Friday, November 14, 2008

Getting Real

The name "reality show" has always been a fairly nominal title, since the success of The Real World and the rise of so-called "reality" programming. Indeed, there almost nothing "real" about it. In real life, 20 strangers don't end up on an island in the middle of the Pacific, and slowly vote one another off the island. And 8 (or however many) people from various innane and stereotypical walks of life don't randomly cohabitate in the same apartment and not have jobs and get drunk every freaking night. Teams of two don't race around the world. And singing stars are not regularly semi-randomly plucked from obscurity to become overnight, overpackaged, and overexposed stars.

However, reality, the real reality, has sadly and brutally finally reared its head on reality TV this fall. By now, many have heard about Paula Goodspeed, a young woman who auditioned on season 5 of American Idol, and had her dreams crushed thusly:

Since then, some online celeb news outlets are reporting that Goodspeed's fixation on Paula Abdul had grown and that she had begun stalking the former pop star. And two days ago, Goodspeed's body was found in a parked car near Abdul's house, dead from an apparent suicide. On her Myspace page, following her appearance on Idol, she wrote, "It's very hard reading such awful things being written about yourself...or hearing things being said...not like a lot of people would understand what it's like having so many haters, just because I made the mistake of trying out for a singing competition before I was ~even~ ready vocally, emotionally and physically. I have to believe there is ~something good about me..."

Then, last night on Survivor, a show The Common Man still digs, Randy, a 50s+ wedding photographer, accused fellow survivors (and lone African-American cast members) Crystal and "her boy" G.C. (who was previously voted off), of "running the tribe like a gang". And no one, not even the aforementioned Crystal, who looks as though she could kick his ass in a fair fight, called him on his blatantly racist language. In an age when a black man can be President of the United States, it pained The Common Man to hear such a disgusting accusation. Up until that point, The Common Man had had little use for Crystal, and had mildly dug Randy (who arrogantly kept plugging away, despite a caustic personality, average intelligence, and little athletic talent). And he had no real affection for either Crystal or G.C., who came across as whiny and sulking. But given how big of an ass they were partnered with, The Common Man can forgive a great deal of their sad-sack attitudes. The Common Man hopes that at some point this season, someone calls Randy on his bigotry.

Anyway, the tenor of reality programming was never high-minded (even the uplifting Extreme Makover: Home Edition and The Biggest Loser cater to the most voyeuristic impulses of the American public, and Home Edition doubles as an hour-long commercial for Sears every week). But perhaps, in light of these sad developments, the tenor needs to change somewhat. Sure, schadenfreude is a powerful force that eggs these shows on. But the producers and watchers of these shows (of which The Common Man is one and is equally guilty) need to realize that the "stars" of these shows often act deluded is because they are, indeed, unstable. And this instability can be further triggered and heightened when their bubble of delusion is pricked. And their downfall can have sad and terrible consequences for them and those they love. And when the basest rhetoric and accusations are levied by a boor and a bully at another person, and those challenges are not answered, this discourse can be normalized. Indeed, not everyone is going to disagree with Randy, or interpret his comments in the obviously racialized way they were uttered.

Anyway, The Common Man isn't sure how to take the more dangerous edge off of reality programming without getting rid of the vibe that makes it popular (though The Amazing Race tends to do a good job of that), making sure that those who utter blatantly racist or ignorant comments look like a fool on a regular basis). The Common Man doesn't want a touchy-feely reality, just one in which the vulnerable are not picked on, out, and apart by aging, acerbic asses in tight-fitting cardigans and overweight, middle-aged metrosexuals with waxed eyebrows and cowboy boots who appear to know no other phrases than "keepin' it real," "yo dog" and "1000%."

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