Why are American standards so low when it comes to watching TV? Americans will watch anything. Sensationalistic programming has been around forever but in recent years, it seems like we need more and more of it. Human nature is inherently voyeuristic. In the assumed privacy of or homes, we gravitate toward prurient interests, revel in tawdry tales and relish programs that “reveal” us at our worst.
Today I read about a child of 7 posed in front of his mother’s Lexus, rapping on YouTube. The potty-mouthed punk did a 2-minute free-style rhyme about blowing people’s heads off. It was heinous. A teen videotaped the performance and posted it . When the mom (who claimed complete ignorance) discovered it, the prepubescent Scarface wanna’ be’s rant was unceremoniously yanked.
So if it’s OFF of YouTube, how are we hearing about it? Well, apparently a community activist received it in an email and forwarded to KCTV-5 a Kansas City, Missouri CBS affiliate, WHO THEN AIRED IT. That’s right. In order to point out how low we’ve sunk as a society, a low-res, blurry, profane, violent, hate-filled video diatribe performed by a child on the first step of his “age of reason,” was aired on a local KC CBS affiliate.
We’re blessed with basic cable TV’s (TLC), that features half-ton people of different ages and genders. There’s a “half-ton teen” show, a “half ton adult” show and so on. They have programs about little people, conjoined twins, conjoined teens, people with profound birth defects, etc. No matter what oddity is explored, it seems to find an audience. ” Learning Channel,” indeed…it’s definitely a step up from a circus sideshow.
This trend, I feel is an outgrowth of talk show programs like Jerry Springer’s, which increasingly got more raw, confrontational and seedy as its ratings climbed. While I agree with Springer’s politics, I’ve never been able to watch him on TV. He’s up-front about his product. In a somewhat more civilized iteration of this confrontation genre, small-claims court shows depict idiots in stupid situations, making ridiculous claims to be ultimately “schooled” by a judge of sorts.
MTV and VH1 started by presenting videos of burgeoning and popular artists to experience then unprecedented early success , which it cruised on for years until they succumbed to the same play list rotation programming techniques that had killed many AOR format radio stations. Management then embarked on a series of raw, nasty, idiotic, exploitative, formulaic (and cheap to produce) “reality” TV shows that most adults found profoundly painful to watch but that teens identified with and emulated, much to society’s detriment. I’d like to use the old “life imitates art” saw here, but art this isn’t. It doesn’t rest in the same church as art, let alone the same pew. It’s lowest common denominator programming, designed to play in the background as you beat your wife, yell at your kids, drink yourself into a stupor or whip up your hamburger helper and Stove Top Stuffing in an adjacent room.
Americans just can’t get enough of this crap . The studios love it because they don’t have to hire writers and these steamy piles of crap nearly produce themselves. In fact, if someone assembled all of the crap a studio throws out during “legitimate” production, it would likely look a lot like these shows. (Wait–they’ve already done that).
Viewers lap it up it because no matter how messed up we may think our lives are, we can turn on the tube and see someone we can feel better than. The studios laugh all the way to the bank as we morph into the characters they constantly feed us. The “Biggest Loser” is society as our standards vanish and we treat one another with increasing contempt.
The market gets what the market wants, or does it? Unbridled capitalism created a market-driven environment in which someone is willing to sell anything to anyone. Standards shriek of impingement on free speech. Is the market really driving what gets produced or is the fact that indiscriminate advertisers will support anything that increases their exposure, regardless of quality or possible negative impact it has on viewers?
As much as I loathe “reality TV,” I understand its appeal. The voyeur in each of us coupled with reassurance that no matter how imperfect we may be, someone else is worse draws us in. For a short time, I watched “The Osbornes”, but thanks to a 12-step program, I recovered. And other than that sad chapter in my adult life, I’ve never watched a reality series, or for that matter, a single episode from start to finish.
My TV has a channel selector, a couple movie channels and an “on-off” switch. And there are scads of books I need to finish. We have so many choices to make. Too bad that so many of them suck.