Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Reality of Reality TV...

OK...I've been keeping this inside for too long now. I have purposely tried to evade and ignore this plethora of "Reality TV" shows that are clogging up our broadcast airwaves for a few years now...but now it seems everywhere you look in news media, billboards or television’s all about some kind of "reality" show such as "Survivors", "American Idol" or "Dancing with the Stars". I know I show my age, but most of these shows is like watching "The Gong Show" on steroids. Some of you will remember that original and often times hilarious show hosted by clap happy Chuck Barris and his zany panel of judges including Jo Anne Worley, Adrienne Barbeau, Richard Dawson, and Arte Johnson to name a few. The tongue in cheek acts and gags on that show were so over the top, you totally got the shtick right from the beginning. These shows nowadays you find yourself watching if only to figure out if they are trying to truly be "real" or not.

Today's ridiculous overabundance of reality shows just points to the vacuum of creativity in American, and now worldwide, programming...and the shallowness of the general public who watches them. I know, I'm sorry if you take offense to my critique here since a majority of people like one or more of these shows...if you didn't, they wouldn't have the ratings to support producing more of this iconic drivel. Unfortunately, I have always had the type of mind that tries to dig beneath the surface meaning of cultural swings...and here are a few observations I have come up with to explain this vacuous phenomenon...

First and foremost, it reveals to me how far our American culture has departed from having any "soul". We are so disturbed by the "REAL" events of our world and lives that we have allowed ourselves to get sucked into these programs featuring frivolous and tasteless "real" characters. We have traded in our imaginations and appreciation for creativity in exchange for some apparent "outside looking in" program of what it would be like to see OURSELVES on TV. Gone are the days of the real character icons of "Matt Dillon", "Andy Griffith", "Granny, Jed, Ellie Mae and Jethro Bodine". "In" are the days of Paris Hilton, Heidi and Spencer, Jon and Kate, and now Britain’s most famous warbler, Susan Boyle. The world has "advanced" its culture to the point of uplifting the weak and even retarded to a level of HERO WORSHIP. I'm not trying to be insensitive or hardened to the plight of the handicapped in our world, physical or mental...but I am not interested in making them our icons and leaders in this very troubled world. We are getting to a point where there would be better ratings for the "Handicapped Olympics" than there would be for the real Olympics or professional sports programming. We'd rather hear Susan Boyle warble, or hear about her stay in a mental health ward after her "exhausting" talent competition than hear the likes of Barbara Streisand, Roberta Flack, Tony Bennett, Luther Vandross or other giant talents in the field. Does anyone else besides me see the alarming principle here?

The "reality" of the situation is our whole culture has evolved to such a narcissistic state of being that we cannot face our realities and must instead escape into the false realities of others around us. Some of us have such a sense of worthlessness and inferiority that we love seeing those with even more problems and greater disabilities than we lifted up for praise or criticism...or idolization. Many prefer "amateur hour" to "professional hour". It is as if we want to "kill" excellence so we don't have to deal with the challenge of reaching it anymore. The inferior always want to bring down the superior. I personally see all this as a socially cathartic and sub-conscious exercise to that end.

Some lessons do come out of this entertainment cycle we are in. Some of them might be:

-How fleeting is popularity or fame. Most winners of these competitive reality shows are forgotten in a few weeks time. Who remembers LAST YEAR'S "American Idol" winner's name (If you do, you might want to examine your participation level in this global catharsis)?

-How shallow and petty our relationships have become. Whether between men and women, or those of the same sex, many of these reality shows reveal the shallowness and venality of people featured on the show. Many of them are way too "real" for my tastes if they represent a majority of the population and their interests. The level of communication, bad grammar and just plain bad manners from these "real" people should give us pause regarding what our fellow American is all about.

-These shows reveal the selfishness and lack of any in depth understanding between many members of the casts. In most cases they underscore the "pack mentality" in our culture, the pressure to conform, or in some cases the pressure NOT to conform simply as an identity and without substance.

