Moment of Observation: Reality? Check, Please.

I was in the checkout line at the grocery store the other day, getting visually assaulted by all things Kardashian (this is by far the most shallow link I could find about them) or Jessica Simpsonesque.  What else was there?  Apparently, Brangelina are simultaneously planning their wedding while breaking up again, and Jennifer Aniston may or may not have finally found the love that may or may not give her the baby bump of her dreams.  Glammy teen moms talk about what an actual trial motherhood is, while that tool from The Bachelor runs around and…acts like a tool.  I’m sorry, I wish I could elaborate.

Wait, scratch that.  No I don’t.  That indicates I would welcome more knowledge about this.  Which I don’t.

Anyway.

So I was in the grocery store, trapped like a cow in a slaughterhouse death chute and vaguely hoping someone would blast a steel bolt into my brain (Anton Chigurh, where are you when I need you?), when I looked to my right and saw this:

Here it is. Reality.

Oh, dear.

Fun Fact: Anything that puts the giant heads of Howard Stern and Howie Mandel on public display is bad for you.

I do take some minor comfort that of the eight frightful heads featured on this cover, I only know who half of them are, and that’s only because they’re big names (relatively speaking, of course).  That, unfortunately, means I know who four of them are, but at least they’re the four who are known for other things besides being on reality TV (including Sharon Osbourne, who I know made her own name as a reality TV judge but has pretty famously managed to be ardently and unabashedly married to Ozzy Osbourne since 1982, which indicates either an internal fortitude or a gluttony for punishment that are unmeasurable by current standards).  But oh!  Holy!  Crap!  It’s a tabloid about reality TV!  Here are a list of the things are are wrong with this item’s existence, in no particular order.

1.  Reality TV isn’t about reality, and has been sorely misnamed since MTV’s The Real World first launched in 1992.  It’s about a television producer’s specific version of reality, which is entirely subjective and at the mercy of ratings and viewers.   As much as we would like to imagine we are the stars of our own television show the fact is, we don’t have nearly as many viewers or as high a rating as we might like.  Calling this rag “Reality” is like Charlie’s mom in So I Married an Axe Murderer calling The Weekly World News “the paper”.

Forward to about the three-minute mark to see for yourself.

2.  Reality TV is pretty much always divisive and brings out the worst in people.  Do you watch The Real Housewives of… (pick a place) so you can learn all about them and enjoy their witty repartee?  No!  You watch to see how big of a nightmare-slash-freak show these people are, so you can theoretically feel better by comparison.  Did anyone watch Jon & Kate Plus Eight because of their overwhelming love for the children?  I watched exactly one episode of that show, and it was late in the game, after he was gone, and I still thought, “Holy smokes, I wouldn’t let that harpy in my house for love or money.”  People always said she was mean, I can only suppose they watched in anticipation of her screeching meltdowns.  Do you watch the Real Housewives series to learn…something?  Or do you wait around hoping to see one of them slip into drug-addled ramblings?  I wouldn’t want to hang out with these people if they were standing right in front of me; why do we think it’s OK to let them into our homes electronically?  Even the tame-ish, quasi-instructional shows like What Not to Wear are still an invitation to the train wreck.  WNTW viewers (of which I am one), who doesn’t like to see how terrible the “contributors” look at the start of the show?  And as a follow-up, who doesn’t self-evaluate against the train wreck and think, well…at least that’s not me?

Howard Stern was hired for America’s Got Talent so they could have someone who is as brutally unlikeable and socially controversial as that Simon putz from American Idol.  He retired and I thought, well, at least he won’t pollute the airwaves any longer but no!  It’s like there’s a TV-world hydra of hate; cut off one head and Howard Stern emerges.  Is anyone surprised that America’s Got Talent‘s ratings have gone up recently?  Don’t be, but please ask yourself why we find it so acceptable.

3.  Can we evaluate for a minute here?  Whatever is going on in Brad and Angie’s lives, or whether Jennifer Aniston’s belly remains bumpless, however much weight Jessica Simpson gained and lost with her baby, and why in the hell the Kardashians need to be kept up with, have no bearing on you.  Unless you’re a cousin or employee or BFF (legitimate, not imagined as in, “I just know if me and Kimmy K ever met we’d totally get along great!” because that?  Becomes creepy) their personal lives are NOT. Your. Business.  Because they are not your reality.  Words have meanings, and if this genre of media were called “Voyeurism” or “Watching the Harpies” or “Idle Time-Sink” media (because we can indeed mesh print and TV, as seen by the above cover) then I probably wouldn’t have half as much problem with it.  But we call it “Reality” and in doing so, change the definition of reality.

Parents, can you name who’s on the school board and making educational decisions that affect your children?  Or can you name all the Kardashian kids (including the younger Jenner-flavored Kardashians)?  People, do you have a set goal for yourself that you’re pursuing?  Or do you content yourself to watch Celebrity Apprentice?  Do you understand what it takes to budget, parcel out time and manage a household, or do you assume daily home and interpersonal management results in bitchzooka-laden meltdowns a la The Real Housewives…?  Because seriously, folks, if this is “reality”?  Check, please.

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11 responses to Moment of Observation: Reality? Check, Please.

  1. Larry

    Thanks, Terri! I hope your voice of reason (and how cool is it that beyond paisley we find a voice of reason!) does a veritable smack-down on a few socially addled brains.

