The bloggers at Television Without Pity, the TV review website that boasts the motto “Spare the Snark and Spoil the Networks,” posted something disturbing a few days ago. Disturbing to me, personally, I mean. I doubt anyone else would notice. Here’s the TWoP post—you tell me if I’m overreacting (then sit back and let me tell you why I’m not):
“While most reality TV shows seem to exist solely so money-grubbing people can win some cash or so pseudo-celebrities can find a way to get famous, there are a few programs out there that are trying to help people or change the world one unscripted hour at a time. Much like regular-season standouts like “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” or “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” these summer shows help people transform their lives — and make us shed some tears along the way.”
The authors then go on to give bland TV-Guide style synopses of ten lesser known, yet supposedly high-minded reality shows like “”Plain Jane,” “Master Chef,” and “Breakthrough with Tony Robbins.”
You see, I’d always thought of TWoP as a place where…I don’t know…a place where television got what it deserved. Like no pity, maybe? Seems like a reasonable leap of logic to me—but looks like I’m wrong yet again. This is because the folks at TWoP have apparently decided that pity wasn’t good for TV’s self esteem, so they’ve switched from the snarky, smart sarcasm that used to ooze from their reviews to bland, painfully sincere “Way to go! Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not special!” nonsense usually reserved for patronizing the handicapable. One can only hope that the TWoP folks are just being so devilishly subtle, so super-hipster ironic and condescending, so deeply in-joked, that the sarcasm is just virtually impossible to pick up on unless you’re actually in league with Satan. Maybe the TWoP author responsible for this gooey up-with-people-isticness is actually trying to say “Ohh, look at TV now—it thinks it’s people!”
But that’s just my momentary delusion. Let’s face it—The Pity has gone soft. Or worse, gone corporate delicti.
And before you misunderstand me, let me make clear that I am not saying that TWoP can’t give shows–even “reality” shows– good reviews. I’m not even saying that these shows are not worthy of praise.
What I’m really saying is that these show are being praised for the wrong reasons. The praise is logically unsound–like telling your dog what a good boy he is when he inadvertantly warms your spot on the couch by humping the shit out of the cushion.
What is missing in TWoP’s “analysis,” and what makes it so disturbing to me, is That they aren’t actually analyzing whether or not the programs are “good” or not—good as in “good entertainment,” for that’s all they are meant to be—but rather they are trying to convince us that the shows are “good” in the sense that they are somehow virtuous, which is ludicrous. Their limp goody-goody analysis of thes shows falls way off track mainly because it lacks any significant acknowledgment of two very important real realities that should always be kept in mind when watching any “reality” show (but especially when watching a “do gooder” reality show):
1. Reality Shows are fake. They are shows.–entertainments. Ways to pass the time. Fictions. They are not really “unscripted.” The producers orchestrated situations that wouldn’t otherwise exist and then toss non-professional performers into the deep end and film them as they struggle to stay afloat. Whether consciously or not, the participants then behave in ways they think the producers want them to behave. “Gotta act pissed now. Need to say something to prove I’m really happy right now. MUST BE INTERESTING IN ORDER TO GET MORE SCREEN TIME!”
The people who participate in these shows know in advance that they’re on TV for the purpose of “transforming their lives.” They already know that’s the role they are there to play. And in true Method style, by the time the process is over, they’re going to have convinced themselves that’s just what happened—at least long enough to be caught on camera saying so. “You have totally turned my life around, Chef Ramsey—sniff! I love you!” I mean, any chef that decides to go to the trouble of getting on Gordon Ramsey’s show is doing so in hopes of furthering his or her career. And if they are never really able to convince themselves that “I now have a brand new start on life” do you honestly think that he or she is going to purposely ruin the expected “happy ending” of the show by actually admitting ultimate failure while the cameras are running? Do you think you’ll ever see a participant in a do gooder reality show summing up the experience with something like “You know—I didn’t really learn anything, this was a big waste of time, and Ramsey is a big pussy who couldn’t cook fish for a cat”? I don’t think we need to wait on that one.
And after they’re done shooting all the rambling, fumbling footage, and the “real” people have long since gone back to their “real” lives, the editors and producers of these shows will then condense the events they recorded to fit a proscribed running time and cram them into the mold of any one of a dozen or so proven three act story arcs. It’s a roundabout, but very successful, formula for feeding the public’s insatiable hunger for safe, twice removed faux-voyeurism. Like an Imax film of a roller coaster ride.
2. Do Gooder Reality Shows do not exist to “do good.” Neither do they do not exist to “ help people or change the world one unscripted hour at a time.” Granted, as with any piece of fiction, you have to willingly suspend your disbelief in order to participate in the entertainment. You want to be able to root for good guys and snark on the bad guys. But once you actually slide over that line between “willing suspension of disbelief” and “open vessel eager to take in whatever is poured into me,” then you might as well just start setting a place at your dinner table for Spongebob Squarepants and Bugs Bunny.
Wake up TWoP! Please god wake up! ALL television shows, even positive shows that depict people supposedly doing good, are created and produced for one reason and one reason only—TO MAKE MONEY.
Again, they are “shows”–not charities. Believe me, if the networks’ true goal was to help people in need, they have plenty of money just sitting around with which to do it. There’s no need for cameras to be present. No need for a show. TV networks are not interested in “doing good” and I pity the fool who even thinks they should be.
If there is any lasting good done by these shows for the poor saps who participate in them, then it is entirely incidental.
But that’s all as may be. TV is TV. There are lots of TV shows I like. Even some of the ones mentioned in this boneheaded TWoP blog post. And even though deep in their deepest, secret heart of hearts, every man, woman, and child on this Earth knows that all reality shows—the ones about money grubbing and the ones about helping people—are what the great philosophers call “bullshit,” the public has not quite made the same leap of non-faith when it comes to reality television as they did with pro wrestling a couple of decades ago. Remember those more innocent days when there was a mass delusional consensus among us all that TV wrestling was actually a sport? Of course now, in more enlightened times we all know that pro TV wrestling is just retard theater–and even though we know the truth, we love it all the more. When are Joe and Jane Regular going to finally come to the same realization about Reality Shows?
Outlets like Television Without Pity should be reminding people that TV is not real, not propegating the lie.
For some reason the folks at Television Without Pity have lost any sense of their place in the world of pseudomedia. They’ve lost the sense of themselves. They have become what they once mocked. I bet they didn’t even recognize the irony of the final line of their posting intro when they stated that these somehow more wholesome, more worthy, more all-American, more low-fat and whole grain, more “honest,” more real Reality Shows will “MAKE us shed some tears along the way.”
“Make” us shed tears. Make us. Means the same thing as “force” us. Make us shed tears the way Mussolini “made” the trains run on time.
Only two things can “make” you feel something. One is drugs. The other is effective use of the manipulative arts. Both can be fun as long as you don’t delude yourself into thinking it’s ok to substitute either for real life.
I say let Bugs and Spongebob get their own dinner.