Here comes reality
CELEBRITIES: Over dinner the other night, while talking about this
column, I was offered one simple piece of advice: let people in other
parts of the world know that not all Americans are rich, self-absorbed
jackasses like the celebrities who get most of the media attention.
However, if I'm to be brutally honest, then I must confess, American
society really is materialistic. After all, part of our obsession with
celebrities stems from the fact that they are rich and own lots of cool
toys (cars, airplanes, mansions) that we would all like to play with.
The only question is-how do we score those toys?
Many people believe that someday, somehow, even if it's just by
winning the lottery (odds of being hit by lightning are far greater)
they will get the chance to be rich and famous.
This thought feeds us, drives us, keeps us going through the night
while we work third shift bussing tables for drunken teenagers at
Denny's. But were we always this way?
It used to be that if you wanted to be famous and rich (fame comes
first since it's the new 21st century drug), you would work hard
developing some kind of talent: preferably something musical, comedic,
or artistic. However, if you merely wanted to be rich, you would work
hard to become a doctor, lawyer, real estate speculator or work on Wall
Those approaches have vanished.
Today, everyone wants his or her fifteen minutes of fame NOW! They
can't wait to learn a trade or skill, they can't take the time to hone
their craft, it's now, now, NOW!
There are two unfortunate causes for this. The first is talentless
whores born into immense wealth such as Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and
Kim Kardashian. Wow, I'm embarrassed I even know who these people are.
The other reason for this new affliction is reality television.
Anyone can be on a reality show. John and Suzie Q. Public can make fools
of themselves just as much as the most outrageous celebrities: all they
need is a lack of dignity.
Most reality shows are simply game shows with a twist. This means
that regular game shows have had to amp up their "reality" edge.
Contestants on Deal or No Deal and the other prime time game shows must
now be "personalities," in other words, kooky, crazed, overly emotional,
easily excitable, occasionally unstable gamblers who are willing to risk
everything for a chance to win increasingly large amounts of prize
And unlike game shows of the past where you would keep some of your
earnings, modern game shows are an all or nothing proposition. Casting
calm, even-tempered people makes for boring television since no one
wants to see someone who will be content with $50,000, when there's
still a million dollars at stake.
Although not the first, Survivor launched the reality craze. The very
first season of the show revealed people at their best and worst. Of
course, the liars and backstabbers thrived and won.
Fear Factor offered average Americans a chance to perform dangerous
stunts and also eat some of the most nauseating objects found on the
planet, everything from animal testicles to live, squishy bugs.
The Bachelor and The Bachelorette forced a single person to attempt
to find their perfect mate amongst a group of conniving, ego-driven
contestants. The real reality: most of them were actors or models trying
to further their career with TV airtime.
The short-lived Temptation Island may be one of the foulest ideas to
emerge from any network. The concept here was to take couples in trouble
and offer them incredibly beautiful and handsome alternatives with whom
they could cheat.
Finally, there is the juggernaut that is American Idol. It's been
said before that American Idol is nothing more than a karaoke contest,
and I quite agree, with one major difference. When a karaoke contest is
over, the contestants return home to their dreary lives.
When American Idol is over, the world has to suffer through the glut
of soulless, manufactured music that continues to spew not only from the
winners, but from the runners-up as well.
All of these shows promote the idea that television can change your
life. In a few rare cases, it does. But most of the contestants, when
their 15 minutes of fame is up, are forced to return to their normal
lives. Reality shows have become so popular, there's no room to parley
them into long-term careers.
Unfortunately, we can't be happy living in syndication. No one is
ever happy with their current circumstances. The real tragedy of
Americans is that because we are so materialistic, we always want more.
Consequently, we are all in some way trying to be in the sequel to our
If we stepped back long enough we would realise that it's not a
question of ratings. After all, we are taught over and over again that
it's not quantity that matters - it's quality.
Once upon a time, the sitcom was king. A few decades before that, the
Western and the variety show dominated the airwaves. In time, reality
shows will most likely fade in popularity, though I doubt they'll ever
The genie's been let out of the bottle and there's no turning back.
Until then, I guess we just have to live with "reality."
Stormcrow Hayes keeps it "real" in Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A. For more
information visit www.stormcrowhayes.com.