Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Day the Boob Tube Died

In the post-apocalyptic after Y2K, television viewers had to look somewhere for guidance. Guidance is a subjective term, and in this case, it took the form of an overweight middle-aged homosexual naked man named Richard Hatch. Reality television had arrived, striving to tear apart the glorious television industry and to rape television viewers of good taste.

Sure, Survivor was a shot in the arm that networks needed. Network television at the turn of the century had been lacking in originality, and viewers were eager to see something new and creative. Six years later, and the creators are really grasping for straws; they are relying on mere shock value to keep an audience.

Exploitation has always been an American pastime. Remember that time you saw a sucker getting pulled over, while you cruised right by him with a smug sense of satisfaction? This is the feeling the producers want to capture through their programming of reality television.

Several shows exhibit this quality; placing contestants in very uncomfortable positions to watch them squirm under the pressure of their “real” situation. It is akin to following an ant with a magnifying glass, or dropping a slug into a maze made of salt. Sure it may be cruel, and barbaric, but it is so entertaining!

But people want to be entertained. After all, that is the main purpose of television, right? Not entirely. From a market perspective, businesses absolutely love reality television. Quick and cheap to produce, easy to sell product placement spots, and it brings in the ratings. From a public sphere perspective that is an entirely different story.

Reality television provides a disposable form of entertainment that is both meaningless and mindless. Networks such as HBO and Showtime have proven thought-provoking shows can get high ratings and great.

Why aren’t the ratings nearly as high as big network driven reality shows? Network television is free at the cost of advertisements and lesser quality content.

Cable television tries to add a little bit of thought to reality programs, but it is forced. In a recent episode of Thirty Days, Morgan Spurlock placed a Minuteman (militia border patrol) into the household of illegal immigrants for thirty days.

This is the type of exploitation that the show promises and delivers every week. It also tries to teach a cheesy lesson to the contestant that is lost in translation. The show mainly covers the fights between opposing sides.

Why do only certain types of people show up in The Real World? Not because they are hip and trendy, but because their personalities will clash. MTV relies upon arguments to bring in ratings.

If simply watching the show was not enough proof, they began a spin-off appropriately titled The Gauntlet, which features only the most argumentative characters from past seasons pitted against each other.

But have conflicts in reality television come too far? Does this have any effect on real life? Ask Ralf Panitz, who, in 2002, murdered his ex-wife immediately after she revealed a secret she had on The Jerry Springer Show. While the drama is often emphasized via edits and music-- the hate is often real.

On the lighter side of things, how can somebody not love a show called Amish in the City? Taking strong-willed Amish children outside of their element and subjecting them to the horror that is a public high school must be good television!

Or how about the visual holocaust that was The Anna Nicole Show? Watching an overweight millionaire spend time all day eating donuts and impersonating Marilyn Monroe gets old quite fast.

Watch the credits of a reality show, and you will notice that there are numerous writers employed. I don’t know about you, but I always employ a writer in my every day real life. If you are going to have writers, leave the acting to professionals.

Finally the trend seems to be dieing down, with better shows starting to appear during primetime. Lost, The Office, House, Heroes, and Ugly Betty are all new free-to-air shows that have exhibited more than just shock value. These are genuinely good shows that entertain, while also provoke thought. With luck, this trend will continue until reality shows are only shown on cable to the hardcore watchers.

If that does not happen, I propose that reality television shows are systematically wiped off the airwaves indefinitely. Simply head to an In-N-Out Burger around Los Angeles and find a washed up celebrity from years gone by. Stick him in a weekly ‘special’ as the host, and have viewers call in to vote for their least favorite show. The following week, in an overly dramatic and highly publicized ceremony, the show receiving the most votes will be pulled from television. That can’t miss…

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