Lost in “Lost”

Lost in Lost

After enduring a year-long addiction to the serial television drama “24”, I voluntarily submitted to Serial Television Addiction and Recidivism Eradication therapy (STARE) at Silver Hill.  Serial TV addiction effects every demographic ranging from college students and women addicted to soap operas and weekly black comedies like Desperate Housewives to middle aged  “Nick-o-loadies” that spend days watching reruns of Dark Shadows and Peyton Place. Therapy was intense and included a 12 Step program written in the format of a TV Guide.  We were forced to learn the real names of actors and actresses, unsuccessfully locate places like Port Charles ( General Hospital) and watch eight consecutive of hours of Gomer Pyle USMC.  Aside from  a slight gag reflex every time I hear Jim Nabor’s sing Christmas carols, I have suffered no long term side effects from my Clockwork Orange shock treatment.

I have now sobered to the dangers of watching highly addictive weekly TV series. I break into a sweat if I watch the evening news for more than ten minutes. I took an oath to my “24” Home group to never again watch any show or film with Kiefer or Donald Sutherland.  Fanaticism is particularly harsh in this age of overloaded advertising.  The serial TV addict wastes hours on their habit – – often consuming thirty minutes of carbohydrate commercials just to get to the more meaty half hour fix of weekly programming.

My family had also succumbed to the intoxicating weekly dramas of “24” and “Heroes”. In 2009, our house transformed into a den of neglect and weak intentions. We were like something out of the disturbing A&E show “Hoarders” –  a bizarre world of shut-ins, trapped in denial where garbage was piling up, the dog had eaten the cat and bills had gone unpaid.

We resolved to attend therapy sessions as a family – agreeing that we would shake the dreaded vidiot monkey together. Initially, our intervention went well. Yet, I noticed my eldest son was restless and irritable in group therapy.  He took a month to concede that Jack Bauer and CTU were fictional characters but he remained insistent that President Obama was not a US citizen and that the Bermuda Triangle was indeed a real phenomena.  “There are places in the Pacific where electromagnetic forces can create alternative realities.” He asserted. I dismissed this as too much exposure to Bill O’Reilly.  That afternoon,  I blocked the Fox channel on our TV.

Yet, something was not right. I overheard my youngest son talking about some new friends: Jack, Hugo and Sayid. I heard my daughter discussing “The Others” and a “smoke monster”. As a high school junior, I assumed these were euphemisms for kids that were on the fringe of her social circle and a fellow teen with a nicotine habit.

I arrived home one Monday evening to an empty kitchen, family dog licking dinner plates left on the table and no sign of human movement. From a distance, I could hear mechanical thumping and screams as if a person was being mangled in an industrial accident.  I raced to the door of our bedroom and burst in on an opium den of junkies. In the flickering darkness, I found my four recidivists abandoned in the television series, “Lost.”

“I thought we agreed no more TV series” I said to my spouse, recalling our stolen evenings of 2009 as we watched 7 consecutive seasons of “24”. “Oh, don’t be such a poop.” She laughed. “Sit down and watch with us.”

“Shhhh!” hissed my oldest son. “What just happened?” She asked him anxiously.

“Your dinner is in the oven” she said absently not taking her eyes off the screen.

I sullenly shuffled to the kitchen with the family dog patterering behind me, a tri-color remora shadowing me in hopes of feasting on my leftovers. As I sat eating dinner alone, my Aussie rested his head on my loafer and sighed that deep heave that only a dog can muster. He understood the pain and abandonment of addiction as he had probably not been fed in days. Off in the distance, I could hear a muffled cacophony of mayhem as some mysterious mechanical monster savaged another castaway.

I mindlessly ate and pondered a future of weeks without companionship as my brood descended into scattered DVD boxes and arguments over who jumped ahead to watch another episode. It was not enough that they were in the grips of their own mania. They were determined to corrupt me. Like dime bag drug dealers they whispered. “Oh, come on. Try it. Don’t be afraid. You’ll really like it, Dad.” My youngest son grabbed my arm.  Even the dog was now intrigued by a Golden retriever that was regularly featured on each episode. Et tu, Brody?

