Reading Kevin's Forum post about the guy who falsely claimed Oprah status (James Frey Redux) reminded me of an issue that's been simmering under my hat for a while. It's linked to the must-be-a-memoir-to-get-on-Oprah craze--which I guess is a subcategory of the self-help genre.

Other than for reasons of network economics, can anyone explain the morbid fascination with"reality" entertainment? The commercials for some of these shows seem like a Mad Magazine parody (the one with the women who are ten years younger and ten years older than 'the catch' they fight over comes to mind).

I've never been able to fully watch one of these things. Am I missing something? I mean, the creepy crawly underbelly of American culture is something I can write about, but somehow seeing it displayed between beer and erectile dysfunction drug commercials makes it all so much worse. There's nothing "real" about this stuff, yet it continues to generate big bucks for somebody.

This blur between fiction, 'reality' and fantasy is just plain disturbing. And where does it leave us, the creators of fictional worlds? Will the kids growing up with Survivor even look at a novel?

If you know the answer, please share. Maybe someone will come up with a cure. Or at least a brighter entertainment future than "American Idol lives the Simple Life serving as Apprentice in the Kitchen to the Bachelor who Thinks He Can Dance."


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One more thought, Kelli: I have known two people who were on reality shows (and both shows were the cream of the reality there's a thought). A third friend got to the last round of a smaller show before being unselected at the last minute, because they asked her to pose for the "candid" promo shots in an outfit she never would've worn in real life. And she swears they cut her because they realized she wasn't up for being a partner in manipulation.

Anyway, the two folks who did the reality shows both said that - to paraphrase Mae West - reality had nothing to do with it. The producers took their real-life personalities and built easily understood "characters" out of them. Not a lie, but a simulacrum of the truth designed to make the audience root for them, boo them, distrust them, sympathize with them, whatever.

Was there quote-unquote writing, like a script to follow? No. Was there a story arc constructed by the producers to which the contestants largely hewed? You bet.

It wasn't a fictional world. But it was far from a real one...and maybe that's what you find disturbing.
Bingo! That's exactly it, Kevin. This is fiction disguised as reality because fiction qua fiction doesn't sell, and reality is too ugly to make it on its own (as you've pointed out, not even the news will touch it).

The question is, then, do viewers mostly realize they're being manipulated? That this is a plucked, pulled and photoshopped image, a fun house mirror as distorted as a Caligari backdrop? Do they believe it to be real ... or fantasize that it is?

Because, my friend, that bodes very ill for our culture...and socio-political future.

Of course, people were probably making these prognostications after the game show scandals of the '50s, too. Maybe I'm just playing the pessimist, and need to reshake my magic 8 ball. It's stuck on "Don't Count on It".


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