Unreality Shows

Before TV Tuesday can proceed to the television I love, I need to clear the airwaves regarding an entire genre of television I cannot stand.

I suspect I’m about to offend some people while causing others to cheer. To those who cheer, you are clearly members of a discerning, intelligent television audience. To those who are offended, your presence in the gene pool is no longer required, please hit the showers.

As you may have gathered, yep, it’s another opinionated rant. This one is about what I consider the worst thing to hit television since Manimal or The Ropers. In fact, it’s worse, far worse, than those two combined, plus Cop Rock and Mr. T. and Tina.

It’s about the form of video excrescence known as “Reality TV.” And that really does need to be in quotes, because there isn’t one thing “real” about it. Quite to the contrary, a more accurate term is “Unreality TV.”

Now, actually, “Reality TV” breaks down into three sub-types:

  1. News shows and documentaries
  2. Candid Camera or Home Video shows
  3. Voyeuristic, sensationalistic, empty-headed bullshit

The first type is, or at least can be, a legitimate kind of show that goes back to the origins of television. There is a long list of honorable names behind it: Edward R. Murrow, Walter Kronkite, Chet Huntley & David Brinkley. And there are shows that are just as honorable and useful: 60 Minutes and Meet The Press. (Sadly, the latter has gone to seed with the smirking David Gregory—RIP Tim Russert!)

Documentaries are a kind of in-depth, single-topic news reporting, and they range from very serious reporting on issues of great concern, to nature and science reporting, to more lighthearted and fun reporting (such as Mythbusters or How It’s Made).

Technically, these shows are “reality TV,” but they are not what most people mean by the term. And they are not what I’m ranting about. In fact, I rather enjoy Mythbusters. (And, as I’ve ranted before, I wish there was a decent news program such as those shows of yesterday. I wish there really was a news program like Aaron Sorkin‘s The Newsroom.)

That brings us to the next category: shows that show us normal people in everyday, but funny or interesting, circumstances. In the case of Candid Camera style shows, the people have no idea they are being filmed (or taped). In the “funny” home video style shows, some embarrassing or painful—and apparently therefore “funny”—moment is captured on home video and then shared with the world.

It all starts here!

I never saw the amusement in, nor experienced the sympathetic cringe to, those hit-in-the-nuts moments. I just think they’re childish. And after you’ve seen a few hundred pratfalls, what’s really funny about them? How many times can you watch a shot to the nuts and find it even vaguely interesting (let alone funny)? How empty does your life have to be of interesting things to take amusement in the humiliation and pain of others?

The Candid Camera shows had two things going for them. Firstly, they were planned stunts and often quite clever. Secondly, they were harmless to the body and generally kind to the ego of the victim. They were usually the sort of pranks where, once the gag is revealed, everyone—including the victim—has a pretty good laugh. In more recent times such shows have taken on a cruel edge that I think says a lot about people and life today. It’s just one more way we ramp up the violence in our world.

It is this second category that, to me, bridges the difference between shows that offer something beyond mindless voyeurism—something valuable and worthwhile—and the shit pit of American television that is “Reality TV.”

I mention Candid Camera, because it all really starts there. That was the seed, but the seed produced bitter, poisonous fruit. The first sign of a wrong turn was a show from 1999, called Big Brother. This is where the really sick voyeurism began. This is where people began killing the few brain cells they may have had by staring mindlessly at other people. Stupid people. Really stupid people doing really stupid things.

Why do I hate (and I do hate) these shows so much?

First, as I’ve already indicated, they are voyeurism—not one of humanity’s better traits. It’s the same trait that had people gathering to watch public beheadings and hangings. It’s the same trait that causes people to slow down to look at an accident. Is that really who you want to be?

What possible value is there in watching those complete wastes of flesh, the whatever-their-names-are-starts-with-K-or-maybe-C-but-who-cares. (So infinitely revolting to me that I don’t even want to look them up, and I sure as hell don’t want to put their name in my blog.) Entertaining? Really?? Seems a very low bar to me.

Some of these programs have a game show theme underlying them, and I guess that’s to distract you from the fact that you’re watching the same assholes who make life hell day in and day out. Which is the second problem I have. I watch TV to escape from such people who, as Sartre pointed out, are Hell. I just can’t see watching them as entertainment. More like punishment, to me.

The opposite
of a buffoon!

I give some leeway on some of the game shows. (But not idiocy such as that pompous ugly hair “You’re Fired!” buffoon—or do I mean baboon? That one’s another waste of flesh I won’t name here.) I can see how people might enjoy watching “cooking challenges” or “fashion challenges.” Shows that consist of interesting challenges can be fun if you’re into that particular topic (not talking about eating live grubs or mud wrestling).

Not my cup of tea, but game shows do go way back in television history. If I watch at all, I prefer the ones based on intelligence or puzzles or maybe word games, but I can see getting into a good contest of some other kind. I guess even Opie has gotten into that.

Which brings me to the third point. These shows are unscripted; they’re not stories. I watch TV for stories written by experienced writers. I watch TV to learn, to enjoy a good tale, to be given food for thought, or just to escape to some well-constructed fantasy world with interesting characters. So it really bothers me that these “Reality” shows put writers out of work. It really bothers me that networks rake in big bucks for showing us ordinary people acting… ordinary.

