Steven King had the right idea, and it’s more than just a little scary now. As we creep closer to 2019 with each new television season, the line between violence and entertainment is slowly blurring in the prime-time lineup. We have chefs who can’t recite the ingredients for Flan without using the “F” word, housewives you wouldn’t trust caring for your worst enemy’s children, and groups of desperate people on islands interacting with each other in ways Jane Goodall would have trouble explaining. But where did it start? Was it the day we found out TV Wrestling was fake? Maybe it was that episode of Geraldo when he got whacked in the head with a chair? They may have been there at the beginning to usher in this new form of entertainment, but to me Reality TV has its roots along the highways of this great nation of ours.
Essentially there are two types of people; those who slow to a crawl on a major Interstate at the mere sight of flashing lights and crumpled cars, and those who blow their horns and yell an assortment of expletives in an attempt to get the aforementioned moving more than 5 miles an hour. Somewhere, during one of these gaper delays, a Hollywood producer sat in the back of his gas guzzling limo and had an epiphany. After a few phone calls to cancel meetings, and an hour of moving slower than if his staff were behind the car pushing it, he gazes out the window and spots the future of television. One car is on it’s back with it’s wheels in the air like a dog doing tricks, and the other is a once sporty coupe which now looks like the prototype for the Smart Car. But that isn’t what set the light bulb off. What he saw was the 8-mile backup of “viewers” slowing down to get just a glimpse of the misery and carnage. And POOF! Reality TV was born.
Reality shows are making celebrities out of people who weren’t talented enough to mow our lawns yesterday, but today we’re taking fashion advise from them. They say it’s reality, but is it? Maybe it’s scripted just a teensy, tiny, little bit? Maybe just a casual suggestion here or there to get things rolling? Years ago they swore up and down TV Wrestling was real, and then they came out and said it was choreographed. Now it’s called Wrestling “entertainment” and they use an acronym hoping you’ll forget what they said before. Is this the fate of Reality Shows? Now that the viewers are hooked will these shows be choreographed, making them more and more outrageously real? Add to this a host with an Australian accent and an Erectile Dysfunction sponsor and you got yourself a hit show.
Lets not forget politics isn’t immune to the reality fever everyone is trying to leverage. I’m a devout Republican, but the VP choice in the last election really had me scratching my head. He picked who? An obscure governor from a state with more Snowshoe Hares than people? Then the reality factor reared its ugly head. Hints of scandal in her cabinet; a pregnant, unwed daughter; a bridge to nowhere, this had all the makings for a “Housewives of Anchorage” series not a political campaign. I truly believe Mr. McCain’s intentions to right the wrongs of our nation were sincere, but they were completely buried in the media frenzy that followed his decision. Maybe if Kate Gosselin had been available things could have worked out better for him? Sadly, by November Mr. McCain’s intentions had done more to raise the ratings for SNL than the confidence of the nation.
So what’s next? It would appear these Hollywood visionaries have created a monster. The challenge now is trying to satisfy the insatiable thirst for misery and hostility we crave week after week. The obvious answer is a Reality version of The Running Man. “Inmate” shows have been popping up in the television lineup over the past couple of years, so why not take it to the next level and do something that might have an effect on the surplus prison population, one week at a time? Or, given the economic climate of the nation, why not a Reality version of Fun With Dick And Jane? Each week you give an unemployed couple a Bill and Hillary mask and a rubber gun– then let the fun begin! I’m giddy just thinking about all the possibilities.
The one positive note I’ve found in Reality programming, it has driven me back to reading. I had almost forgotten how good it felt to get lost in a good book. To sidle along behind a character as they introduce you to a small town filled with emotion, a big city wrought with suspense, or the intrigue of an international affair. Now, that’s entertainment. If I want reality, I'll just pull up a lawn chair and break out the popcorn the next time my neighbors have a row. Who knows, it could end up being the next hit show.
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