4.28.2008

Crunching through reality TV

Is there anything less "real" than the reality shows on TV?

You know the ones I mean -- highly popular shows that feature jerky cameras following vacuous contestants as they're tortured, stranded, set up on blind dates and/or urged to lie, cheat and steal.

Strangers are cast away on a deserted island where the only potential food items are insects and sand. Celebrities are forced to face their fears by dangling from tall buildings while eating insects. Beautiful people do stupid stunts such as eating insects while amongst them is a "mole" who'll tell if they're not actually swallowing.

These reality shows are intended to prove the contestants' mettle. Near as I can tell, they prove two things: 1) Insects are good food, and 2) Some people will do anything, and I mean anything, to get on television.

Viewers seem to enjoy watching people make complete asses of themselves. Apparently, nothing's more fun that witnessing people stabbing others in the back or trying to seduce a "millionaire" who's really a blue-collar, insect-eating shlub.

The fact that all these situations are artificial -- implausible set-ups with the cameras rolling, carefully edited to make the contestants look their absolute worst -- doesn't seem to bother the television-viewing public. In fact, that makes it all the better. There's comfort in the notion that these fools knew the cameras were on them when they gulped down those insects. And they did it anyway.

Our own lives may be the pits, full of stupidity and poor choices, but we can always watch a reality show and smugly say to ourselves, "At least I wouldn't do that. Not in front of 30 million people anyway."

TV producers, pursuing a hot trend like lemmings off a cliff, are going farther afield in search of more "reality" to dump onto our vast cultural wasteland. Before long, we'll see a show in which a group of disgraced former CEOs are stranded on a deserted island with nothing to eat but insects. Each executive must take out the others, armed only with subpoenas, insecticide and an M-1 Abrams tank. Winner gets to be Secretary of the Treasury.

Before it comes to that, TV producers should look closer to home. Regular American neighborhoods are full of fear and danger and intrigue and insects. Take the cameras to average homes, and we can all eagerly watch as families and friendships implode before our very eyes.

Some suggestions:

--"Survivor: Suburbia." Harried parents are trapped in a ranch-style house with three teen-agers. The house is equipped with only one bathroom and one telephone. Chaos results.

--"Chill Factor." He's too hot. She's too cold. Married couples bicker over thermostat settings.

--"The Bachelor." This version of the popular program won't focus on women slavering over some handsome single man. Instead, it'll show the bachelor hanging out with his buddies, all of whom are married. He'll spout long anecdotes about his exciting single lifestyle -- leggy women and late-night discos -- until the married men gang up and beat him to death.

--"Joe Poverty." Eight bachelorettes visit the suburban home of Joe, an unemployed construction worker with a beer gut, poor hygiene, a mountain of debt and sole custody of four surly children. The cameras roll as the women try to persuade themselves that Joe is a "good catch." First one to run screaming from the house loses.

--"The Mole-Rat." This show centers on Chuck, a fat, hairless man with buck teeth, who moves in next door. Chuck refuses to mow his lawn, borrows tools and never returns them, and complains endlessly about the contestants' barking dog. The goal is to see which family holds Chuck down and forces him to eat insects.

--"Fear Factory." What's so scary about dangling off tall buildings? If you want to witness real fear, then videotape parents as they deal with their children. Suggested events: bedtime, eating broccoli, learning to drive, going off to college.

Any of these proposals would draw high ratings as weekly television shows, but don't expect TV producers to offer them anytime soon. They're too close to real life.

Let's face it: Most of us have all the "reality" we can stand.

1 comment:

Clair Dickson said...

I'd like to see the one with the CEOS. And aren't they all disgraceful?

But, then, I'd have to turn on the TV to find the show. People who watch this should read more. Then I'd have someone to talk to.