humiliated for 15 minutes on camera and a check, well damn where can I sign up! Wow, the American Dream certainly has fallen far in my lifetime.
5. It preys on the worst of humanity: Current American culture runs on the principle that any publicity, even bad publicity, is good for you. People want fame and are willing to do whatever humiliating behavior it takes to get themselves a tiny slice. Sadly “Reality” TV is a perfect vehicle to use the worst of America for amusement of the dumbest of America.
Family Note: What I find truely sad about this is families often watch “Reality” TV together believing it is cleaner than other network television programming. I think you might want to rethink the messages that are be delivered – human life and decency are commodities, people getting humiliated is fun, and if all you have to do to sacrifice for a little fame is give up your good taste and a small part of your soul well that’s not really so bad.
Final Note: “Reality” TV is a boring, pointless, and self-debasing medium that has nothing to do with art and no more entertainment value than your average cock fight. TV execs love it because it’s cheap and audiences crave it like crack because it feeds our darkest desires. It hurts the collective consciousness with every humiliation and every viewing. And it will rot your brain if you let it. Take a look at the pictures to the right. To paraphrase a anti-drug commericial of my youth, the top is your brain, the bottom is your brain on “Reality” TV. Any questions?