Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Home, sweet home and reality TV

The stock market crash of 1928 left many people not only out of jobs, but unable to pay their mortgages, their rent and, often, even their food bill. Things got so bad that 3 million schoolchildren had no place to go because schools had to be closed for lack of funding to keep them open. Times were bad and people were very sad and where did they go? If they could, they went to the movies, paid their nickel and for a few hours immersed themselves in a fantasy world where men wore tuxedos, women were in evening gowns and everyone drank champagne. Is it different today?

Our country is still emerging from one of the most horrendous economic near-catastrophes of the 21st century, people are still unemployed in droves and others are living in homes that have lost sometimes half of their value. Times are tough again and where are people turning? They're turning to the new fantasy world created by proficient editors and prolific producers of reality TV shows.

What do the shows have to offer? Everyone is allowed to be as gross as they want and, from what I have heard, the more someone gets slapped, threatened or beaten up, the higher the ratings go. I almost feel like we're back in Rome's Coliseum. There are no lions, but the enthusiasm seems to be the same; the people get attacked by the lions and everybody cheers.

One thing however which is very disturbing to me is how children may view the synthetic shenanigans on TV as reflecting what is acceptable in our society. You never say thank you, you never hold a door for someone, you use whatever four-letter word comes to your mouth and the world just goes on.

Not only is this behavior acceptable, it results in an incredible income for the media that support it. How much scripting is actually written isn't too hard to tell. Watch a few of them and you'll notice that there are a number of rather dry, rather old lines or comments such as, "I have to step up," or "it's time for me to take action." How wonderful. What does “stepping up” actually mean in the real world.  Since this is not reflective of the real world I guess we only have to imagine. But the producers do provide what stepping up means and it can mean giving someone a quick smack in the face or something being thrown or being threatened with a knife or any household implement that is handy. How is this different, in some ways, from the violent video games that are being blamed for the assaults and the murders that we are constantly reading about in the media?

The difference, of course, is that these are "real" people in "real situations” in their homes. So, for kids, this must be the way you act. It's a great learning tool that was used many years ago. I'm speaking, of course, about learning how to read or how to live happily in this society of ours and the great work that was done by PBS and their programs aimed at teaching children via TV.  Did you watch Sesame Street?

Mr. Rogers would have been appalled if he saw what children and families were being exposed to these days, but there may be a reason for all of this outside the monetary aspects of it. How do you get relief from grinding financial difficulty if the only tool you have is your TV? You escape into this new reality where anything goes, including getting extremely physical with someone, throwing them on the floor, pulling their hair and calling them every unsavory name that comes to mind. You do, of course, turn to that new opiate of the people, reality TV. Ah, if only it were your boss on the floor in that living room.

So, does reality TV really serve a useful purpose? One can only wonder how sociologists will view this decade in our culture. Dissecting it will provide material for many doctoral dissertations I'm sure. For those of us who love good TV programs, with well written scripts that also can elevate us and bring us joy, it will be like trekking through a TV-constructed desert of the mind.

Get your sandals ready because there is more coming our way from what I understand from reading notices on the Internet. We are going to be treated to yet more instances of people yelling at children and, of course, edited episodes where the yelling will result in the child screaming. If the children were truly being yelled at in that manner, wouldn’t some authorities step in, such as the ones that are responsible for child welfare? Haven't you wondered how these people continue week after week like this? Doesn't anyone besides Kate Gosselin decide to walk away and look for another way to make money? No, forgive me, even Kate Gosselin had her day.

The younger audience may not need to turn to TV to get their vicarious rage out because there is a new app that will instruct young women how to "train" their boyfriends. It Instructs them that they may kick, smack, or even choke their boyfriend to get him into line. I wonder how prepared the creators of these apps are for all of the animosity that is going to come their way. Hopefully, everyone will see it as a joke rather than a reality app.


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