Big Brother: Presidential Edition

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reality_tv_collageBased upon the most recent presidential election, it’s clear to me that the American electorate needs more entertainment value in its politics. Therefore, I propose we run future elections like a reality TV contest.

We could, for instance, model our presidential race on the granddaddy of all reality shows, Survivor. Democrats and Republicans could form two tribes of presidential hopefuls who would be forced to compete on a remote island wearing nothing but loincloth, eating gross food, and completing arduous tasks until the fittest survived.

The refreshing part of a Survivor– style competition would be that all the political machinations and back- stabbing would be in the open for a change.

Or maybe the campaign could be run like The Amazing Race. Here we’d have pairs of candidates running around the country completing challenges such as stomaching the horrible food at various state fairs and pretending to love it. (Actually, this is pretty much what our current candidates do.)

The first pair on The Amazing Presidential Race to get to the winning destination would become our next President  and Vice President.

But I think the most entertaining way to choose a president would be to subject them to a Bachelor/Bachelorette type of contest. Each week we would select random citizens to be wooed in hot tubs by the scantily clad presidential hopefuls. Each week an unlucky candidate would get a rose and be unceremoniously shown the door.

We might not get a smart or capable president, but at least we’d get some eye candy to cheer us up.

So who’s with me? Is it time to give up the idea that a sober, thoughtful, and qualified individual is the best choice to be leader of the free world? Hasn’t the U.S. electorate shown itself to be more interested in a person of the caliber to be seen on The Real World?

At this point I’d settle for a contest resembling the old game show To Tell the Truth. 

The New Republicans: Pitbulls in Lipstick

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I haven’t missed Sarah Palin. Seeing her on TV news today in response to word that her former running mate John McCain has brain cancer was an unwelcome reminder of her existence.

As I listened to her speak, I was reminded of her coarseness, her lack of knowledge, and her family drama that rivals anything seen in an episode of Jerry Springer. And it hit me: Sarah Palin helped usher in the era of politics as reality TV.

Her famous comment about hockey moms as “pit bulls in lipstick” was eaten up by a certain segment of the American electorate, and the Republican Party took note.

Of course, we have seen an intertwining of politics and entertainment in the past. Our rash of “celebrity” governors – Ronald Reagan, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger – has contributed to the idea that one need not have stellar credentials to be elected to high office.

And the entertainment-oriented nature of the news media has not helped. It was a sad state of affairs when a comedy show, The Daily Show, was considered by many to be a better source of news than any of the network or cable news programs. Daily Show host Jon Stewart was even encouraged to run for office.

But the Trump campaign took politics to a completely new – and unfortunately low – level. He initially sparked interest because of his larger than life persona and celebrity due to the reality show The Apprentice. Once news outlets saw how crowds were eating up his crude and outrageous statements, they started covering Trump’s campaign slavishly.

It is depressing to me that a sizable number of Americans were willing to elect as president a reality show star with no political experience and questionable business dealings who routinely puts down women, immigrants, war heroes, and the disabled. Yet a recent report indicates that despite all the apparent conflicts of interest, possible collusion with the Russian government, and a petty penchant for tweeting insults and threats to those who oppose him, Donald Trump’s fans continue to support him and to delight in his boorish behavior.

This is not simply the dumbing down of American politics but the lowering of standards of acceptable behavior for no less than the President of the United States.

Far from making America great again, our 45th president is managing to make America mean.

 

 

 

 

A Break From Reality

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reality_tv_collageEver since Richard Hatch, ruthless competitor and future tax evader, won the first season of Survivor, America has been plagued with a rampant virus: reality programming. Soon after the airing of Survivor, Americans’ thirst for peering into the lives of so-called ordinary people grew, and the demand created a slew of reality TV shows. American Idol, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, The Real World, The Bachelor, America’s Next Top Model: All purported to be unscripted series in which ordinary people competed, or just lived together, under the watchful eye of the camera.

Celebrities soon got in on the act, and we could voyeuristically enjoy the lives of the Kardashians, Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, the Osbournes, and even a drunken David Hasselhoff. The question is, why would we want to?

I have had a problem with these shows from the get-go. First of all, they don’t depict the reality people think they are seeing. The real lives of most people, even celebrities, are deadly dull, at least for the purposes of airing them on TV. So manufactured peril and conflict, sob stories about American Idol contestants, and cat fights among the Dance Moms were manufactured for these series. Back in 2000, I asked fans of Survivor, “Do you really think for a second that the television network would allow these contestants to be in real danger?” Yet today we have Naked and Afraid, an update on the “throw people into the perilous wilderness” model.

