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August 06, 2004
'Entertainment' Limbo

Another place I'm starting to see a painful division is between what we profess to believe in what we enjoy as "entertainment."

"Superhero" movies I can (just) understand. The appeal to the psyche of a country that more than half-believes we're the superhero good guys of the world is pretty clear.

War movies...well, most of the films that have come out about Vietnam I interpret as our way of dealing with the pain of a time in our recent past when few of us didn't do something to be ashamed of.

Before that, maybe we glorified our "war history" a bit, but I do think those who have been willing to go to war on our behalf are worthy of honor. (I don't always think the leaders were worthy of the same honor, but their role isn't quite the same.)

Sitcoms...well, every society needs comic relief. What we find funny says a lot about our cultures.

Television drama...cop shows and lawyer shows are staples of television "entertainment." I guess it shows a fascination with "the process" but as I understand it (I don't watch them), a feature is the fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Perfectly understandable.

But so-called "reality" television...the appeal of that has always been a mystery to me. I don't understand people glued to television screens watching "real police videos" in hopes they'll see...what? Someone get shot? A little blood? And those "survivor" things, what is the point of watching a bunch of actors pretending to be real people, squabbling through a scripted set of "challenges" and "competitions"? Can't you just watch the Olympics if you want to see people competing physically? (Don't even get me started on the idiocy of those dating shows.) And that "funniest home videos" show was nothing but a humiliation contest. Whoever was the most humiliated won. What does that say about us?

If you can't see the degradation inherent in this concept, then you're just not trying.

Some TV shows offer an extreme makeover, others a bid for pop stardom. But the hottest reality show in the U.S. Hispanic market is offering the ultimate prize -- a potential green card to immigrants desperate to pursue the American dream.

If it turns out that this isn't the usual crop of faked-up "average people" with Equity cards and a string of bit parts in forgettable roles, I may...well, I don't know what I'd do.

This looks more like a cheesy plot to entrap illegal aliens in a bad political thriller than anything else.

How low will television go?

Please note: I am not blogging on company time. Well, I mean, I am, but I'm working. I'm on hold.

Posted by AnneZook at 03:44 PM


It's interesting that in the 90s we had shows like the X-Files which suggested, over and over again, that the truth was out there but that we, the public, were being kept in the dark. There was some intense paranoia alive and kicking in America in the early and mid-90s, and it showed up in television shows (along with people who honestly thought Clinton was trying to establish a socialist dictatorship).

It strikes me the mood has mutated somewhat, and the reality shows reflect that. There is still the same sense that the truth is somewhere else, and a hunger to be let in on the secret. The reality shows seem to be catering to that. The more "real" shows (like Cops) are informative and spread American values worldwide (you read the bit about the Norwegian kids being arrested by cops in Norway and asking "Aren't you going to read us our rights?" But there were no rights to be read. Because of Cops, the show, the Norwegian kids are more familiar with the American legal system than Norway's.) The more scripted shows, I'm not sure of the appeal.

As to the dating shows - I don't know. I put it down to pathology. Who the hell enjoys this stuff?

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at August 6, 2004 06:36 PM

I don't know about the dating stuff, but I do remember hearing a bit of a Harlan Ellison interview in which he revealed that his single favorite TV show was People's Court, because of the fundamental reality and naturalness of it.

I'll admit to watching a little bit of the dating shows, in moments of extreme boredom (they can be educational, for those of us who didn't really 'date' in a conventional sense), and I'm one of the only people I know who watched the original "Who wants to marry a millionaire." We watched it because we knew it was a cultural train wreck, not because we expected to enjoy it, and we were right.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at August 7, 2004 01:24 AM

Of course, there is the educational value of the realism. Take, for instance, a documentary like Girls Gone Wild - such an authentic portrayal of American female youth allows us to glean important insights about what it's like to be a woman in America today.

(yes, I'm kidding :-; )

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at August 7, 2004 10:19 AM

My other hobby (besides blogging) is people watching. I think alot of people enjoy people-watching and reality programs are a way to people-watch without leaving the house. It's not any deeper than that, I don't think.

Posted by: Amanda at August 9, 2004 08:23 AM

Lawrence - Well, that's sort of the point, isn't it? "Reality" TV has about as much in common with "reality" as Gilligan's Island did with being shipwrecked.

Amanda I'm a people-watcher myself, but I'd rather watch people than stagey melodrama. That's just me, of course. YMMV

Posted by: Anne at August 9, 2004 10:59 AM