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    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Ha! Thanks, Larry! You’re too kind. Unfortunately, if I were a betting woman, I’d bet against me being able to create reason, but that won’t stop me from being the crank who rants… 🙂

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  2. Gary

    Yet another most excellent post, Terz… woot woot!!! This is why we? Don’t. Have. TV. I wish it were limited to just “a few socially addled brains”. The sad reality (in the factual, literal sense) is that it’s a widespread, chronic condition caused by indoctrination in early childhood. A similar strain of the affliction accounts for 50% of the U.S. population’s inability to grasp the realities and origins of the physical world we all must occupy.

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    • beyondpaisley – Author

      If only. The thing is, I *know* I’m a product of the TV era, and I know I’m capable of focusing on/emotionally investing in very silly things indeed. But what killed me was the concept that this was “reality”. Someone recently said to me that film (and you can extend this to TV) is the least “real” of all media, it’s not even an image of something but a shadow of an image, and yet it’s one of the greatest means of social indoctrination ever invented. So what is it we base our perceptions on again..?

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      • Gary

        Aah, but there lies the distinction. You’re able to see it for exactly what it is. And I like to catch Colbert re-runs on slow mornings at the shop. At times I miss being able to catch the Yankees, Rangers and Giants, and I’ll still howl at the blatantly stupid yet brilliant irreverence of South Park. We took a cable promo deal for a year (mainly for internet), and when the year was up, we were stunned by the price hike to standard rate. For a month of basic cable? You’ve GOT to be kidding.

        I too, am a product of the TV era, and I’d like to take a moment and thank you, television for my formative years (and the enduring memories) made richer with vintage Bugs Bunny cartoons, the Apollo 11 moon landing, the 1977 World Series (REGGIE!!!), PBS (countless mad props there). We had a good run, old friend… but I don’t know you anymore.

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      • beyondpaisley – Author

        Well, I suppose it does lie in the ability to be self-reflective, since the first part of that concept is “self”. And if you can’t figure out who you and your boundaries are, then…Screwsville?

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  3. jp

    A most righteous smackdown. I would add only that (in my opinion) the most truly evil and heinous of the so-called “reality” shows are the ones about hoarders, and the sub-category of animal hoarders. That’s where the “Let’s broadcast the painfully wretched lives of desperately sick and sad people for your entertainment” reaches its hideous zenith. I can’t stand the hypocrisy and the false sentiment: they frame it all the manner of being oh-so-concerned and wanting to help the subjects get their lives together, but the real agenda is to broadcast the revolting details of people wallowing in garbage and filth and animal poo. And they are definitely hitting the shadenfreude you describe above…”Damn, maybe i haven’t vacuumed and the litterbox is overdue, but at least I’m not like these losers!”

    It’s amazing how prescient *Daria* was. Remember the running joke about the tv series *Sick Sad World*? It sounded like crazy stuff at the time, but even their wildest scenarios pale in comparison to what’s out there now on a daily basis. Sick, and sad, indeed.

    Damn, Terri, I do believe you have inspired me to a rant of my own!

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    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Rant on! It’s not like I don’t “get” the appeal of some of these shows…I joke that I can’t watch Intervention because then I need an intervention to get me to stop watching Intervention; it’s digitized crack for me. But the important thing to recognize, and the reason that I stay away from those shows, is that for the most part, reality TV participants are not who I want hanging out in my living room. I think people often don’t recognize that they’re letting these people into their homes. And giving them an inordinate amount of power, because you can’t interact with them. What’s the powerful pull? Why is it so hard to change a channel or turn off a TV when you don’t like something? I’ve only recently realized I could turn off movies–even critically acclaimed ones–because I didn’t give a shit about a single one of the characters. It was liberating. If only I had realized that when I watched Taxi Driver.

      Daria ruled.

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  4. marjorie

    OMG, I rant about “reality” shows all the time, preferring unreal programs featuring pretend people speaking lines written by real writers. You completely expressed my feelings about this wretched genre. I recently came to the conclusion that TLC, in particular, exists to make people feel okay about themselves. ” Hey, I’m messy but I’m not a Hoarder” as JP put it. What about all the shows about dwarves or people who are addicted to eating cat treats or chalk? Or the guy who has a meaningful (intimate) relationship with his car? I do think they’re not going away because 1-young people watch them, and 2-apparently they’re cheap to produce.

    I would make a distinction between the shows which are primarily based on exploiting and humiliating, and the ones like What not To Wear or HGTV shows which basically give style and decorating tips. They’re rather benign and I do watch them. (and a nice break from the news)

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    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Cheap as hell, from what I understand. You barely need a producer, no script, and what, like, one cameraman who’s just graduated from film school? And I do realize (and justify to myself, haha) that there’s a difference between shows like WNTW or Design on a Dime or something, though I will stand by my assertion that part of the draw of WNTW is so you can see just how frightful the makeover person looks at the beginning. It’s not like I have to protect my delicate sensibilities from the cruelties of the world; I love horror movies, or based-on-real-life horrible movies (for shit’s sake, I went to see Hotel Rwanda in the theater, and that’s one grim spectacle), but the fact that the cast of Jersey Shore 1) exists and 2) have been celebritized because they’re vain, selfish narcissists with self-control issues, is fully as horrifying, and close to home, and real.

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