Monday, November 22, 2010

Looking for Reality

I don't care about Bristol Palin.

The latest flare-up involves what happened on Dancing With The Stars last week. Bristol, whose dancing has not been among the most skilled, was kept on for another week while Brandy was eliminated!

Oh My Goodness!

It's a horror, may be a conspiracy, could be manufactured for ratings. The conspiracy version is that Sarah Palin fans want to support Bristol as some kind of statement and since the viewers "voting" overrides the "judges" "scores", this creates the result. This doesn't count Bristol's other reality show about teen mothers or her absolutely tasteless public service announcement (with "The Situation" from Jersey Shore) against teen pregnancy.

Oh, and I refuse to watch Sarah Palin's Alaska on TLC. It's not just that her syntax makes me crazy (it does). But why do I want to watch a show about her? Would she watch a show about me? Or You?

The reason I avoid these two shows (and the Singing shows, the Skating shows, the Weight Loss shows, the Businessman shows, the Race shows, the Survivor shows, the Bachelorette shows, etc.) is simple.


We call them "Reality" shows, but the industry calls them "Unscripted". The characters are picked for their extremes, the situations are contrived to create drama (right after this commercial break), and the outcomes are pumped up as if they were world-changing.

I'm not looking for more silly situation comedies or police procedurals. I'm just thinking about how much of our shared discourse is about this Unreality. What are we NOT discussing because we're all distracted by the Reality? (I've commented before about how "the family" in Fahrenheit 451dominates everyone's social lives via wall-sized television screens. Wonder what Bradbury thinks 47 years later?)

But it's not a stretch to see that we do the same thing in other venues. Sunday morning cable talk shows are the source of weekly "news". But we have contestants who are selected to create drama, play pre-defined roles, and score points. It's only a short hop to having Daisy Fuentes come on after Meet the Press and say, "if you thought Mitch McConnell was the best, text 3451, but if you thought Chuck Schumer was better, text 3452 -- regular rates apply".

I've discovered a new Monday vice. It's a running blog from Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post. He does real time commentary on the news shows. Be warned, his language is sometime rough and his snarkiness score is off the charts. But his reflections demonstrate how useless these staged "conversations" are.

They don't enlighten because THEY AREN'T REAL!

So what should we be talking about? There are a lot of folks (Tea Partiers as well as others) who are concerned about the long-term good of the country. Last week, the New York Times put up an interactive site that allowed folks to make choices to balance the budget. It was actually fun to consider. Over one million people reviewed the site and many calculated their responses. And while there clearly isn't consensus on how to proceed, as the following link shows, it's at least a great start.

Here's another example of what Reality means. If you follow politics, you know the names Arianna Huffington and Mary Matalin. Arianna is the founder of the Huffington Post and a recognized progressive. Mary worked with vice president Cheney's staff, ran GHW Bush's campaign in 1992, and can be a harsh voice on the right (but is still married to James Carville -- go figure). But Mary and Arianna participated in the StoryCorps program NPR reports as part of its National Day of Listening. Both become REAL people who struggled to get where they are, who were supported by their mothers, who struggled with pregnancies, and who actually admire each other regardless of (or maybe because of) their differences. It's a touching conversation.

So once again, let's try to focus on what is REAL. As we gather with friends and family for Thanksgiving, it's the opportunity to truly engage. Not as characters playing roles, but as REAL PEOPLE. And that's worth giving Thanks over.


  1. Does What Not to Wear count as a reality show?

  2. In a way, I think, the reason that we have been losing ground on "what is real" is because of our (national) aversion to science.
    Nature makes it real!