Wednesday, May 28, 2003

I have something to admit and it's not pretty, so some of you might want to look away now.
My wife and I are Reality TV Junkies.
I know...I know...I can hear the cries of "Good God! No! Not that!!"

It started innocently enough with the news. But the news wasn't the gateway drug. No, for me it was COPS. Yes there's something about watching a bunch of jackbooted law enforcement officials kicking the crap out of the wretched refuse of society that appeals to the tiny little Republicans that reside within even the most leftward leaning liberal, and God knows I'm one (I call mine "Rumsfeld". He's a screaming fascist little bastard, slightly to the right of Hitler. Much like the real one, I suspect). Michael Moore made the point about how much the show has done for race relations in the country, but there are a bunch of other reasons to love COPS, most of which deal with self-esteem issues. There's the affirmation of looking at other people's hovels and being able to say " Gee, My Apartment doesn't look so bad after all". There's the moral superiority of watching a strung out little junkie being slammed on the hood of a cruiser and thinking that you're probably better than that guy, or at least luckier. And, if nothing else, if you didn't get your white trash fix from Springer this week, here's the rest of 'em. I love it. When it went to an hour on Saturday Nights I positively platzed.

As if that wasn't bad enough, I then moved to the US and was exposed to *gasp* ...*cringe*...*shudder* THE REAL WORLD. God save me.

It's not like it didn't have its antecedents. I had seen the work of Allan King, the Canadian documentarian ( as opposed to the Catskills comedian). He pioneered the trend of having a bunch of cameras following regular folks around just to see what happens in films like " A Married Couple" (for those of you who like your domestic trainwrecks down and dirty) and "Warrendale"(For the nasty group home lovers out there. Sort of an antediluvian Big Brother). But none of that prepared me for the "The Real World" which is, to my mind, the Queen Mother of all that followed. And the Real World begat Road Rules which begat Survivor which begat Big Brother ( and yes I know there were European and Japanese precursors for these shows, but shut up, I'm on a roll) Now voyeurism and eavesdropping were not only acceptable, they were encouraged. My only problem with the show is that I think they should get some more interesting people. The problems of good looking ,self-involved 20 somethings aren't cutting it the way they used to. As the MTV generation ages (the originals are now entering their 40s after all) I think they should start throwing some of them into the mix. Frustrated never wases, and confirmed alcoholics, neurotics, the ugly, the borderline psychotics. Have the 7 strangers be genuinely strange...Now that would be interesting.

Survivor came next. And with that one I dragged Carol down into the gutter with me. We, like many of you out there who are now shaking your head and tsking, became emotionally invested in the outcome. So, when Richard Hatch won, we went berserk. We were depressed. The world was an awful place. The lesson of the show was that if you lied and cheated, you won. It was not just a game but philosophy. Ayn Rand would have loved Survivor. We snorted and fumed and vowed we would never watch the show again...Then there was Survivor 2.

Carol found her own crack show when Big Brother (or as I like to call it, The Sartre Show)debuted. She would be up nights watching the computer feeds, posting the boards, chatting in the chatrooms. And all this was during the first season which has to be acknowledged as being pretty dull. Imagine what was happening around here during the last 2. Ever since Carol has referred to it as her " little show''. She's currently chomping at the bit waiting for Big Brother 4 to hit in June (or July). It's a sad sight, really.

From there it just went downhill. We watched Joe Millionaire and cried. We watched Mr. Personality and cheered when " Dr. Evil" Chris in the Green Mask was vanquished. We even watched "Celebrity Mole'' and ''I'm a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here!!'' though technically they don't qualify. We do have some standards. They're not very high, but we have 'em. We refuse to watch Fear Factor ( more of a game really, but still...Having bugs dumped on someone has too much of a yuck factor to be entertainment in our book). Ditto The Bachelor and only watched the finale of " Married by America". For the record, TV should stop trying to marry people off. It hasn't ever worked since Who wants to marry a Multi-Millionaire'and the trend shows no sign of changing.

Which brings us to American Idol

I have seen the future of Presidential Elections and it is American Idol. I've thought about it and thought about it and I'm convinced that this is the way they should go. Not the Singing Part (unless you really want to humiliate them, which is always an option to keep in mind). You would have a series of competitions between the various Prez Wannabes in stages, with a bunch of smartass judges from all affiliations ( Bill Maher, Dennis Miller, Arianna Huffington, Michael Moore. P.J. O' Rourke, but not, I repeat, not Anne Coulter) . It would be primarily intellectual, although I don't rule out physical competition (it is television, after all). And the Public would actually vote to whittle down the pack until the 3 hour end of Season Spectacular when the "American President" is chosen.
I think it would work.
It should.
More people, after all, voted in American Idol than voted in the last Presidential Election.

Anyhow We watched the show off and on for the months it was on. As a former Theatre director, my favorite part of the show are the early episodes with the bad auditions. which, I assure you, are not exaggerated for dramatic purposes. They are too gruesomely real. We followed it and were crestfallen when Clay, the skinny white Geek, lost to Ruben, the big black geek by so few votes. I personally blame Florida.

But then I got to thinking, as I infrequently do, about a couple of things.

In the 60's The Monkees were damn near crucified for being a manufactured rock /pop band. Now in the''new'' millenium and the era of Backstreet Boys, Britney, and 'N Sync, we have realized the error of our ways and decided that the manufactured pop star is the future of music. This is scary for more reasons than I'll go into.

Then I started to think the nature of the beast and I came to this startling conclusion...

Reality TV is Neither...

It's not reality because the presence of the cameras and mics negates any hope that what you're going to see will be unaffected by their being there. And it's not television in the traditional sense of it being acted and written, even though it's just as artificial and manipulated...

But, let's face it, none of these are new or original insights, nor were they meant to be....

I'm just killing time 'til The Amazing Race 4 starts.