FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. -- It's very hard not to get sucked into watching some reality television. Is this because there is just so much of it on the tube that you stumble on it whether you want to or not? Is it because most non-reality TV shows -- sitcoms, so-called drama and fantasy -- stink on ice?
Or is it because reality is sometimes very funny and entertaining? The answer is, of course, "yes."My fiancee and I have a wonderful television-watching relationship -- it's very symbiotic (or possibly "co-dependent."). She poisons my mind and wastes precious seconds of my life watching things like "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," "Real Housewives of Every Location on the Planet," "Bridezillas," "Khloe and Lamar" (more Kardashians), "Kourtney and Kim Take New York" (even more Kardashians), "Bridalplasty" (quite possibly the sickest form of human entertainment ever devised) and "My Fair Wedding with David Tutera." (David's contract stipulates that his name be mentioned every 11.5 seconds).
For my part, I rot her eyeballs with the guy reality shows like "Pawn Stars," "Ice Road Truckers" (and it's evil spawn, IRT-World's Deadliest Roads), "American Pickers," "Auction Hunters" and even, I am deeply ashamed to say, the occasional "Swamp Loggers." That last show is not to be confused with "Swamp People," which is creepier than "Night of the Living Dead" and which employs many of that film's cast members, I believe.
Now the selection mentioned above barely scratches the surface of what is available on modern reality TV. There are entire categories we haven't even touched upon -- the "talent" show, the wives of celebrities show, the addiction show, the Internet clip show, the "stick people on an island and humiliate them for 13 weeks" show, the "drop sweaty guy (or guys, or guy and gal) off in the wilderness and make them eat grubs and drink their own pee" show, and so on and so on.
The one cardinal rule, the one thing reality TV is not and never can be, is what we in the higher education biz call "reality." It's easy to forget as you watch Snooki fall off her bike and exclaim that certain parts of her anatomy have become inadvertently exposed (I believe that is exactly how she put it) that all of these people know darn well that there is a camera crew and a sound guy and a producer and a production assistant and a craft truck with yummy snacks all standing right in front of them.
Candid Camera it ain't. Everybody is playing up for the camera -- they're starting fights, they're making out with girls, they're crying, etc., etc. But it is still reality of a sort. These are still people who would not, under any sort of normal circumstances, be able to get jobs as actors (particularly Kim Kardashian).
That, I think is the real reality going on here -- we are fascinated by watching people who are a lot like us in many ways, pretending to be something they aren't, without that intermediary of "craft" that can make actual movies and TV series seem a bit staid, a bit pat, a bit cut and dried.
Reality TV is loose (one might say "undone"), flowing, a little too big, and extremely gaudy -- reality TV is the muumuu of show business. It's ugly, but hard to ignore.In the history of television, what has reality TV replaced? Well, let's look at what's disappeared from our TV screens. The variety show is gone -- we used to have Ed Sullivan and his jugglers, opera singers, dancing bears, plate spinners, rock bands, puppets, fire eaters and much more. Reality TV fills this need -- people you might see at the Stop & Shop suddenly on your TV dancing, spinning, singing and generally hamming it up.
We, the viewers, have taken Ed Sullivan's place -- commenting on the acts and providing our own context and, most importantly, choosing the acts. We choose Kim and Khloe and Kourtney and Kris and Kendall and Bruce (we're going to have to figure out how to spell "Bruce" with a K) and we reject "Basketball Wives" -- we are the reality TV Impresario. TV throws everything at us including the kitchen sink -- which starts with "K" so expect a new show called "Kim and Khloe's Kitchen Kapers" -- and we whittle it down to those precious few shows that appeal to us.
Because instead of being on TV, most of us have to go to work, take a shower, do the dishes, clean the bathroom, take the kids to t-ball, pay the bills - you know, reality.
So what have we learned? That was a rhetorical question, don't try to answer -- it will only make your head hurt because we haven't learned a thing. Except maybe that we are very, very human and we love watching other humans. It makes no difference that the other humans know they are on camera -- we know they know and that's OK.
I don't want to watch Snooki brushing her teeth (well, maybe if she's drunk and wearing her fuzzy slippers) and buying hamburger at the grocery store (well, maybe if she's drunk and wearing her fuzzy slippers.) OK, I'll watch Snooki doing anything if she's drunk and wearing her fuzzy slippers.
Kurt Ringquist is the author of numerous scraps of doggerel, superfluous information and questionable prose. His work has appeared in Kansas Quarterly as well as at the bottom of bird cages in and around Fairfield County. He is the former publisher of the LW Flyer, a satirical newspaper with as many as seven readers, all coincidentally named Ringquist. Comments and questions may be directed to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more nonsense along these lines, visit www.kurtswords.com.
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