Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2003 / 1 Adar I, 5763

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Hasn't 'reality TV' always been with us?


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Reality television is epidemic now, they say, though I'm not entirely sure what that means. Hasn't reality television always been with us?

The news is reality --- real guys and gals talking to us in real time about real events. Game shows feature real people winning real prizes. Blooper shows portray actors blowing lines, just like real people. Practical joke shows are about actors playing tricks on real people.

And then there are the shows in which real people live with real camera crews who watch them do real things. Don't forget talk shows: actors acting like real people talking in real time about their real projects and careers. So what's new?

Well, reality television is becoming ever more strange in its variations. It's not just ordinary people videotaped as they go about their daily lives --- it's the Osbournes on display. Or Anna Nicole Smith, or Liza Minelli - before she freaked. And Surreal Life! Throw a bunch of half-remembered celebrities into a house and let them stew while the camera's running. Or throw ordinary people on a desert island and give valuable prizes to anybody who makes it off alive. Or double dare ordinary people to eat bugs. Or strap them to a flaming chair and ask them trivia questions. Ask a man a woman to choose a mate for life on the air! Or have a bunch of women compete for a rich guy and then reveal at the end he's really broke and psychotic.

Of course, by now it must be clear that reality television is an oxymoron. None of these shows achieve reality, as we know it- unless being televised is somehow necessary for reality. There's a classic philosophical premise -- to be is to be perceived -- but I'm not sure that videotape even existed at the time it was formulated.

But even if it its true -- to be is to be televised -- what about those who are not televised, the watchers. Are we couch potatoes less than real?

No, we must be real, because if we're not, then nobody's watching, and if nobody's watching, reality television doesn't exist. Q.E.D. Come to think of it, philosophy has its consolations after all.

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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.

Up

01/30/03: Get tougher?
01/21/03: Spinning through the 'newscycle'
01/16/03: "G" for verbal violence?
01/03/03: Farewell to novelty
12/23/02: Neo-frontiers
12/18/02: A nation of hypochondriacs?
12/11/02: Cursed
11/08/02: Good news for skateboarders looking to keep up with world events
11/01/02: "Extreme" annoyance
10/24/02: Snipers are people, too!
10/16/02: Hockey Therapy
10/08/02: Cupid, the parasite
10/03/02: How to have fun in Africa
09/30/02: If you are employed, you're part of the problem
09/25/02: "Up and comers," go away!
09/18/02: Collectibilitized
09/10/02: Monotone felons
08/20/02: Will we soon need a passport to get caviar, duc a la orange, or Polish sausage?
08/14/02: Law and Disorder --- and Starbucks
08/12/02: Rummy's monkey
08/05/02: Time for some real cultural heroes
07/31/02: Yearning for a nostalgic American product that was neither
07/24/02: Voicemail heaven?
07/18/02: At the movies with your friendly neighborhood curmudgeon
07/12/02: King of Kitsch
07/09/02: Musicians' brains
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06/24/02: Modern record stores can be a scary proposition
06/21/02: Life IS a movie?
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06/05/02: Of Humice and Men
05/30/02: Pooches in sharkskin suits and the end of dog tags
05/22/02: We baby boomers used to rule the roost
05/20/02: The Files now Ex
05/14/02: Entangled in Spider-Man's web!?
05/02/02: April Showers May Come Our Yadda Yadda
04/24/02: From child murderer to milk hawker
04/10/02: New realities
03/21/02: You did it your way? I have to kill you now!
03/14/02: IN THIS CORNER SUSAN LUCCI AND STEPHANIE ZYMALIST!
03/12/02: Life in the warehouse
01/28/02: Shoes and food
01/24/02: Suspension of disbelief has nothing to do with whether we accept something as real or not
01/22/02: Save the Grand Ole Opry?
12/15/01: If you truly want to appeal to the lowest common denominator
12/11/01: KNITTING!
12/07/01: Conspiracy by the 'fat suit' lobby?
12/04/01: The future of comic books
11/15/01: Literary tips in a jar
11/12/01: The ectoplasm of a ghost economy
11/05/01: Sumner Redstone's passions
10/31/01: My irony
10/29/01: Even in wartime, America can still bring it home
10/25/01: Ad memories
10/17/01: Pathetic me
10/08/01: War time lite
10/01/01: Confessions of a sarcastic scribe
09/11/01: The end of Mom
09/07/01: Boy Loses Girl, Boy Bites Girl, Boy Gets Girl
09/05/01: Virtual elegance?
08/31/01: I COPY, THEREFORE I AM
08/28/01: Buzz!
08/23/01: Radio workout
08/20/01: I robot, you Jane
08/15/01: A wild and crazy world!
08/10/01: When the future was "as real as a dime"
08/08/01: Garage Dearth!
08/06/01: That Big Clock
08/02/01: Stop the pop!
07/31/01: Catchphrase history of the world
07/26/01: The Bride of Science
07/23/01: That java jive
07/17/01: Homogenized hegemony
07/13/01: Applying Newton's First Law of Physics to textbooks
07/10/01: The dumb and the dead

© 2001, Ian Shoales