As I resisted, I became alienated from them in little ways.  I resented their  private inside jokes and “Lost” conversations. “Mom, what is up with Locke and why did he not push the button?” “Do you think Libby is real or fake like Hurley’s other friend from the insane asylum?”. ” Who is Ben, really ?”

My wife tried to rationalize their addiction. She explained that developing this common time with our teens could create valuable paths of communication. I wasn’t buying what she was selling.

” That’s what you said about ’24’ and I ended up having dreams about wanting to cut my boss’s head off and carry it around in a bowling bag.I was convinced the guy at the convenience store was a hostile terrorist cooking enriched uranium in the bathroom.” It was true. Overexposure to Jack Bauer had left me convinced that torture was a perfectly appropriate way to discipline anyone – including a child or an insubordinate employee. ” You may not like my methods,” I would say to my victim, ” but this company needs people like me.”

I glanced at the TV screen as it flickered the letters L-O-S-T.  I became combative.”How do you expect me to believe that all these good looking people ( except Hugo ) were actually on the same plane? The average commuter flight is filled with overweight Americans all hit with the ugly stick.”

“Come on, it will be fun. It can be our date night.” She shoved me in between two boys and the dog.  My “date” then crawled back in between the corner of the couch and my daughter.

From what I could ascertain, in 1974, a clandestine research group was transported to an island in the South Pacific where they began to track, monitor and even tap into a mysteriously powerful magnetic pulse.The project — known as Dharma – flirted with Einstein’s theory of relativity and distorted concepts of space and time. It was on this remote cay that something went terribly wrong, resulting in a catastrophic vortex that wreaked havoc on the cosmos and an unfortunate commercial airline bound for Australia. The island and Flight 815’s seventy-one surviving passengers share sinister secrets and a bizarre relationship that feels as though every character has died and is somehow trapped in an inexplicable purgatory.

The scene opens to a torn fuselage of a jet resting on a tropical beach as passengers mill in indecision.  Two male underwear models, Sawyer and Jack, argue over some trivial matter. Ok, I now get why the girls are drawn to the show. Two seconds later a scantily clad girl removes her blouse to sunbathe while another twenty-something relives her checkered past in an action packed flashback.  Check! Now I get the boys’ motivation.. A golden lab trots down the beach. Our Australian shepherd tilts his head and gives a nuetered “woof” at the television. Yes, it seems there is something for everyone on this mysterious island.

I am worried about being manipulated by the producers of “Lost”. I know I am going to get sucked in to a somewhat plausible plot that will disintegrate into a plot line that ends up like the Weekly World News with a picture of an alien shaking hands with ex-President Bill Clinton or a Batboy on a rampage. The fear of losing all those precious emotionally invested hours to some fantastical Captain Nemo comic book plot compels me to leave the room. Must – re-sist-temp-ta-tion!

Our house is silent except for that incessant thumping and screaming. I pretend to leave, shouting.  “Ok, I’m going now. Cindy Crawford is at the door and we are running away together to start a beauty mark clinic in Laguna Beach! I won’t be home until 2019.

(Silence)

“Ok, I’ll see you guys next month. I’m off to film a reality TV pilot on latch key husbands”

(Crickets)

Disgusted, I plop in my favorite chair and stare at a vacant flat screen. Framing the television is a bookcase of classical literature whose protagonists are shipwrecked, shanghaied, imprisoned, cuckolded and left for dead. I rise and pick up Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. I clearly recall my first reading of Edmond Dantes, his imprisonment and improbable escape from Marseille Bay’s island prison, Le Chateau D’If.  Yet, all I can think about is Jack Bauer. What would agent Bauer do to those French bourgoise after they unjustly jailed him? It would definitely involve a cattle prod.

My “24” addiction is returning. I can feel it. My palms are sweating. I need a fix. My family is not here to prevent my descent into a roller-coaster ride of adrenaline.

