There are three things that I find addictive: chocolate, cigarettes and reality TV. The first two are understandable, but I question my moral character when I find myself sitting in front of the television on Wednesday nights watching the idiots on "Temptation Island" trying to work through their serious commitment issues.
I don’t feel any connection to the characters; I don’t like them and find them all incredibly stupid, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why I keep watching. Maybe it’s to see what the morons will do this week; maybe it’s because I have nothing better to do. After the show’s over, I look at my clock and realize I just wasted an hour of my life doing something I wouldn’t even confess to a priest. After this revelation, I start to think about these shows in general, and then it hits me: This stuff has been around long before "reality TV" was even a part of the American vocabulary. It’s been sneaking up on us all along, and I think we are now beginning to realize that it has the potential to go way too far.
Think back a couple of years, back to junior high or even elementary school. Remember "America’s Funniest Home Videos" and "America’s Funniest People"? As far as I can tell, these things started it. It was the first time in my life that I can remember people watching other people: enter the culture of the voyeur. Around the same time we had the news – more specifically, televised car chases. O.J. made them big and now it’s considered breaking news to see a car being chased down the highway by the police. We had "Cops" as well. People sat glued to their sets hoping to see the show come to their town. Now, you can’t hum the theme song without someone recognizing it. MTV got into the mix with the "Real World" and "Road Rules" which leads us to the shows we have today. "Survivor" was the first along with "Big Brother," taking advantage of summer reruns and our growing lust to watch ourselves. Now we have "Temptation Island," "The Mole," "Fear," "Survivor II" and "Popstar" with more on the way. This stuff didn’t just explode onto the scene; it developed gradually. So why are we making such a big fuss about it now?
"Temptation Island" seems to be pushing the envelope in terms of responsible programming. It uses unreal situations to test relationships. What are the chances that an average person will be deposited on a tropical island with 13 attractive members of the opposite sex? The show’s ethics may be in question, but is it harmless for the everyday TV consumer? Is it the number one priority for television to provide ethical and morally positive programming? Maybe, maybe not. TV is governed by the bottom line, and we as a culture of voyeurs are dying to watch ourselves. I don’t know why; I’m sure it’s something the psychologists and sociologists will be puzzling over for a long time. So if TV is providing us with what we want to see, ethical or not, should we raise arms against it?
It may seem like I’m letting the producers and studio executives off the hook for putting such trash on TV, but they’re just as responsible as the rest of us. Right now, reality TV amounts to intellectual brain candy; it has about as much substance as a pack of gummy bears. The only people who seem to be getting a raw deal out of it are the poor saps who signed up to be on these shows, and I don’t have too much sympathy for them. What do you expect when you sign up for a show called "Temptation Island"? What we really need to do is make sure that this stuff doesn’t get out of hand.
As his last wish, Timothy McVeigh asked for his execution to be televised nationwide. The request was rejected, but you know there was some suit (read: Fox’s Rupert Murdoch) in Hollywood drooling over the prospect of a live death on prime time. And I’d put money down that there would’ve been a large audience for it. We want to be shocked, disgusted and grossed out; it’s a guilty pleasure that I would say most of us have. As a nation of viewers, it is our right to be entertained; but at the same time, we need to regulate it as well. We need to be smart enough to say when it’s gone too far and not sit back and blame someone else for putting it on TV. The television industry should provide us with entertaining shows, but just like us, it needs to know and recognize the limits of decency. If you want to satiate your bloodlust, Stephen King’s got a new book coming out in March, and I already have my order in for it.
Reality TV right now is pushing decency to the edge, but still hasn’t crossed into the territory of flat out irresponsible and destructive television. However, I think it’s getting close to the time when we need to change the channel. On second thought, screw it, I’m going to go read a book. How about you?
Steven Ruszczycky is a sophomore English and bio-psychology major.