This blurring of fantasy and reality has made media darlings out of nobodies. Ever heard of Bethany Mota? She started broadcasting videos of herself chatting about looks and fashion online, and the next thing you know, she has her own fashion line being sold at local retailers. I’ll admit that some real talents have been discovered through this method, Justin Bieber being the most obvious example. And I guess we have Idol to thank for discovering such talents as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.

The danger with reality TV is that it gives ordinary people the illusion that anyone can be rich and famous. Talent and brains are optional. We aspire to stardom over substance. You can even see this celebrity worship in our current presidential primary season. Donald Trump’s fame, as well as his ever more outrageous antics, have given him a lead in Republican polls even in such a conservative state as Iowa.

Andy Warhol made famous the statement, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” I sincerely hope reality television has had its own 15 minutes of fame.

The 1960s House

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Events around my house this week have inspired an idea for a new reality show: The 1960s House.

First our air conditioning compressor went kaput. Life in our hermetically sealed environment was disturbed. We had to (gasp) open the windows and use electric fans in the bedrooms to sleep at night. Luckily the summer weather was mild because as it was, my kids sweated as if they had worked on a chain gang all day.

Then the unthinkable happened. Our power was shut off for an entire day. Having no a/c and now no TV were bad enough. But no WiFi? We walked around like zombies with no purpose and no live humans to eat. I even spied my son on the couch dejectedly reading a paperback book!

This gave me the idea for the show. You may remember a short-lived reality show called The 1900 House. In it a family attempts to live as if it were the turn of the century, a time of butter churning and driving a horse and buggy. The show was not a huge hit, maybe because harking all the way back to 1900 was too far.

Enter The 1960s House. I’m picturing a contest format in which participants are forced to complete such challenges as looking up a phone number in a phone book, dialing it on a rotary phone, and then having a private conversation in the family kitchen, where the phone is bolted to the wall with a skimpy cord and there’s nowhere to hide.

Then contestants could take turns in the “change the channel” relay, where they would be timed getting off the couch to switch the TV to one of the other two networks. They would then have to endure the grueling “watching the commercials” test, as well as attempt to make popcorn on the stove by shaking a pan full of kernels and oil over the heating element.

Of course, this segment would have to be preceded by a vocabulary lesson in which participants learned that pause means “temporarily stop what one is doing,” play means “go outside and swing on the swing set,” and fast forward refers to NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (or, as we knew him back in the old days, Lew Alcindor).

We could add quaint historical elements to the environment, such as the milkman delivering glass bottles of the creamy stuff to the door and the Good Humor man driving his truck through the neighborhood without anyone worrying that he was a creepy pedophile.

There could also be moments of high drama on The 1960s House. For instance, the adults would lose all contact with the kids for hours when they rode their bikes downtown or to the park without cell phones. In the house, the phone could ring, and no one would know who was on the other end.

Yes, I can imagine many interesting experiences for the members of The 1960s House: the percolator brewing the coffee, a solitaire game with real cards, a stack of 45s and a record player. In fact, it might be a good show for my family to watch – that is, if the power ever goes back on.

Duggaring Their Own Grave

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Do you care about the Duggars? Neither do I. However, I do care about the response from evangelical Christians to revelations that Josh Duggar molested young girls, including his sisters, many years ago.

To the outrage and animosity expressed by the public, these Christians’ responses are: It was so long ago. It’s been dealt with. You should forgive him. The girls are being victimized all over again by the media.

Let’s be clear about something here. These 19 children were victimized the moment their parents agreed to open up their lives to public scrutiny by appearing on a reality TV show. As a result, everything they say and do is held up to potential public praise and ridicule.

And there is so much hypocrisy in this family, who held themselves up as paragons of Christian virtue. They felt free to excoriate the LGBT community while harboring a child molester within their own family. They also took their private decision to produce as many offspring as nature allowed and made it a public freak show. Yet they failed to protect their own progeny. How is this godly behavior?

Reality programming is the scourge of television. It is just unseemly to pry into the private lives of people, even with their consent. Why this penchant to be voyeuristically interested in other people’s lives? And why do ordinary people allow themselves, and more importantly their children, to be publicly exposed? Did the Duggars learn nothing from the disastrous show Jon and Kate Plus 8?

Like the Duck Dynasty clan, the Duggars want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to pontificate on gay marriage and other social issues and be interviewed as if they are experts on Christian teaching. But dare to criticize them, and they cry persecution.

It is time to stop giving an audience to these self-aggrandizing narcissists. Here’s an idea: How about turning off the TV and paying attention to your own family drama?