Sunday, May 01, 2005

Reality and the Widescreen God

There sure are a lot of real people on TV these days. Real people showing us their dirty, shameful secrets. Real people being humiliated and degraded. Real people competing for love and putting their hearts and souls on display like ugly sideshow freaks for us to gawk at. And gawk we do. Apparently, we like it. The ratings for these TV shows are huge. The more lies, deceit, tears, agony, humiliation, fear, and heartbreak, the better. Give us more.

TV used to help us escape to fictional worlds where fictional people lived fictional lives. We watched and then went back to our normal day-to-day lives - our private lives. Personal stuff was, well, personal. We really didn’t know, or want to know, what was going on inside the minds and homes of total strangers. It was enough for us to live our own lives. It made us feel dirty inside to see other people shamed and suffering. We averted our eyes and felt bad. Now it’s different. Now we love it.

These days we crave the real thing on TV. We want to see real people at their most fragile and vulnerable. Where once we would have turned away in embarrassment, we now sit and stare, transfixed, drooling in our TV dinners. It’s almost like we once had more respect for our fellow man. Like we had a little switch in our brains that clicked on when we saw other people humiliate themselves - a reflex that made us feel uncomfortable to see others in emotional distress. We used to resemble creatures with a soul and a sense of humanity. These days we resemble some sort of parasitic empathic leech, prostrating ourselves in front of our Widescreen God, feeding off the emotional misery and humiliation of others.

And what about the people who are being humiliated? They don’t seem to be too concerned that their public displays of stupidity and ignorance might cause their families or loved ones shame. No. Now they line up to go on TV to expose their innermost feelings and personal failings for the word to see - their emotions laid bare for us to inhale like second hand cigarette smoke. It gets us high. We’re addicted.

Assorted celebrities like Jessica & Ashlee Simpson, Anna Nicole Smith, the Osbournes, and the Gotti’s, strut across our TV screens sharing their personal lives with us in turn for millions of dollars. We have nothing in common with them. We can’t identify with them in any way whatsoever. But we are captivated. Like pathetic, empty-souled voyeurs peeping through the curtains of our rich neighbour’s homes. It satisfies some inner need in us. It must. Otherwise we wouldn’t watch.

And then there’s the talk shows where people bare their souls for the world to see. People who humiliate themselves by going onstage with their spouses and their spouse’s lovers. Potty mouthed trailer trash fools, crawling out from under some rock, exposing their putrid underbellies to the world. My husband is having an affair with my mother's pet chihuahua. Gee, maybe Gerry Springer would be interested. Lets call him. After all, there’s lots of people who will watch. And watch we do.

And we mustn’t forget the competitive shows, where people engage in physically challenging or emotionally draining situations that expose themselves and all their weaknesses to the world. Hey girls, lets compete for the love of some handsome man on international TV. Who cares if we’ve never met him before. We get to be on TV. What else matters? If there was a definition of empty brained superficiality, how could these people not be included.

Are you unsatisfied about your physical appearance? Don’t worry - just go on ‘Extreme makeover’ and your troubles will be over. And people will watch. Are your kids unmanageable? That’s OK – Supernanny will come to your rescue. And people will watch. Do you have perversion problems or odd personal difficulties that ordinary people would laugh at? No problem. Your troubles will be over if you just call Jerry Springer, Sally Jessie, Maurie Povich, Rickie Lake, Jenny Jones, Dr. Phil or any of the other parasitical, idiot loving talk show hosts. And, you can bet your butt, people will watch.

And there are innumerable other reality shows where so-called real people lay it all on the line for us. Top Model, Fantasy Island, Joe Millionaire, The Amazing Race, Married By America, The Contender, Survivor, The Apprentice, Wife Swap, Big Brother, The Surreal Life, Manhunt, Love Cruise, and so much more. I’ve searched the web and there are more than 300 different reality TV shows.

Check this out:

I’m not kidding. That’s more than 300. Am I nuts, or is that just plain crazy?

At any time during the week, we can turn on the TV and tune in to see vacuous, attention starved miscreants bare their souls and their bodies for our consumption. And consume we do. What the hell is wrong with us?

OK, let me be clear here. There are two kinds of people who support the existence of these shows. There are the people who go on them. And there are the people who watch them. It is debatable who is more responsible for this travesty of humanity. One thing is for sure though. It is a travesty.


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