To me, many of these shows are simply humanity at its worst. Maybe that’s why people like them. It makes them feel superior.  Gotta tell ya; from where I sit, not so much. More like sinking to the level of.

Better that you
should be
watching this!

Two notes in closing:

Was this too easy a target? So many people despise them… or say they do. Often there is a slam followed by an admission of a “guilty pleasure” exception. Or three. None here, though. Over the years, I think maybe I’ve racked up 20 minutes total trying to see what the fuss was about. I can honestly say I’ve never watched more than a few moments before moving on in horror. Some of them made me feel I needed a shower.

And given my feelings about these, you can imagine how I feel about the so-called science and learning channels having sunk to “Reality TV.” In some cases, it’s become their primary fare.

It is bad enough that science programs are now so glammed up and content-low as to provide no real value. It is bad enough that networks supposedly devoted to education seriously pose the question, Could Ghosts/Aliens Be Real? (Let me give you the definitive answer here: Fuck No!)

This Ice Road Truckers or Crab Fishers or  Swamp Loggers shit is just a bridge too far. A documentary is one thing; peeping into the dirty laundry and bad moments of people is voyeurism—humanity at its worst—and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Seriously! Cut it out!! Watch something decent!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

6 responses to “Unreality Shows

  • dockfam

    I just found your blog — me likey! Anyway, I agree. While I admit the Housewives franchise is one of my guilty pleasures…where have all the good shows gone? I feel bad for my kids that reality TV is really all that is left. That and YouTube

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Welcome, thanks for dropping by, reading and commenting! I’m glad you enjoy it!

      There is good material out there, both on TV and YouTube, but you do have to seek it out. (It’s hiding behind all the videos about cute kittens!) Hopefully, kids who’ve been shown the joy of reading, of learning, of growing their intelligence, will find there way in the world okay. At least, that’s what worked in my case!

  • It's only P!

    Well Wyrd, you did it again. There’s a smile on my face. Reading your blog is so much better than watching TV!! Thing is, TV in America is for mainstream America, as TV in the Netherlands is for the average Hollander. Discerning viewers will not be pleased, but then, if there were more interesting programs, we’d be watching more TV?

    In my case, thanks, but no thanks. It’s too passive. Been there, done that. I like to live vicariously only up to a point. That’s the problem with so many compulsive TV watchers: they are passive and get satisfaction from living life through the eyes of others. Even out of an interesting general knowledge show I get only so much joy. There’s one on Dutch TV and what really gives it spice is a so-called one-man jury who occasionally makes a ruling but furthermore gives his wry, from the horse’s mouth opinion on various matters. His claim to fame is his knowledge of US history. He inspires many a chuckle.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maarten_van_Rossem

    Both you and Maarten mix what could otherwise be dry data with humour. Good for you! When it comes to TV, I could do without it altogether, and I have. By choice. Conscious choice. Because I felt it always distracted me from doing creative things, such as writing. I went cold turkey Jan. 2010 and for two years did not watch TV at all, not even when I stayed in hotels with TV (I only watched movies on DVD or the net). During that time I did a lot of writing – most of my manuscript in fact. I started watching TV again last January in order to familiarise myself with life in the Netherlands and to brush up on my stale Dutch, but oh boy, what a major disappointment! It’s dumb, boring and repetitive.

    Clearly, I’m into intelligent humour, and the only TV series I’ve ever mourned the disappearance of was Huff (Russell (Oliver Platt) was probably too blatantly eloquent – or was it his drug and prostitute addictions? 🙂 ). Sometimes a new series starts off intelligently, but deteriorates over time. I enjoyed Desperate Housewives, although I had begun to lose interest even before they wrote out Nicollette Sheridan! Bitchy intelligence with humour – the best!

    And then last but not least – heck this is turning into a blog post, but I’ve noticed that you have this effect on commenters sometimes.

    Over the years I’ve met many a person who said they felt they had a book or two in them, but did not have the time to write (ya know, work, family). I, the devil’s advocate, asked how many hours a day they watched TV. Touché.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it! What you say is true, and I’m thankful we discerning viewers get the occasional crumb for our appetites. You could be right about over indulging if there were more!

      I know what you mean about passive. I’ve found that sometimes I have to search the menu to find something I really want to watch. For anything less, I don’t want to sit staring, especially anything as long as a movie. In the USA, 30-minute programs actually run about 21 minutes, and 60-minute ones run about 43 (the rest is commercials!). I can manage the shorter time, but 90-120 minutes for a movie sometimes is too much sitting and staring.

      When I was married, the kids usually usurped the set, and I stopped TV almost entirely. I lost touch with all my “old friends,” and funny thing was, after a few parting pangs, I didn’t really miss them. It took a year or so after my divorce to get hooked again.

      Dr. van Rossem sounds interesting; I’ll keep an eye out for him! (He looks familiar; it’s possible I’ve seen him as a talk show guest.)

      I’ve heard of Huff, but never watched it. If it made your list of “good TV,” it must have been good. Sometimes a show is started by a creator with a Vision, but then that person moves on, and the people who take over don’t have the Vision. I think that happened with Star Trek when Roddenberry left, and the later seasons of The West Wing aren’t quite on par with the Sorken-era ones.

      As for comment length… well, intelligent people just don’t communicate in 140-character texts or Twits. Too many ideas; too many thoughts! I wonder if there’s a market for a blog engine for us… rather than posts and comments, we’d all make inter-linked power posts!

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