I suddenly recall it is Monday night. “24” will be on in less than a half hour.  Relief falls like soft rain. My nose stops running. I can almost hear Jack Bauer on his head set, “We’re ten minutes out. The Tac team is on its way. Hang on, damn it. Just hang on!”

The Life and Times of Chip Douglas

Tige Andrews with Mod Squad co-stars, Michael ...
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The Life and Times of Chip Douglas

Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home.  ~David Frost

I grew up with three caregivers – a mother, father and a black and white Admiral 21″ surrogate baby sitter.  My electronic aupair was a warm, friendly spirit whose tubes and wires glowed piping images of perfect nuclear families, communities where morality always triumphed over self-interest and colorful paragons of law and order who went by names like Mannix, Rockford, Kojak and McGarret.

Many a generation Joneser grew up as the seventh child of the Brady Bunch, the fourth kid in My Three Sons and the sixth kid, second row percussion in the Partridge family. While later generations would be Saved By The Bell or snared by Family Ties, I learned about the give and take of life in a large depression era family from The Waltons.   I registered everything that I saw on television and tried to bring these core values into our home.  At night, I would stare into the dark at bedtime and envy how the Waltons all said “good-night” to one another.  The simple act of wishing one another a safe slumber seemed to consummate that deep bond that any family should feel toward one another.  I recall screwing up my courage to introduce a new fraternal bond among my brothers.  I sat silent as the final bedside lights dimmed straining my eyes into the darkness of my older brother’s bedroom, watching for any sign of movement.

“ Night, Tom!” I whispered.  No response.  In a slightly louder voice, “ Good-night, Tom”  Still no reply.  “ Good…” A high top sneaker flew through the door and hit me in the face.  “ Shut-up, you goon.  What do think you’re on, the Waltons?“

I was Chip Douglas, the disturbed vidiot cableman in The Cable Guy, emulating much of what I saw in movies and on television.  I had great empathy for single parents after watching Bill Bixby in “ The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”  It seemed in the 70’s people who were divorced wore a sort of scarlet letter on their foreheads.  We would listen undetected as parents gossiped on the phone about the nature of marital break ups and “divorcees”.  Kids often got labeled as “bad” because they had the misfortune of growing up in a broken home.  I wondered if these same gossipy paragons of virtue had watched Brian Keith struggle as a single dad in “Family Affair” or Dihann Carroll in “Julia”, whether they might realize that most single parents sacrificed more for the sake of raising their children.

We were introduced to Archie Bunker who revealed the comical shortcomings of provincial bigotry.  “M*A*S*H” reminded us of the futility of war. The teenagers of “Room 222” at Walt Whitman High School were bright, driven kids navigating the treacherous shoals of life’s personal, social and political shores.  Each week, a small boat would brush against a difficult issue such as tolerance, drugs and gulp, sex.  These students were guided by a progressive American History teacher, Pete Dixon, who steered them through difficults straits toward adulthood and commanded his crew with velvet understanding.

And then there was my favorite show,  “The Mod Squad”.  This hippie detective drama offered up the three ultra-cool undercover officers:  Julie Barnes played by gorgeous Peggy Lipton, Pete Cochran played by Michael Cole and the fly guy of all-time – Linc Hayes played by Clarence Williams III. I idolized Linc and his teflon indifference to the injustice of society.  Linc had it all going on.  His signature line was a celebration of urban simplicity, “ solid, man.”

I waited endlessly for the day that I could say “ Solid man.“  I finally laid this multicultural affirmation on my father after he told me to sweep out the garage.  Expecting a fight, he was confused by my response. He hesitated and squinted at me as if I had uttered some disrespectful epithet.  We stared at one another.  I could see his wheels turning wanting to reprimand his son for calling him “man” but clearly he was in the deep end of the generational pool.  He shook his head and walked away.  I swaggered to the garage having known that on this day, I stuck it to The Man.

