So I found myself watching “For Love or Money 4” the other night, the latest in a long line of so-called reality shows intertwining the search for true love with gaudy entertainment. Sure, I laughed at the previews. I snickered at the contestants. I scoffed at the show’s paper-thin concept. And I had every intention to avoid the show like the ill-advised drunken hookup you hope to never see again. But as fate or writer’s block would have it, when the show came on, there I was, glued to the TV set, simultaneously sickened and completely enthralled.
Even while I wanted to punch the brainless bimbos flashing fake smiles and prancing around in short skirts to win the affection of a man they barely knew, I was dying to know which bimbos would be eliminated. Even as their incessant giggling about the bachelor’s dark good looks grated on my nerves like perfectly manicured nails on a chalkboard, I was thinking, “well damn, he is kinda hot.” Even as I shook my head at the show’s utter stupidity, I realized that it was also brilliant; it had me watching it.
And this is not the first time I have found myself glued to the television set, watching a reality show my head knows is completely idiotic but my eyes refuse to avoid. Reality TV is literally everywhere.
First there was the Real World, the grandmother of all reality shows, and of course it was on MTV, the progenitor of the most original programming that exists. I freely admit to watching, and enjoying, the first season of the Real World. It was new, it was fresh, and it actually felt REAL.
But it’s all been downhill since then with Reality TV’s version of Attack of the Clones. From “Survivor” to “Big Brother,” “The Bachelor” to “Joe Millionaire,” “American Idol” to “Fame” and “Extreme Makeovers” thrown in for fun, an ever-increasing list of copycats has made the reality soup taste mighty bland. And yet we watch.
I guess the appeal of these shows isn’t that hard to understand. I mean, they’re kind of like game shows on steroids, giving away millions of dollars and soul mates instead of dishwashers, furniture, and new cars. And game shows are fun to watch. You want to find out who wins. There’s also a kind of naughty satisfaction in becoming “a fly on the wall” in someone else’s supposed life, feeling like you’re catching a forbidden glimpse into their world, like eavesdropping, snooping, or being a peeping-tom, without all of the social ridicule.
But somehow, when I watch these shows, I also feel as though my intelligence is being insulted. Because the truth is that for most of us actually LIVING in the real world, reality shows like “The Real World,” are about as far from reality as you can get.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been stranded in the remote depths of a jungle located 3000 miles from my home with a group of people I’ve never met. I’ve never been trapped in a compound with 11 strangers, hundreds of hidden cameras and a really clean pool. I’ve never chosen my soul mate from a group of 15 men hand-picked by a bunch of old, bald television executives. In the reality that I live in, my life doesn’t get edited down to an hour of drama-filled entertainment, my friends and associates weren’t cast in their roles, I’m not constantly wired up to a microphone, and I don’t get filmed by camera crews. Well, at least none that you need to know about.
And I know that these shows don’t represent reality. You know that these shows don’t represent reality. We both know that there are a lot of things going on IN reality that need our attention much more than these so-called reality shows. But despite their insult to our collective intelligence, I guess that in some bizarre way, these shows are just entertaining. We get involved. We can relate to these people; they may be beautiful, but they’re not celebrities, and that means that with a little plastic surgery, we could be one of them. And most of all, we just want to find out who’s going to win. It’s why I got hooked on American Idol 3. And it’s why I’ll be watching “For Love or Money 4,” this week, pretending to work on my website, astounded by the show’s complete absurdity, wondering if monkeys are on the production team, dying to find out who’ll be the next contestant to go.