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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Reality Show Reality

Okay. I admit it. I don't understand the ever-growing interest in Reality TV Shows. Apparently there's enough voyeuristic desire to watch other people that an entire industry has emerged, producing improbable titles and subjects ranging from Teen Mom to Hoarders to Real Cops to Auction Hunters to I Know My Kid's a Star. Wikipedia lists over 100 different programs in the genre, with popular shows spawning succeeding generations through a number of closely related knock-offs. It some respects, watching other people live out their "ordinary" lives (let's face it, how ordinary can you be when a camera crew captures virtually everything you do or say?) appears eerily similar to visiting a zoo and observing animals in their artificial habitats of confinement.

What I find even more bizarre is the fascination with another evolving trend. That is, celebrities. I don't mean people who have earned that status by virtue of successfully plying the acting trade in film, stage or television; or highly paid athletes who have parlayed their skills into a magnet of attraction for star struck fans in stadiums filled to capacity. I am referring to empty celebrities who have no discernible skill or talent. They are somehow famous for being famous. Other than the tactical, shrewd marketing strategy release of their sex tapes, what do publicity hounds Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian manifest as a skill or talent of distinction? What would anthropologists 100 years from now infer of our society when examining countless artifacts chronicling the exploits of people like Hilton and Kardashian who are ever present in the media merely for smiling and dressing suggestively whenever a camera appears?

Anyway -  what does this trend convey to our children? I have noticed a disturbing pattern during my daily lunch experiences with children involving their responses to the dialogue starter - "What do you want to be when you grow up?" In the past, and clearly present still, elementary age children often reply to the question by stating their desire to be a pro athlete, a rock star, doctor, veterinarian, marine biologist,... Lately however, the simple answer - "a celebrity" is gaining in frequency.

Perhaps the old Horatio Alger "rags to riches" story of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and improving your life through hard work and determination is somewhat exaggerated in its reach and maybe mythical, but how would you describe the desire to become a hollow, "famous for being famous" individual absent any marketable skill or trade or purpose other than manipulating the media and effortlessly enthralling devoted fans? This is what many children aspire to be? This reminds me of the discussion on nutrition involving good calories that offer something positive to your diet and health versus empty calories that fill you up without contributing anything productive to your system.

Maybe I'm just becoming an old grouch. Maybe I should pitch the idea for a reality show on old grouches who have lost touch with the pulse of a changing world. 

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