Friday, July 23, 2010

Reality Bites

How many times have you been stranded on a deserted island? Have you then had the opportunity to summarily dismiss some of your co-desertees thereby ensuring your own chances for survival? Didn’t think so.

How many of you single people have had the chance to pick your spouse from among twenty of the planet’s hottest (according to Hollywood standards) people, all claiming to be totally in love with you? Moreover, you get only twelve weeks to pick your mate for life?

Recently I have been watching a few of these shows. The first one I watched was last season’s The Bachelor, starring Jake Pavelka. I, along with millions of Americans watched in shock as he picked for his wife the house witch, Vienna. The other women in the house repeatedly warned Jake about Vienna’s machinations. Did he listen? No. Week after week he sent home the nice girls and the sweethearts. At the season finale, when he proposed to the full-of-guile Vienna, I said, “Now there’s a poo-bomb waiting to happen.”

Have you been watching Entertainment Tonight? Or The Bachelorette?  Both shows can’t seem to get enough of the disaster that was the Jake-Vienna union.  Vienna is manipulative. Jake is mean and domineering. Both hate each other after a few weeks of flying high on the wings of love.

Yet as I think about the show, I realize that we are not watching this program in real time. By the time we watch him get down on one knee and propose to Vienna, Jake already hates her in real life. So what are we really watching? Did the producers know this relationship was doomed and so showed Vienna in the worst possible light? That way it’s all Jake's fault for picking the woman he was warned against. “The show” clearly presented to all of us that he was making a mistake. Remember, these girls agree to have the cameras on them 24/7.  How many of us wouldn’t look like a wench if a camera was there catching every move we make? What if every time I grew impatient with my son, it was broadcast on TV? What if every time I woke up with a headache and was a little cranky, it was there for America to view?  What if those embarrassing moments were all that the network decided to show of me?  What if Vienna and Jake’s relationship had succeeded instead?  Would we only see the charming clips of Vienna, proving once again that the network has a winning show on its hands?

Now enter The Bachelorette. Ali, one of Jake’s rejects from last season, endeared herself to the viewers with her seemingly sweet and lively nature. Naturally, she was a shoo-in as this season’s new bachelorette. I have been glued to the TV every Monday night, wondering who Ali will send home next. As I get closer to seeing the finale, I realize that this show is appalling. The premise is that Ali will have twenty-five good-looking eligible young men to choose from. Each week, at least one, sometimes more, young man gets sent home as Ali realizes that he is not the one for her. Now as we settle in to the final weeks, something disturbing seems to be happening, something that I have a hard time pinning on Ali. Emotions are being played with.

Ali, as part of the show’s premise, expects all the men to be there for the right reason, i.e. her. They are expected to fall in love with her, so that she can more accurately judge who is there for her, and who is there for his own reasons (stardom, fame, etc.) Most of the last remaining contestants have admitted that they are in love with Ali. The problem? Ali seems to truly love them as well. The show sends her on home visits to meet the parents of the last four remaining men. Emotions run high as the parents meet the woman that their son is in love with. She appears to love their son in return.  But news flash—this is a “reality” show so Ali will end up breaking the hearts of three of the men, along with the hearts of the parents who must then “be there” for their suffering son as he deals with rejection by the woman he loves.

We watch as each week the elimination process becomes more difficult for Ali. Her tears seen genuine as she sends home yet another young man that she has gotten close to. We watch as her pain is displayed for all the world to see. Last week we observed one of the three remaining men, Frank, break her heart as he tells her that he is more in love with his ex-girlfriend than he is with Ali.

One of the most disturbing parts of both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette shows involve what they call “the overnighters.”  As the contestants get narrowed down to three, they are offered a chance to spend the night together. In the two shows I have watched, no one has yet refused.  Is sleeping together then part of the decision making process?  And how does Ali justify sleeping with three different men, three nights in a row? “Yay” for Frank when he left the show on the day of his “overnighter” with Ali. Apparently he was someone who knew how that would further play with emotions.

We are now into the final two weeks of the show. Shortly, Ali will choose one of the two men remaining, and break the heart of the other. Ali though, will not escape unscathed. Her hurt each time she rejects someone is obvious. And yet, we watch, unable to turn away from the heartbreak before us.  The producers already know which man she has chosen. They already know whether this relationship seems to be working or not.

Ali is not the only one whose emotions are being played with. Ours are, as well. If she picks Roberto or Chris, we are bound to be happy for her either way. Both men have been portrayed as utter gentlemen, and maybe they are. If Ali is happy, we will be happy. Even though we only know what the producers want us to know about Ali, Roberto or Chris, we feel as if we know them intimately. Because we have felt that intimate connection, we will surely watch again next season. Right? Not me.  I, for one, am tired of the game networks are playing with our emotions.  They are priming us to enjoy our circuses.

Speaking of circuses, have you watched the TV show Wipeout?  It is my eleven-year old’s favorite show. People get punched in the face, knocked off wobbly platforms into the mud, and swiped off their feet into a pool. Dramatic slow-motion footage is replayed ad nauseum so that we can watch the hilarity over and over as a person’s head is whipped backward or his back violently smacks a corner on his descent. Wow, that’s funny, huh? Sorry, producers, but I have yet to laugh. Maybe if you slo-mo it for me a few dozen times.  Perhaps laughing at the physical misfortune of others started with America’s Funniest Home Videos, or maybe even as early as The Three Stooges.

Another circus is the new show Downfall where the contestant is dropped off the side of a building if he or she does not answer enough questions correctly.  Sure, they’re attached to a bungee cord, but the premise is that they are “dispensed.”  Gotten rid of.  Adios.

