Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reality TV: Will You be Voted off the Island?

Since "Survivor" debuted in 2000, so-called reality TV is all the rage. The situations vary from show to show, but the premise is always the same: a group of eclectic people from various (often dysfunctional) backgrounds come together to compete in some humiliating events for a prize only one will claim.

It's not in the Olympic spirit of competition, mind you. While they pretend to be cooperative, they are really back-stabbing each other aside. These moments come out in the little alliances team members make on "Survivor", and in the little "confessionals", the little private interviews between the action when we get to hear the private thoughts of the participants (is there anything private any more?).

These people have dollar signs in their eyes and are ready to come to loggerheads with any opposing member who gets in ther way. It's all for one, and one for himself game. They even rank members of their own team according to importance to the team on "Survivor." Of course, whether it's that show, or "America's Top Model", "Project Runway", or that one with Donald Trump ("You're fired!"), the climax is, I'm sue you know, the vote. That is the moments when one unlucky participant gets voted off. They can't cut it, so they're ousted. Hey, life is like that.

Public television is not immune to this. I guess its ratings were falling, and the producers decided to jump on board. Of course, they disguised it. "We don't do reality TV. Go to the networks for that." (quotes my own). About four years ago, however, PBS put on "1900 House", "Frontier House", "Manor House", and "Colonial House." On the last one participants in a mock Jamestown colony had to eat flour studded with weevils. Take that, "Fear Factor"...our weevils are as bad as your hissing beetles. Oprah Winfrey's appearance in 17th century fashion (the latest from Holland) sealed it for me. She was there to steal as many viewers from the networks as she could.

So, what does it all mean, and isn't it all in clean fun? I don't think so. The idea of forcing people to do humiliating tasks, eat revolting foods, and betray their companions is not how most of us would spend a weekend. There may be something symbolic going on.

I believe this horrible shows reflect the savage competition happening from Globalization, job outsourcing, lack of job security, and now the worldwide economic crisis. I don't want to get on a mountain top on this - they're still ridiulous shows. Consider that it's not acceptable to act in those vicious ways to your family, co-workers, and people in your every day life. So we do it vicariously through "Big Brother."

Workers feel the pinch of job outsourcing, lack of stability, tanking wages and consumer power, but it is a little abstract. You can't strike out at Globalization. So we have these shows. If you can't be up to par, your teammates vote you off the island. If you are not performing all the time and pleasing your managers, you'll be voted out of your job or out of the Middle Class. And there is no immunity idol, so watch out. You may be voted off the island too. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

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