Surreality TV — Why do we watch?

By Joel Lanceta

One of the benefits of living in an apartment here over the summer is I get an entire surround-sound entertainment system all to myself when I’m home at nights. (The downside being that the reason my roommates are never around is because they have girlfriends.) So while extending my experiences in surfing the multitude of channels satellite provides, I’ve noticed something about TV this summer; it feels like every show is a “reality show.”

Three girls are flaunting themselves to marry some guy’s dad. Three stations over, a bunch of wannabe comics are set loose on an unsuspecting public in a sad attempt to get laughs. And on MTV, Ozzy Osborne’s stuttering a bunch of four letter words to his equally foul-mouthed family. If I didn’t have cable or a DVD player, this entertainment system would be useless and annoying to me. I just want to know- does anyone else see through the deluge of so-called reality TV and is sick and tired of it as I am?

Any American should be able to see that this junk the networks are spoon-feeding them does not properly reflect reality in the United States. Sure, Ozzy would probably still be fried without the cameras on him, but would anyone really want to subject themselves to these trials network TV gives without the audience? I don’t need a group of gay men criticizing my style, or to live in a house with surveillance cameras watching me day and night, or to battle a bunch of greedy and lust guys over a slightly hot girl who may or may not have a million dollars – although that wouldn’t be too bad. Then why are there still hundreds of people out there willing to exploit themselves?

The camera on their faces and the reassurance that millions of viewers are watching just gives those reality TV participants a reason to act out. These people are willing to trade their individual privacy and most of the time dignity for a few minutes in the spotlight. The lengths they’re willing to go to is outrageous. I’m mean, does anyone really what to be known as the fat naked guy in Survivor, the slut from The Bachelor, or the diva from American Idol. Yes, I could probably identify these people by name, but why gratify their need for fame? Their pathetic need for attention and the outrageous stunts they do to get that attention just underlines the allure of celebrity at any cost. (Re: Anna Nicole Smith – God, she’s irritating.)

Of course some of the blame does go to the TV executives who overfeed us this slop. They personally pick these people for reality TV, and purposely know what conflicts will arise. They’re the ones who pick the country boy and unleash him in Cancun with ample alcohol and girls, put the overachiever on a deserted island to compete with others, and juxtapose the devoted virginal girl next door with the player wanting a jump in the sack on Big Brother.

Sadly, TV executives create these conflicts because this is what the public want to watch. Yes, it is the public’s fault for why reality TV continues. Ratings for reality TV this summer are high, as viewers become resigned to watch. The public has to be smart enough to realize, first of all, this is not reality. Real life isn’t populated with beautiful, shallow, and oversexed people – at least my life at the U of C isn’t. Then again, I’m not sure if anyone wants to watch a reality show called “Who Wants to Write a Soc Paper,” featuring seven sleep-deprived students, a 9 a.m. deadline, 12 cases of Red Bull and only one computer.

But, we continue watching because we want to see people subjected to these exploits. Like wrestling and Jerry Springer, it is sort of fun in a voyeuristic way to watch people humiliate themselves physically and personally. We know it’s staged, the participants are overacting, but just as long as it’s not us, we assume its O.K. to watch. It’s not though. Reality TV gives people the wrong impression of life – to impressionable children, to teens, and to audiences abroad already critical of American culture. And as an audience, we should not be encouraging these people by watching them. It’s wrong for people to surrender their pride and self-respect for celebrity and it’s wrong for us to watch and pay attention to their pitiable attempts for fame. Much like your teacher dissuaded your third grade class from encouraging that boy you paid to eat worms, I’m discouraging all of you from paying attention to these low grade antics, as that boy who ate worms is working for Jackass now.

So, I say boycott this vapid and insubstantial ‘reality’ TV and tell networks to give us real entertainment. I may sound too scathing about these shows, but I really don’t see any redeeming value in any of them, at least until my audition for Real World: University of Chicago.