These reality shows remind me, frighteningly I might add, of a book I recently read.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a futuristic novel set in a time when America has collapsed and a new government has taken over. As part of a tyrannical plot to keep the new colonies from rebelling, they hold a yearly game where teens are forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of all.  Sponsors pick which contestant they wish to throw their advertising dollars behind. Citizens are forced to watch the games on television and appear to enjoy them. The teen with the most dollars on his side is most likely to be the sole survivor. The novel clearly shows us how a society can so degenerate that death becomes entertainment.

Perhaps there is time; after all we currently only find Ali’s tears engaging and the Wipeout contestant’s whiplash amusing. What will happen though when a rejected suitor gets violent, or a Downfall player plummets to his death? Will we say enough is enough, or will it merely whet our thirst for our own Hunger Games?


  1. Reminds me of the song, "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" by the Rolling Stones. When entertainment goes extreme, our society heads towards Roman World, where staged violence kept the plebes under control.

    Bread and Circuses, anyone?

  2. Winston--I am alarmed at how the misfortunes of others are the premise behind so many reality shows lately. Tonight I saw a preview for the next Bachelorette, in which the rejected men get to have their say with Ali. Absent will be the two remaining suitors because in show life she hasn't chosen yet. One of the men tells how his heart was broken. His pain becomes our entertainment.

  3. Randi -

    I think part of it is conditioning. Have you noticed how tv & movies get us used to the ideas of spying on our neighbors, or playing mental games, or using some sort of overt or covert form of torture (even shows which are conservative like 24 imply torture is ok, then you go the shock horror films like Saw which try to make the bad guy out to be someone trying to teach a moral lesson through torture).

    It is all a slippery slope, a dialetical approach to morality. Thesis + antithesis =synthesis (Hegel, get CG to go over it with you guys)

    Half of the stuff that is on network tv is sad, because it is none of our business. If Lindsay Lohan's parents actually spanked her rather than doped her up on ritalin, might she have a different attitude toward society today? No one ever talks about that. Spoiled little celebutards who no one ever said "No!" to & meant it or never received any corporeal punishment as youth are no like locusts to us.

    If people would learn the scriptures & learn to govern themselves by correct principles like Joseph taught we would not be in the mess (es) we are in today.

    God Bless,

  4. Adam: You are so right. I quit watching 24 this year for that very reason. It seemed like the plot was no longer important and took back seat to the scenes of torture. I said goodbye when one of my favorite characters, Renee, suddenly became a participant.

    It is indeed a slippery slope. The downhill descent won't be halted until enough of us dig in our heels and say "enough."

  5. Randi -

    There's an old slave manual by William Lynch which talks about the process of how the plantation owners would make & break slaves. It is really interesting b/c it parallels a lot of what we see implemented today. Some of the things he suggested were:

    (1) Separate the male from his family
    (2) Humiliate the father in front of his wife & children
    (3) Sow distrust among the slaves through greed, fear, envy etc.
    (4) Remove his native language & culture, replace with new speak.

    There's more I just can't remember it. I sent John P. a CD which had that as one of the lecture titles if you want to ask him if you can borrow it, I've sent him a ton of stuff (he & Lory won't accept me as a friend on FB :(

    God Bless,

  6. Adam: We see a lot of disrespect for and ridicule toward fathers on TV. The father is seen as an oaf that the long-suffering mother must endure.

    My husband and I talk a lot about how "new speak" has taken over our culture. A person to be admired is both "hot" and "cool" at the same time. If someone is really good at a skill they are "bad." A skinny person can be known as "phat." If you have a girlfriend that everyone admires, she's a "freak." ["Don't you wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?"] If someone does an especially amazing dance that exceeds all previous performances, it is "sick." And the most irritating example in Computer Geek's opinion is "awesome." The most mundane of experiences are now awesome.

  7. Randi -

    For anyone who wants to read the speech I am talking about by Willie Lynch (1712), warning it is a little graphic for those that might be easily offended, but hopefully you will be able to see the parallels between old slavery & modern slavery.

    Shows like "Married with Children", "Family Guy", "The Simpsons" present a very diff. view of family life from what we see a mere 40-50 years ago. Would a show like "Father Knows Best", or "Leave it to Beaver" ever make it on the air today? They don't want strong male role models, they want you broken, beaten & dependent on the govt plantation. Slaves are in debt, fearful of their master that he might whip them or take away their liberties. Yes today it is different forms of whipping, but it is still bondage, temporal & spiritual.

    God Bless,

  8. Man - I love Hunger Games. Luckily Dad was a great father figure and consistently lectured us all on the Hegelian dialect! Go dad! Go Katniss! Save the world people! And stop screwing Ali! :P

  9. Adam: Good points. Sometimes I wonder if they present males in such a bad light so that people will learn to look to the government as the father figure.

    Juliegoose: I really loved Hunger Games too. It's today's 1984. Can't wait for Mockingjay to come out. Will you buy it so I can borrow it? :)

  10. Randi -

    On Married with Children I really sympathized with the dad Al Bundy, b/c if you look at his situation he's got a wife who is always stealing from him, back stabbing him, kids that don't love him. He works a minimum wage job to barely get by & his family does not support him emotionally or temporally.

    Yet instead of a tragedy, this is portrayed as a comedy? The whole tone of the show is mis-emotional. We shouldn't be laughing at Al, we should be crying with him & helping him.

    But I think the reason we do laugh is because many of us have experienced it to some degree or another so its more comfortable to laugh than confront the problem.

    God Bless,


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