Now granted, a couple reality shows might have SOME redeeming qualities and provide educational value. Some of the theme shows like "building shows" and "cooking competitions" send positive messages or education related to helping out those who are unfortunate or poor, or teach one how to cook or other life skills. I admit I have never seen half the shows I read about in the press or see clips from on advertisements or on late night talk shows. In most cases I don't have to waste 30-60 minutes of my life to find out what I think of them. Still, I know that “The Apprentice” is not typical of most corporate jobs in the world…thank God. And I know that most youth of today do not have all the toys, never ending entertainment cash or slutty looks that most of the kids on “Big Brother”, “The Real World or many of the MTV shows have.

Speaking of MTV reality shows, I am so glad I didn’t raise kids during this MTV generation. It is the network MOST responsible for the ”dumbing down” of our youth or trying to convince everyone that somehow “being gay” is cool in Jr. High or High School. I’m not homo-phobic or judgmental of some friends who are gay…but I absolutely don’t want them programming minors through network or cable television to be gay “curious”. I’m no prude, but I resent kids programming that tries to glamorize alternate lifestyles including gay or druggy ones. To that extent I can understand the religious right getting their backs up about such programming when at the same time these same programming forces are trying to take religious symbols and practices out of any public domain. Is secular society so insecure and skewed on their value system that they can’t be tolerant of those people of faith and/or traditional values? This is a troubling chasm in our culture spreading from public broadcasting right up through the Supreme Court of the land.

Ok…that’s most of my rant on this subject for now. I’m sure there are some good reality shows out there. I was truly amazed at the list of them I found HERE at Wikipedia…I have maybe seen 10-15% of these shows…and most of them only one or ½ time. You can have most of them if that’s how you want to spend your TV time. Me…what little I watch of the “idiot box” is news (mostly foreign news from BBC, TVE and others), sports, and I admit it…I am liking the “Food Channel”. I also find more redeeming value in the old favorites from my youth that I can now only find on “TVLand” and other re-run networks…Andy Griffith Show, I love Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies, Leave it to Beaver. These few channel picks are all the “reality” I need and the only reasons I still pay a cable bill.


H said...

How about some REAL reality like Sports. Right now the NBA finals. This is real tv. People who read this blog I would think don't watch TV. I don't. I'm living my own reality. Life is happening too fast and coming on too strong to watch somebody else.

TV just keeps you in line! You won't want to reach your own goals.

TV is for Sports and occasional History. I can't think of any reason to watch anything else.

I was talking to a friend last night how we survived during the earthquake in San Fran...We discussed how we didn't know the destruction others saw on TV. We didn't even know the bridge had fallen. We didn't think OK now we need a TV! We never thought about TV. We were too busy living young and fun in a great city. Seeing music, riding our bikes, camping and living our dreams. Why would you need TV. Stay forever young.

It may be cliche but Kill Your TV. I have never in my life paid for TV! Have I missed out? No...I have lived my own life and don't plan to ever have a TV.

Bibiana said...

Totalmente de acuerdo, parece que a los creativos de television, se les acabo la imaginacion y ahora solo llenan sus espacios importantes con estos estupidos concursos.


Timothy said...

Hi Ed,

You've made many good points about the passive nature of existence that is associated with watching alot of reality tv. The same kind of points can be extended to most sit-coms, crime drama, and also the news programs I believe. For me, the lack of quality programming has gotten so severe that I don't watch network TV here in Australia anymore, and instead rely on dvd releases of the few precious shows that I adore (The West Wing, the Wire, Friends, Deadwood, etc.).

edward said...

I agree with most all the comments here. It is getting to the point where you can get most any programming ON DEMAND from the I predict the internet will soon replace regular cable and satellite viability as a business. Convergence has been coming for a while and is now accelerating quickly to where all programming can come through your computer monitor...eventually tied into your typical big screen Plasma or LDC.

Beauty of the internet is getting the news and programming you want, when YOU want it. Our minds CAN take back control of our lives:).