Television shows of the late 60s and 70s offered you families and lives that you wanted to emulate.  Characters were kind, comical, sympathetic and predictable. These were the kind of people with whom you’d vacation, invite to your BBQ and ask to watch your children while you took a vacation to the Poconos.  TV tied America up in a neat little bow and gently walked you through the difficult social and cultural issues that tore at the fabric of its family values in the newspapers, on college campuses and across a great green ocean in Vietnam.

In 1973, the top shows according to Nielsen were: All in the Family, The Waltons, Sanford and Son ,M*A*S*H, Hawaii Five-0, Maude, Kojak (tie), The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (tie), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (tie), Cannon (tie), The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bob Newhart Show (tie), The Wonderful World of Disney (tie) ,Gunsmoke and Happy Days.

In the 70’s, kids played outside because there was no cable TV.  Programming was spread across 11 channels offering a narrow adolescent primetime on cartoon Saturday mornings and early evening sitcoms. Mornings were filled with game shows, soap operas and Jack Lalanne exercise classes. 70’s afternoon television was filled with talk shows, news and boredom. Friday and Sunday nights were primetime slots as 80% of all families were assembled to share an evening meal together and then watch their favorite show. TV was an acceptable companion.  While futurists like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov portended the intellectual downfall of mankind from the boob tube, we watched a Sunday evening double header of Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and the Wonderful World of Disney.  We did not feel stupid.  We felt entertained and informed.

I confess to still carrying on my affair with my television although I am overwhelmed by my cable selections and offended by our lowest common denominator preoccupation with all things forbidden.  Each night, out of habit, I turn on the tube. My spouse turns off the TV when I leave the room.  This annoys me. I turn it back on.  She turns it off.  She hates television.  Being the son of an advertising man and having a sardonic preoccupation with the decline of society, I watch dark things and cable sitcoms.  When no one is watching I turn on “Lock Up – Behind Bars in America”.  I am beyond schadenfruede.  I am now actively seeking to consort with all of life’s undesirables – its blemishes, warts and shame

The Center for Media Literacy has tried to reach out to me.  The CML recently published a five point manifesto attempting to help Americans realize that television is not a magic lens to the world.  Reality TV – it seems – is not so real.  News is more entertainment than objective reporting. To those couch potato adults and their chubby pre- diabetic progeny who now have over 400 hundred channels from which to choose 24/7 television, the CML laid out a simple set of truths:

1) You are smarter than your TV

2) TV world is not the real world

3) TV teaches us that some people are supposedly more important than others

4) TV does the same things over and over

5) People use the TV to make money

I know this is a shocker but over 100M Americans do not understand these basic concepts or know that Belgium is in Europe.

The Waltons have been replaced by the Gosselins. TV detectives are no longer all male, fat, bald or based in Hawaii. Mary Tyler Moore and Newhart have moved on or out of therapy.  The Western is dead and Disney is an entire channel. Sonny died in a ski crash and Cher is still dating 20 year olds. We long for Happy Days but now realize the Six Million Dollar Man is a golden parachuted CEO of a failed bank.  Along the way, we are now warned of enlarged prostates, restless legs, sleeping problems and situational anger.  All of this could result in vomiting, severe bone pain, abdominal bleeding, chest palpitations, or suicidal thoughts – – and if all fails, go out and buy a snuggie.

Goodnight and sweet dreams. “Buenos Noches, Tia Tequilla.” “Buonanotte, Snookie.” “Bonne nuit, Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

Where the hell is John Boy?

Jack Bauer Must Die

 

Jack Bauer Must Die

 

It’s midnight on a Tuesday.  The laundry is a massive multi-colored heap lying unattended on the mudroom floor.  The computer flashes, “you have 312 new emails”.  The dishes ferment slowly in the sink of what looks like a neglected soup kitchen.  The dog gnaws on a Ferragamo shoe while the cat temporarily passes out in a fetid litter box reeking of ammonia.

