Reality can be ridiculous
Posted: Wednesday, June 10, 2009 8:01 pm
There are all kinds of reality. The reality of paying bills. The reality of working so that one has money to pay bills. The reality of hearing your parents say, “Because I said so, that’s why.” Then there’s the reality of gravity and the IRS. But there’s a media reality which doesn’t seem very real at all. Reality TV.
Television executives realized it was a waste of time to make well-written, expertly-crafted dramas when most Americans would rather watch poorly-shot footage of an American family yelling at each other at a Mexican restaurant. The classic sitcom could so easily be replaced by a crazy real-life bride yelling at her groom, “So help me, it’s MY wedding and I will KILL anyone who gets in my way!” Yeah. Fact is stranger than fiction. But only the naïve believe that all reality TV is actual “reality.” Yes, sometimes human beings are screaming, cussing maniacs; but on reality TV, it’s absolutely encouraged.
I sat down and invested some time trying to think of as many reality shows as I could think of without checking a Web site or TV guide. Here’s just a short list: “Clean House” (a show about messy, hoarding people who want someone to clean up their messes). “Big Brother” (putting a bunch of people together in one house and relishing their animal-like behavior). “Bridezilla” (brides-to-be who are willing to cuss at their own grandma in order to appear on a low-brow TV show). “18 Kids and Counting” (a bird’s eye view of a family with 18 children going to the grocery store). “American Idol” (watching people you’ve never heard of sing songs you never liked). “Survivor” (watching people you don’t know yell at each other, lose weight and go fishing with sharp sticks). “Biggest Loser” (watching people, who weigh a lot more than you, work out until they weigh a lot less than you). “Groomer Has It” (watching people you don’t know give dogs haircuts. No, I didn’t make that up). Then there are the celebrity reality shows which are filled with people who aren’t celebrities at all. I mean, when’s the last time you saw Oprah, Tom Hanks and Meredith Viera eating bugs in the jungle? Right. Not gonna happen.
In my humble estimation, there’s a distinction between reality shows which provide hope and those which merely seek to exploit the worst of human behaviors. Shows like “Bridezilla” or “Big Brother” provide no joy or hope at overcoming. The irony? It’s my understanding that at the end of every “Bridezilla” episode, the groom still marries the woman who screamed at him, threw Coke® in his face and cussed at his mother. Let’s teach our young men to have more self-respect than that, shall we? Shows like “Biggest Loser” and “Clean House” make a little more sense to me. Maybe in a strange way, we watch in order to feel better about ourselves. We may even say, “My house is messy, but not THAT messy.” Or “I have weight issues, but I don’t weigh THAT much.” But at the end of the show, we’re sometimes brought to joyful tears because we see one family’s burden lifted when their house looks beautiful and clean. Or we see the man who six months ago could barely run 50 yards but is now standing thin and proud, having overcome his greatest personal weakness. Those are the moments when reality TV serves to give us hope. And maybe that’s not a bad thing after all.
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. Her book “The Smartt View: Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, The University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 6.10.09