Thursday, March 10, 2011

Reality Television and the Death of American Standards

Written by Joe the Revelator

2010, Time Magazine releases a list of the 200 most influential individuals. On this list are celebrities, talk show hosts, musicians, artists, orators and politicians. Barack Obama hits as number 26, and Hillary Clinton mounts the list at 4. Elton John is only ranked 163’rd, which isn’t too substantial considering his history in the spotlight and the hundreds of millions he’s raised for his AIDS foundation. But in a world populated by dynamic, influential people, only so many can be recognized. Right?

Nicole "Snookie" Polizzi

On a list voted by the readers of Time, it may be a surprise to see Snooki’s name (#16, Jersey Shore) pop up, as well as Bristol Palin (#84, Dancing With the Stars), Susan Boyle (#58, Britain’s Got Talent) and Simon Cowell (#59, American Idol). Most of us recognize these “influential” people, by face if not by name, and they grace the list alongside presidents and world leaders. They’re not physicists or astronauts, or writers, or painters or actors. None of them hold a Nobel Prize. In fact, the most notable skill-set of many of these chart topping champions is that they have no skills. They’ve contributed nothing to the community. They are Reality TV stars.

It’s hard to believe that a nation so steeped in its television roots would arrive at the entertainment level we’re on. We, who embraced the dramas of Broadway and the hotdog frenzies of baseball, the comedies of war in M.A.S.H. and late night interviews with Johnny Carson, have allowed the immature slap-fighting of The Hills, Jersey Shore, and Big Brother to reign supreme. Primetime is littered with amateur singing contests full of warbling hopefuls, and tourists halfway around the world begging the impoverished locals to help with their gameshow challenges. Today’s romance has been reduced to a leggy blonde with bleached hair and artificially whitened teeth, passing out roses to twelve potential mates in Brooks Brother’s suits; a far cry from ...never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

Before a new reality series is launched, teams of psych analysts and executives sit around tables to interview potential reality stars; not to gauge their experience or their savvy, but to determine if they fit a relatable archetype, if they have the right pathology to stir up rousing dramas in a house full of narcissists and adult children. Network executives are approached by more and more attractive youngsters who come to Hollywood with dreams of becoming reality-stars instead of movie-stars, with no more qualifications than “Because I’m me.”

I believe we’ve sold off our stages, our screens, and our microphones, and rented cheap rave clubs with cameramen sprinting after short-skirted vixens who swear like sailors and cry on command. I ask; who watches this smut? And the sad answer; I do.

The family sits down to eat dinner, and the tribal drums of survivor start beating like an army on the march. None of us reach for the remote. We’re all waiting to see who gets voted off, even though it has nothing to do with their survival skills. They may hunt, and fish, and carve canoes and spark fire with rocks, but in the end it’s all a popularity contest as trite as high school, and the ability to adapt in nature is quickly punished with excommunication. Torches get snuffed. Singers get berated by Simon Cowell, and chefs are screamed at by the red-faced Ramsay. Calling it a train wreck would be polite. It’s awkward, degrading, and brings us back to locker room hazings and playground fights.

...judging you, judging you, judging you...

“I hope J.T. wins.” My aunt tells me. She picked him as her favorite because of his honest southern drawl and his youthful face. I pick poorly. I root for the tall, proud black man, who used to work as a gravedigger before he was dropped in a hostile island environment. He braves the wilderness with nothing but a machete- and a team of cameramen, some TV network supervisors, a host, doctors, and the local experts. My pick gets eliminated 7th, not even halfway to the finish.

Great minds discuss ideas.

Average minds discuss events.

Small minds discuss people.

This quote by Eleanor Roosevelt is the best clue I have to explain reality television’s sway over the public. It’s like catching a rumor midair and putting it down in ink, to be discussed later. Episodes are unscripted yet heavily edited to give it the illusion of story and plot.

My greatest optimism, and what I hope will topple reality shows, are the popular 45min-1hr dramas that have cropped up on pay channels and Netflix. Shows like Dexter, Prison Break, Weeds, Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men- There’s a flavor for every pallet, and the stories are compelling and well crafted. In light of these quality series, I believe Reality TV is an adolescent phase of entertainment, a hiccup in the grand scheme of diversions. In twenty years we’ll laugh fondly at the folly of Reality TV, like we do spandex-clad pro wrestlers. Soon we won’t remember who the hell Snookie was, or why we thought she was more influential than Ghandi.

1 comment:

  1. Also this:

    Best part is that this article came out the day after you posted this post. Maybe they read it and used it for inspiration? :D