Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Reality Bites

I've wanted to write about this for a while now, and finally have the time--and words--to articulate what I want to say.

There is nothing good on television anymore. I think we can all agree that TV has become a huge wasteland.

Now there are some exceptions--and only some. Oprah still produces a good show, but sometimes her topics verge on the sensationalistic. However, she hasn't, and will not, stoop as low as Jerry or Maury, her counterparts who rely on catfights and paternity tests to bring in their ratings.

I used to enjoy watching the news on CNN, but I don't always know what to focus on when I look at the screen. Not only do you have the crawl, but lately, you've had radar graphics in the corner of your screen of Hurricane Dolly. I know that hurricanes are major news and should not be ignored, but do we have to look at the same graphic for 20 continuous minutes?

(Oh God...I'm starting to sound like Andy Rooney. And I'm only in my early thirties. Help!)

Anyway, the worst part of TV nowadays occurs in primetime and its sensationalist "reality" shows. Note that I am putting "reality" in quotes. Most of the situations on these "reality" shows are staged. What is so "real" about staged situations? And how does one really, truly know someone's true personality on a "reality" show? How does one know that they're actually hamming things up for the camera? When Survivor first aired, the "reality" genre was so new, people actually thought that the game was actually about who could really survive successfully out in the wild, who really had the best skills needed to do so. We soon found out, through Richard Hatch's manipulations and mind games, that this was far from the truth.

To me, "reality" shows really bring out the worst in people. Big Brother is one of the worst of these offenders. This show just goes to show you how low people will go to win half a million dollars. It really saddens and sickens me how grown adults can act two-faced around people, pretending to be their friend when they are not, all for the sake of winning some cash.

What bothers me most about these "reality" shows are how celebrities are jumping on the bandwagon. Yes, I'm talking about some of these same celebrities who complain about the paparazzi chasing them and invading their privacy, yet they leave their homes, and lives, wide open on a "reality" show. Dina Lohan complains constantly about how the tabloids are hurting her daughters, yet her she is, on a "reality" show, letting the world see into her private life. Celebrity reality shows, I think, may be only partially to blame for taking families apart. I have no doubt that Newlyweds contributed to the demise of Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson's marriage. Please also note that I said partially previously because celebrity marriages often have many issues before they decide to air their dirty laundry on a reality show.

In spite of all of this, "reality" shows are bringing in the ratings. What is it about voyeurism that makes people want to watch? Is it so people will feel better about themselves, so that they'll feel that their own lives aren't so bad after all? Or is it that there are groups of people who enjoy laughing at others' misfortunes?

I don't watch that much TV, but some of the shows I watch, such as Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters, are considered reality shows by some. Note how here I don't put the word reality in quotes. That's because there's nothing staged about these shows. The people portrayed in these shows are real, honest, and true. They're not playing things up for the camera, and in some cases, are very uncomfortable being on camera.

There was once a Bruce Springsteen song that went something like "57 channels and nothing on." That's how I feel about TV today. I once had almost 100 channels when I had digital cable, and couldn't find a decent program to watch. And the channels I do have on standard cable are decreasing, as Comcast takes at least one channel per month and moves it to its digital lineup.

If the 1950s was known as the Golden Age of Television, what age are we in now?

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