It all started out innocently enough; shows like “The Real World” and “Road Rules” weren’t taken too seriously. Most viewers realized it was just a gimmick and that these so-called reality shows were about as far from reality as you can possibly get without the aid of special effects and scripts. Though given the number of times characters, for lack of a better term, on these programs “hooked up” I’m not entirely certain that no scripting was involved. Still, it was essentially eye-candy targeted toward the younger generations on cable channels such as MTV and VH1, that is, until the major networks got an idea of just how much “reality” shows could boost their ratings.
Suddenly we were flooded with shows like “Fear Factor” and “Survivor,” which were still original concepts…in their first seasons. However, the way we looked at them changed. The new topics around the water cooler became who was voted off the island, or who had what poured over them or crawling on them, etc. It was as if we had become a society of voyeurs, even those who claimed to be uninterested or disgusted were often drawn in by the curiosity of how low a person would sink to make some easy money. Instead of taking advantage of our new cultural addiction and providing us with intelligent programing, the networks have just encouraged us to sink deeper into our voyeuristic desires by allowing us to participate in the shows via the Internet or phones, such as with “American Idol.” By sending in our opinions, we could help decide who would move on and who would be humiliated by rejecting contestants performing on national television.
It often seemed that who got rejected was more of a compelling reason to watch rather than who was the mediocre performer lifted to a new status of “Idol.” Here, people were risking great deals of self-respect to try to land a position as a star. One judge, Simon, would not only reject them on the basis of their performance, but also insult their worth as well. And as a society, we ate it up.
However, perhaps the most disturbing trends in reality television have been the trivialization of love and capitalization on the concept of the battle of the sexes. After the controversy of Fox’s “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire,” you’d think the average viewer would have become more leery of such programs. After all, we’re told from childhood, that when it comes to love it isn’t, or shouldn’t be, looks and money that matter, but rather what’s inside that counts. The deception as to how much Fox’s “multimillionaire” actually had and how much of that was in real estate, as well as how quickly that marriage dissolved should have driven the point home.
Instead, other programs with the same basic premise sprung up like hydra to take its place. Most recently and perhaps most disgusting was, of course, Fox once again with “Joe Millionaire.” If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard of this program, I envy you. What it involved was deceiving 20 women by making them believe your average model/actor/construction worker, who makes only $19,000 a year, was in actuality worth $50 million and then whittling the competition down to one lucky woman who got to learn the truth and decide to stay with or leave “Joe.” Would true love or money win out? Hmm…I wonder. Six weeks on television competing for someone’s wallet…err…heart…of course it’s going to be love. Right?
As for the battle of the sexes we’re treated to the latest “Survivor” idea – women versus men in the Amazon. It’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant. It’s not like we have enough problems with sexist views of each other in this country, let’s televise “real” men focusing on the attractiveness of their competition, and “real” women breaking down and fighting with each other when one of them has to be kicked out. Isn’t that how life really is anyway? Nevermind the fact that in actual Amazonian tribes both men and women are partners in keeping up their real survival with each sex contributing something in their own way. I mean men and women actually working together for a common good just wouldn’t be good television. However, if you’re as disgusted as I am by these programs, you can still send a message to the producers by turning off your television and spending some time in the real “Real World.”