 

Upstairs there is thumping indicating the resident adolescents have yet to fall asleep.  The absence of authority permeates the house like the smell of a recent fish dinner. The television beeps like digital clock and a monotone voice announces, “The following takes place between 2am and 3am.”

 

My wife looks at me and asks rhetorically, ” You think the kids are asleep?” With my best codependent face, I reassure her. “Oh – – yeah. I’ll check them in a minute.”

We  hit the “play episode” button – pathetic addicts in a deep cocoon of denial.  We are in the middle of a debilitating video blackout watching the television show “24”. I cannot sleep until I find out whether the president will call back the bombers or he will permanently excommunicate his annoying, conniving Lady Macbeth ex-wife.  My wife is praying a new character – an urbane, handsome middle-eastern Oxford graduate will not be killed.  ” Oh, I hope Raiza lives,” she squeals anxiously clutching a pillow.  I am not jealous.   He has that “ I am a dead man “ look written all over him. I give him two episodes tops. I have become conditioned to not get attached to anyone on this show.

We are together but alone – each trapped in our own inescapable web of emotional knots tied to this soap opera serial drama starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, a seemingly indestructible instrument of US counter terrorism in a world that demands morally ambiguous actions to defeat the forces of evil that threaten our American way of life. 

Wherever Jack Bauer goes people die – usually bad guys.  However, if you get too close to Jack Bauer – not unlike a career as a stunt man, living among New Guinea cannibals or raising a 200lb chimpanzee as your own child, your life expectancy is reduced by about fifteen years.  And for goodness sake, don’t hire Jack’s daughter Kim Bauer as your baby sitter or au pair.  This kid is a tornado of bad karma.

Kim’s misadventures make teenagers that have ended up in their hometown police blotters look like cherubim.  In just 24 hours, innocent Kim rescues a young girl from her abusive father, discovers the girl’s dead mother, gets in multiple car accidents – one that results in her boyfriend losing his leg, pulls a gun on four different people- killing one at her Dad’s urging, endures a siege as a hostage, escapes from police custody, witnesses a nuclear explosion, and is trapped inside a bomb shelter with a reclusive survivalist.  Tough day at school, hon? Throughout this entire period, Kim keeps interrupting her father on his cell phone as he is trying to save Los Angeles and/or the President of the US, David Palmer, whining “Dad, just come get me.” Kids just don’t change – they still see themselves as more important than the future of the free world.

Jack does not eat.  He does not go to the bathroom. Jack does not sleep.  He is the ultimate warrior.  He makes the tough decisions and employs brutal methods that waffling bureaucrats cannot make in the face of danger. While interrogating a smug bad guy who displays indignant bravado given the government’s weak knee decision to grant him immunity, Bauer simply shoots the creep and asks his colleagues for a hacksaw so he can cut off the snitch’s head off and use the prize to insinuate his way in with some domestic terrorists.  As we watched “the head in a bowling bag” scene, we heard a noise behind us and to our dismay, realized our ten-year-old son had been spying on the episode from the doorway.  As my wife ushered him out of the room to bed, I could hear her talking to him as they went up stairs.  “ Honey, you know that cutting people’s heads off is not very nice, right?

Each hour is a heart pounding shot of epinephrine with soap opera lack of resolution that leaves a viewer aching and feverish for more.  My wife calls the library at 1am to extend our rental.  “Hi, we rented DVDs for “24” for Season 2. Can we recheck them for another two days? I assume you are not there right now but I wanted to call anyway.” ‘I assume you are not there?’, I say mocking her.   Most librarians are not fiddling with their Dewey decimals at 1am; And yes, sweetheart, please get “24 -Season Three” tomorrow.  If I am lucky, I may get sick from no sleep.  We can stay home and put a blanket over the windows like trailer park crack addicts and do “24 in 24.”  We can parcel the kids out to neighbors and send out for pizza.  We can be Sid and Nancy.

