www.whyville.net Aug 1, 2010 Weekly Issue

Veteran Times Writer

Reality Check

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Every Tuesday night during the summer, I eat dinner and go for a walk in the park. Then, I come home and veg on the couch in our living room. I put my feet up and I turn on the TV and I watch "America's Got Talent". Now, since I spend the rest of my life reading, writing, researching, working, going to class, and otherwise training my brain, I figure it's okay to sit down once a week and enjoy some mind-numbing trash on TV. But last week my mind started to wander while someone was singing or dancing or blowing something up. I've always thought that reality TV was just harmless albeit stupid entertainment, but is it really?

Even if reality TV is innocent fun, I firmly believe that someone needs to put its producers on some sort of binge diet and force them to reduce their programming by at least half. There are approximately three million and thirteen shows about dating and finding true love in an overly contrived situation, and fifty-seven thousand shows about whimsical but over-priced cakes. And that's to say nothing about all of the dancing and singing competitions, or shows about all of America's extraordinary families and their 21 children. So now every time I turn on the TV, I'm stuck watching some sort of reality show and every five minutes I need to check whether my brain is leaking out of my ears.

But even if we were to downsize reality programming, I think I'd still be wondering what exactly reality TV is teaching me. I recently cleaned out my bedroom while watching both seasons of "True Beauty" online. For those of you who have never seen this show, it's basically "America's Next Top Model" meets "Punk'd", and the show is trying to find someone who is as hot on the inside as they are on the outside. So all of these contestants are secretly tested to see how moral and compassionate they are. Then at the end of it all, they are forced to watch the highlights of themselves doing awful stuff like stealing and trash talking the other contestants. Yet as viewers, we are witnesses to their humiliation and part of the entertainment comes from watching these people being set up to fail. What does that say about how nice the members of the audience are on the inside? Maybe we are actually the ones that need to spend some time on self improvement.

But what about shows where the message isn't spelled out for the viewers and contestants? What about a show like, "Jersey Shore", for example? Some might say that "Jersey Shore" and its 'guido' controversy provides an interesting social commentary on the use of language through generations and our modern society. I am not one of those people. Instead, I remember reading an interview with a "Jersey Shore" producer where she said that people appearing on reality TV often believe that they have an original viewpoint to share with the world. The viewpoint on "Jersey Shore" in undoubtedly one where young people are supposed to be out partying all of the time without having to worry about real life problems, like a job. And from watching this show, I think I'm supposed to want to emulate this lifestyle because it just looks like it's so much fun all of the time. Instead, I've become acutely aware of the fact that I'm simply not cool enough to go out partying every night of the week.

Along those same lines, shows like "America's Got Talent", "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance" make us believe that with a bit of talent, a likeable personality, some good looks and a lot of hard work, then anybody can make it big. So how come I'm not famous yet? While these shows promise entertainment, I would argue that they've made people unhappier because they make fame and fortune seem easy to obtain, when in fact they're just as hard as ever to achieve.

Of course, it should come as a surprise to no one that reality shows are often highly orchestrated. A show like "America's Next Top Model" where contestants are always freaking out about some surprise or another? Chances are, you're seeing the third or fourth take and that's assuming it was a real surprise the first time. "Jon and Kate Plus Eight"? They're such a happy and wholesome family on TV, until they filed for divorce in real life. Or how about "The Hills" stars who admitted that the so-called reality show was straight-up scripted for maximum drama? And that ending where they pretty much admit it's all been staged in some Hollywood studio?

And maybe that's the biggest problem of all: the fact that so-called reality television isn't real at all.



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