Friday, January 28, 2011

Whither Reality?

I have said and constantly demonstrate that reality and I are barely on speaking terms. But recently I have come to realize that reality doesn't even speak to itself when it comes to television programs. With few exceptions the increasingly ubiquitous (due to their low production costs compared to scripted programming) reality shows are to reality what a carp is to a carpet.

There is a vast spectrum of "reality" programming today, running the gamut from those which actually have some valid if however tenuous claim to being entertaining and informative--cooking and designing competitions--to junk food for the brain, from Tabitha Takes Over to Hoarders to Cops to What Not to Wear. Surely there must be a million of them. If they had a calorie count, the viewer would rather quickly starve to death. But at least these shows feature people we might actually run into in the supermarket. They are human beings...albeit sometimes very strange human beings...with real problems which stand a chance of being resolved.

The most disturbing trait the majority of reality shows share, however, is their complete disassociation from reality.

Extreme Home Makeover? A prime example of a set-up from start to finish, the success of which depends entirely upon the viewer never, ever asking a question. The needy family doesn't know they're coming? Then why are they all clustered around the door waiting to burst out when Ty Pennington, who I find increasingly annoying and whose ubiquitous bullhorn I'd love to shove up his...uh...left nostril...wakes everyone in a three-mile radius with "Gooood Morning, McGryblifarstonbergersen Family!" After leaping up and down wildly, screaming, hugging Ty and his crew, and bursting into tears of gratitude, within three minutes the family is sent off on a wonderful vacation. Obviously, they always keep packed suitcases at the ready. The instant they are out of sight, an army of identically dressed construction workers (?) marches down the street yelling and pumping their arms in the air(how did they get there? Where did they come from?) and destroys the family home. What about all the family's belongings? No matter. And the family watches the proceedings from the vacation location they just left for five minutes earlier. Bulldozers and cranes and cement trucks appear out of nowhere to begin construction of a mega-mansion far beyond any practical need. Plans? Permits? Never mind.

Toddlers and Tiaras? Dear lord, where is Child Protective Services when we need them? Momma Rose from Gypsy is Mother Theresa compared to these vampiric creatures who feed off their young daughters in an apparent effort to try to fulfill their own crushed dreams. In what "reality" do they live?

But the most egregious examples of so-called "reality" shows are those which very deliberately attempt to erase the line between humanity and the lower animals. These shows are nothing more than guided tours through the overflowing-Porta-Potties of our society. Their only purpose is to titillate and either create a pathetic form of envy or to give their viewers a sense of mental and/or moral superiority over the people they are watching. For the most part, this type of "reality show" invariably has several things in common. They tend to feature astonishingly rude, obnoxious and totally self absorbed--but almost always physically attractive--boors whose lack of any noticeable talent is exceeded only by the size of their egos.

The Housewives of...Where? Stupefyingly vain, mean-spirited harpies whose cosmetic surgery bills must equal the gross national product of France bicker and bitch and flaunt the wealth they had nothing to do with obtaining.

The Kardasians? To this day I have absolutely no idea of who these people are or what purpose they are supposed to serve.

Even so, they can be forgiven because they can claim, rightly, that if you don't like them, the TV has an "off" switch. Yet those who do not exercise this option, find themselves bombarded by examples of the worst of human behavior, and they cannot help but be influenced by it and inured to it.

This is evidenced no more strongly than by programs like Jersey Shore, which glorifies vacuous but physically hot guys and ever-so-cute bimbos who would probably be kicked off the show at the slightest hint that their IQs might surpass that of an overripe tomato. But they're beautiful, they're all breeders (and don't you forget it, buster!). And the young love it! That's the way to behave! That's what life is all about.

They are wrong.

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