Monday, July 27, 2009

Surviving Reality

The other day on my way to work I was listening to the DJs on the radio as they talked about the new action figures of Jon and Kate Gosselin. Jon and Kate are the parents of 8 children and they all star in the reality show “Jon and Kate Plus 8.” Mom and dad of the children have been all over the tabloids in recent weeks. What started out as a show that chronicled a loving family has turned into sad story of lives torn apart as the adult stars are heading toward divorce and are lashing out at each other. The unfortunate victims in this whole thing are the kids who are having the most painful experience of their young lives play out in front of the nation and recorded for posterity in the print and video.

In recent years reality TV has become a mainstay of network and cable schedules. These days you can turn on the tube and see people dancing to lose weight, bachelors/bachelorettes find true love, strangers stranded together on an island, would be apprentices being fired, contestants singing their hearts out to be the next idol, people having babies, drama in emergency rooms, dare-devils eating half grown baby duck eggs and on and on. Virtually anything you ever wanted to see can now be viewed in your very own living room.

I have to admit when the reality show craze began years ago I was not at all interested and was skeptical that it would last. But, somewhere along the way I was suckered in and find myself watching shows like “Survivor,” “Big Brother,” and “The Amazing Race.” I enjoy the challenges the contestants are faced with on these shows. Still, as I watch I am amazed and sometimes appalled at the catty fighting and petty arguments that erupt. There are times when it all gets to be too much for me. I shake my head and laugh at myself for getting so involved, but a part of me wonders why I keep watching week after week. I can’t help but wonder what it is that draws me and the rest the world to these shows.

What is it about this less appealing side of human nature that actually constitutes entertainment? And what does it say about our society that this form of programming has become such a staple for us? I think that reality TV allows us to be exposed to things we might never otherwise get to witness. Through the miracle of electronics we visit exotic islands and observe delicate surgeries. Our loyalties are given to the underdog or the most charismatic person. As the season moves on we forge pseudo-relationships with the participants and they become part of our lives. The drama can fill empty places in our life.

But the drama can be overwhelming sometimes. The shows often devolve into bickering and name calling. It is said that the contestants are chosen for their outrageous personalities; it makes for more excitement. Throw these folks together and pit them against each other and you have a recipe for mayhem. We boo and hiss or cheer and clap depending on favorites. And, we compare ourselves to them. Their flaws are flaunted out there for the entire world to see. We, on the other hand, can hide our faults. We can put on a mask and hide behind it. We look pretty good stacked up next to the hot tempered player or the lying backstabber. After all the drama we turn off the TV and say to ourselves, “At least I would never do that.”

Can we honestly say that, though? I can’t; having never been in that situation I don’t know what I would do. I often wonder how I would react if I were to be on one of these programs. Would I be the same person I am in my day-to-day life? Would I remain true to my alliance or would I turn at the first chance to get rich? I don’t know and I don’t plan on finding out anytime soon.
How about you? Post a comment and let me know how you think you would react. Oops, time’s up…I gotta run, it’s time for “Survivor!”

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