The problem with our “24” addiction is not only the need for constant injections of Jack and his Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU); it is the fact that we are only on Season 3.  As we race to catch the “24” train, it keeps moving.  “24” is now on season 7 and in our sprint to present day, we are subordinating health, hygiene and domestic responsibilities watching consecutive episodes which leave us completely over stimulated and vulnerable to odd dreams.

After a disturbingly symbolic dream where I cut my boss’ head off and present it to our private equity owners in exchange for some restricted shares of stock, I awake in a cold sweat realizing my obsession with “24” is threatening my sanity.  When my son would not confess to using his brother’s computer, I found myself wondering how quickly he would crack if I water-boarded him.  I routinely now refer to my children as ” hostiles” and ” friendlies” and suggest to my wife that when we have teens over we establish a soft perimeter around the basement.  When my daughter claimed she was in town but was in fact, at a friend’s party, I briefly considered using Google Earth to triangulate her location, “neutralize” the entire group and then drop them off at the local police station courtesy of “A Friend of 24.”

I realized that we are now in the grip of a mania and that for the bad dreams to end, Jack Bauer must die.  The problem is the guy won’t expire. He has been injected with more drugs than a Jersey milk cow, stabbed, shot, clubbed, injured in a plane crash, suffered numerous brain damaging head blows – and like Jason from Halloween, keeps getting up.

There is a side of me that understands that art sometimes imitates life.  Does the US employ spooks and shadow agencies like CTU who fight clandestine battles right under our noses on US soil? Do I approve of Jack Bauer’s tactics? Will democracy prevail over authoritarianism? Will Kim Bauer get through a day without breaking the law or maiming her latest boyfriend? Will Jack Bauer ever shave, eat or have a bowel movement? Perhaps some fiber might loosen him up literally and figuratively.

It’s late and we have just secured the first episodes of Season Three.  As I read my column to my wife, we chuckle at our obsessive behavior and get the kids off to bed. 

We have a civilized evening – cleaning up the house, walking to retrieve the DVDs and watching just three episodes – trying to convince ourselves that we can get

the “24” monkey off our backs any time we like.  As we turn out the lights, she is still.  I can tell she is thinking.  This is our last private moment before sleep where we discuss kids, the future and any other important unattended issue.

“You know, if you tell everyone in town that they can rent those DVDs from the library for free, we will never make it to Season 7.  The secret will be out.”

That’s my girl. 

I’ll Have The Scheudenfreud, Please…..

Logo of the Global Reality Channel
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I’ll Have The Scheudenfreud, Please…..

Over the years, I developed a taste for the German language. My admiration is not from its palate cleansing syntax but its highly logical nouns.   An example of simple words combining to make a more complex word might be Hundehütte (eng. doghouse) or Baumhaus (eng. tree house). German allows for highly complex compound nouns such as Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitaenskajuetenschluesselloch, which means “the lock in the cabin door of the captain of the company running steamers up and down the Danube”.  My favorite German word is scheudenfreud.  Translated, it means the fascination with another person’s misfortune.  The word describes an all too common unhealthy appetite in our human nature and captures the bubblegum essence of American media programming – – reality television.

We all, it seems, have a flawed predisposition to become consumed with other people’s failings and to live other’s lives vicariously.  Reality TV feeds this inate longing baking it into a range of menus from personal competitions to law enforcement.  Last week, 31.2m people devoured American Idol while 16m slowly savoured Survivor: Fiji.  While my family was gathered in the family room drinking in the acerbic sarcasm of Simon Cowell,  I was secretly taking in  the TV show, “Cops”.  I always feel guilty when landing on channel 58 – – just in time to watch a methamphetamine addict trying to outrace the entire Miami police force in his mother’s 1972 AMC Gremlin or a woman who has been on a binge for three straight weeks trying to convince the authorities she is Tsarist Princess Anastasia.  If I hear anyone coming towards my den, I quickly flip to ESPN.  How ‘bout those Yankees ?

