Friday, October 01, 2004

Reject Reality TV

It’s tempting all right. But, like most things in life, doing the right thing is hard. It’s like walking down the aisle in the supermarket with the ice cream case and not putting anything in your basket.

I’m not saying you should only watch The Learning Channel or PBS. I said you shouldn’t put any ice cream in the basket. I didn’t say you had to eat brussel sprouts.

I make a concerted effort to not watch any reality TV shows. And, while I strive to keep a humorous tone, I’m serious about encouraging you to do the same. There are three reasons why I don’t watch reality TV shows.

  1. Hello! IT’S NOT REAL! The term reality TV to denote this new breed of shows is a gross misnomer. First, while the outcome of a particular show may not be pre-ordained, don’t kid yourself that these shows aren’t heavily scripted. You can be sure that the producers of the shows are working furiously to tweak the dials to produce the highest ratings. To do this, they will often manipulate contestants, pitting them against one another. Hardly reality.
  2. The contestants aren’t real either. Most of daydream or fantasize about being a celebrity. However, most of us don’t dedicate ourselves to attaining celebrity. The same cannot be said of the average reality TV show contestant. For the most part, these people are supreme narcissists. Think about it. Are you so conceited so as to think that millions of people would be interested in the details, intimate, mundane or otherwise, of your life? Do you think that the average person is interested in your every feeling and opinion? (And, yes, I realize the hypocrisy inherent in making such an argument on a blog.) Worse, contestants are selected because they fit a demographic pigeon hole. The best example of this is the gay contestant. It all started with Pedro on “The Real World”. (In addition to being gay, Pedro also suffered from AIDS. Bonus! Two birds with one stone.) This trend really took off with the rise of “Survivor’s” Richard Hatch. (Mercifully, his descent back into obscurity was equally swift.) Now, the “gay one” is a reality TV staple.
  3. It’s bad for you. I say this in all seriousness. This was the kicker for me. I found that when I tuned in to these shows, I would end up disgusted by most, if not all, of the contestants. In some cases, I would end up literally yelling at my TV set. (Ok, I do the same thing with Eleanor Clift on “The McLaughlin Group. But I digress…) Sure, sure, some people tune in to “Big Brother” or “American Idol” to cheer on a particular contestant. But, I believe that most viewers tune in to see who gets “voted off”. There is a German word for this: schadenfreude. It means secret pleasure at the misfortune of others. This is malicious spite, pure and simple. And it’s not healthy.

Worse, the popularity of these shows has begun to snowball. Reality TV shows, as a rule, have much lower production costs. Instead of paying a cast of actors, producers only have to pay one contestant. And since the shows have no scripts, the producers don’t need to hire writers. The lack of professional writers and scripts, combined with the average contestant’s intellect (or lack thereof), translates into an appalling lack of intelligent discourse. Put simply, these are dumb shows.

However, their increasing popularity means that the networks can charge more for advertising blocks. Lower costs + higher revenues = more money for the networks. You’re just encouraging them, folks.

I know it seems that most networks’ lineup consists of either reality TV shows or gory cop dramas. But there are good shows out there. HBO is consistently responsible for excellent series and mini-series (“The Sopranos”, “Six Feet Under”, “From the Earth to the Moon", “Band of Brothers”). Tune in to A&E or BBC America. A&E turns out high-quality productions, many of which have a literary basis.

Speaking of a literary basis, try reading a book. Catch up on your correspondence. Start a blog. Get some exercise. Whatever you do, just please don’t feed the contestant’s egos or line the network’s and producer’s pockets.

Just say no to reality TV!

1 comment:

SG said...

Right on! Finally, someone who feels the same way about this issue as I do. In fact, I don't even have tv at home. The first time I encountered this genre was when I was living in Germany, and the first "Big Brother" shows were coming out. Couldn't stand it then, still can't stand it now! I shall join your boycott.