It’s amazing that literally each week, like clockwork, the men and women behind what we see on television find a way to televise something even more stupid and nauseating. Yes that was blunt, but for me, reality TV officially resigned from the universe of quality with ABC’s The Bachelor which was based on a group of women racing and clawing to humiliate themselves over a ‘highly educated’, ‘good looking man that can’t get a date. They followed up this masterpiece with MTV’s Real World Las Vegas and its GAP wearing waif savants that have the decision making capability of a pack of lemurs. Then it was Fox’s Joe Millionaire, which is like The Bachelor except the there is no guise of the participants competing for a mate; they are going straight up for money. Oh, yeah, he’s not a millionaire and two weeks before the show, he was driving a bulldozer and bagging groceries or something. But these shows were just the tip of the iceberg.
Fox has a long history of shady show production including classics like “When Animals Attack”, but “Bridezilla”, based on behind the scenes footage of brides-to-be with anger management disorders and “Man Versus Beast” that horribly featured 100 little people racing an elephant to drag an aircraft stretch to new depths. I struggle to imagine a complete camera crew, 100 little people, an elephant, and a television executive coming together to allow such a program to reach the light of day. It’s hard to believe that not one of these people said “hey, this is a bad idea, maybe me can come up with something that is at least partially politically sensitive”. But it happened.
ABC has upped the ante with a Super Bowl commercial preview to their latest production “Are you Hot”, a show that is loosely based on the website hotornot.com which asks visitors to rate the ‘hotness’ of participants. This show proves that we are only one step away from televising public executions. Perhaps the revolution will be televised; the revolution to complete mental surrender.
What does this say about the viewing audience, myself included? For some reason, in spite of my better judgment, I’m literally glued to the screen, watching American Idol, Fear Factor, and Fifth Wheel while saying to myself “what am I doing?”. I love when Joe Millionaire says something stupid about “taking a date out for a romantic evening with some classical music and stuff”. I love watching Greg Brady make a fool out of himself on Celebrity Mole. Sadly, watching regular people and the occasional star of yester year make fools of themselves is the best free fun I know of.
I think the basis our love fair is the result of the collective American insecurity. Literally, the basis of each of these shows is the humiliation or isolation of a person that resembles someone we could know. The “Tribe” speaks to eliminate contestants on “Survivor”. MTV’s Dismissed has a title that tells the story poignantly. Most of us have seen how American Idol’s Simon slices into the less talented with sharp quips. Seeing someone cry because they have sing like a dying crow or because they were dumped by a complete stranger makes that bad day at work a little easier to swallow. Despite the inherently meanness, we love it.
And the networks love it too. They aren’t trying to trick anyone; they shows are won’t draw anything close to critical acclaim. They love it because reality television shows are startling cheap to produce. Also, in an environment saturated with substitutes, networks are forced to present something more sensational and more over-the-top each season (if not each month) to not only keep advertising dollars coming, but also to steer our attention away from cable television and its kabillions choices as well as the internet.
Increasingly, pressure from the bottom line forces entertainment executives to bottom out and not take chances. We recently received a press release for The Mouse’s new release “Jungle Book 2”; seemingly stinging from the failure of “Treasure Planet”, we should expect an assortment of resurrections in the future including Toy Story 9 and 10,001 Dalmatians. ABC has dug “Dragnet” from the grave. CBS has brought “Star Search” back to life, of all shows. This, I’m sure is just the beginning of a scary, scary trend; one day, networks and movie producers will completely give up on making anything new.
In theory, the viewer and the movie goer dictates what will be produced. However, increasingly, I don’t believe that’s true. I’m not sure that there is significant demand for “Are you Hot”. In fact, I’m terrified that the reverse is true; big television’s “They” will continue to force feed us so-called reality television. Yes, I’ll watch “Are you Hot”, but I won’t like it. Even Oliver Twist became accustomed to gruel. He might have even liked it, in the end.
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