And then there is “Jackass”, a show where faux stuntmen Johnny Knoxville, Weeman, Steve-O and Chris Pontius perform outrageously dangerous and insipid stunts.  I close the door to my office and laugh that deep, from the groin, painful laugh that only comes when you witness someone being injured doing something incredibly dumb.  “Jackass” gave rise to a follow on show called “ Wild Boys”.  The first episode of “Wild Boys” featured a sequence where Steve-O and Chris ate a variety of bizarre Asian foods culimnating in snorting wasabi mustard where they promptly, threw up.  Steve-O and Chris were then off to Africa where, donning only athletic supporters, they ran through a pride of lions dragging hams behind them on long hemp ropes.  This is about the point where being an arm chair historian, I wonder if the majority of Rome was watching a show called “ When Praetorian Guards Go Bad “ when the Barbarians  charged into the city limits and brought the great empire to its knees.  Or perhaps, everyone was wearing ipods and just did not hear them coming.

America is hooked on the empty carbohydrates of reality TV.  However, we cannot take credit for creating these cultural moon pies.   While it is true, like fast food and greenhouse gases, we are producing a disproportionate amount of reality TV,  Asia and Europe actually got the whole thing started.  It was Japanese and the Dutch who built on the theme and created game shows based on humiliation, survival and co-habitation. ( For those with stupid sense of humors like me, watch the YouTube episode of the Japanese reality show, Gaki No Tsukai – Silent Library, entitled: The Old Man Who Bites Tenderly, to illustrate just how “evolved” reality programming has become.)

TV pundits estimate literally thousands of new reality shows will be released in the next year.  I worry.  What does my fascination with other people’s misfortunes say about me ?  Why can I not skip to a channel that does not seek to demean, exploit, marginalize or ridicule ?  These shows are lugubriously seductive speakeasys.  Is one genetically predisposed to scheudenfreud ?  Was the Roman Colleseum a massive reality TV for the masses of the Empire so they might for a moment, be liberated from bad news of foreign wars, threat of plague, the increasing Roman deficit and the rising cost of chariots ?  Why can I not seem to resist this nightly dose of toxic cinema verite ?

The experts have divined that as many as half of American TV programs are now some variation of Reality TV.  I figure the other half must be some variation of ER or CSI and infomercials.  I was distraught to learn that as many as 82% of these shows are, in some way, shape or form, “scripted”.  What ?  You mean “Dog, The Bountyhunter” is really a security guard at a Chucky Cheese ?  Don’t tell me those uber babes of  “The Hills” are really Universal Studios tour guides.  Those long green spongey things on “ Fear factor” are not actually baboon adnoids?  The “Ghost Hunters” are not making contact with a thumping spirit but really just filming in a room over a night club in Soho with a big woofer? Flava Flav does not really don viking horns and a massive alarm clock around his neck when he goes out on dates ?  I feel like we need a new word for our salacious interest in other people’s false misfortunes, scheudenfreudfalshe.

I have a few ideas for shows.  There could be “Dancing With the Infidels” where Newt Gingrich, Gary Hart and Bill Clinton compete for a chance to run for an empty Senate seat.  No contestant is allowed to actually touch their partners or they will be eliminated.  “Rap and Cheese” could appeal to Francophiles by teaming up defrocked French politicians with hip hop artists in a race from Newark to Avignon.  There is so much potential material.

Another crack addict is being wrestled to the ground on “Cops”.  I realize that I am living in a time where the media is all too willing to enter my home to fuel my paranoia that the world is not full of possibilities, but instead choked with meth heads, terrorists and hookers.  I have become a nightly regular at the Fear and Consumption café where I get a healthy plate of “ Reality” TV, news and talk shows that fuels my concerns that my country is on the downward slope of its moral, spiritual, and economic preeminence.  It’s crowded in the F&C café and sometimes I have to wait for a seat.   While I realize that scheudenfreud is a natural human frailty, it is also a warning sign.  It’s a subtle hardening of the arteries in the chest of a pampered soul.  It can be mitigated by simply remembering that the real world is going on outside while reality TV flickers inside our homes.