Renaissance Column

DECEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 12



DAVID DOUGLASS

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DAVID DOUGLASS is an independent publishing consultant residing in the small north Georgia town of Atlanta. He is also a freelance writer and has authored numerous articles and several books. David is a staff columnist for Renaissance Online Magazine.


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When Real World Goes Bad

DAVID DOUGLASS

I read somewhere that one of the television networks is planning to drop a boat load of people off on an island in the middle of nowhere and film them while they forage for bananas, erect lean-tos, and somehow burrow through sand dunes in search of fresh water. It sounds a lot like "Gilligan's Island" meets "Real World" meets "Lord of the Flies" - an amalgam of "reality-based" possibilities that would make even the most jaded Fox Network viewer blush.

 

Don't hold your breath waiting to see a contemporary version of the "professor" develop an electrical generator with such unlikely raw materials as spare wire, empty coconut shells, and an old penny. These days, we want to see some real action. For instance, if our "professor" could become intimate with at least two other castaways, slip a few hallucinogenic tropical mushrooms in "Mary Ann's" world famous coconut cream pie, and regularly frolic about the island donning little more than a not-so strategically placed Mensa membership badge, well, needless to say, then we would have ourselves a television show.

For better or for worse, this is who we are. For some reason that only nature can explain, we are technological voyeurs of the highest order. Though we don't like to admit it, we simply can't wait for the next episode of "When Good Kitties Go Bad," or "Real World: Beriut."

I know what you're thinking - "I don't watch that sensational garbage!" I try to maintain precisely that attitude myself as I limit my own viewing habits to shows which air amateur home videos of grandpa whistling the "Star Spangled Banner" through his nose, schizoid chimps absconding with the cheesy wigs of unassuming substitute teachers on class trips, and the many sundry ways in which the bodily functions of pets can be exploited for our amusement.

Perhaps the popularity of these shows stems from society itself. Human beings find themselves in the excruciatingly precarious position of having to be "respectable" when someone is watching, yet uncontrollably predisposed to being complete imbeciles when they think they can get away with it. Come on, we've all thought about mooning that obnoxious tailgater on the freeway - only later to be confronted by our untanned, less-than-firm derrieres wallpapered across television screens throughout the country on "High Speed Moonings Caught on Tape."

I suppose I value my privacy a bit too much for a society such as this. I mean, if I want to fall asleep on my sofa on any given Sunday afternoon, I shouldn't have to endure the humiliation of awakening to a giggling brood of neighborhood kids taping my reaction to having my nostrils super-glued together.

I often wonder whether other countries are plagued with the type of programming that so appeals to the American palate. For whatever reason, the idea of some British chap performing a homespun ventriloquist act with his sun-deprived navel doesn't seem to have quite the same punch as, say, a beer can wielding, Sasquatch-chested good ol' boy submitting precisely the same performance.

This, of course, brings us back to so-called "reality-based" television. You know the genre - excessive numbers of people with varying personalities placed in unlikely situations or crammed into tiny motor homes for the sole purpose of entertaining legions of viewers who would rather not watch, but somehow cannot do otherwise. I'm still waiting for the mad-capped adventures of ten strangers stranded on board a space shuttle with no training, no scientific credentials, and only a week's worth of Tang and tube-filled munchies. Obviously, the plot would center around how in the world the cast will get back to earth (which would, admittedly, be fairly interesting). I just wouldn't want to be the poor slob who has to go along and film the whole mess to avoid losing his job and having to settle for a gig taping tap-dancing recitals on cable access.

In this age of technological voyeurism, I suppose we are all destined to live out our own unique versions of "The Truman Show". At any given time, each of us is in some manner watching, or being watched. At least the reality-television cast members are fully apprised of when and where they will be filmed. The rest of us are left wondering whether we are being "caught on tape" as we have our morning coffee in the office or adjust our underwear in the mall. Now that I think about it, perhaps the stars of "Real World," "Road Rules," et al, know something that has somehow eluded the rest of us - if you're going to be video-taped for typically moronic human behavior anyway, you might as well get a free trip to Hawaii, fat digs, and incredible, once in a lifetime adventures in the process.

So, will I be watching the deserted island reality television show? Watch it? Hell, I'm a cast member!

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