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Man vs. reality TV

Posted: February 1, 2012 5:44 p.m.
Updated: February 3, 2012 5:00 a.m.

I gave up television several years ago when I bid farewell to Jack Bauer and the final season of “24.” Not sure why I was drawn to the series about a fictional counter terrorist unit and its main protagonist, Jack Bauer; perhaps it was the excitement of watching the unit diffuse major terrorist attacks in merely one hour of real time in one very bad day. Other than sports, worthwhile news and the occasional “Office” episode, I’ve chosen to put the box on the back burner. 

Throughout my sabbatical from the tube, I’ve failed to experience the world of reality TV. What was I thinking? All I can do now is watch the reruns. Actually … no. However, finding myself feeling somewhat uninformed when trying to add to conversations about the latest episode of “The Bachelor” or “Dancing With the Stars,” I decided to delve in to this world of reality, or better, unreal TV to put my curiosity to rest. 

I must reveal the fact that my children have been quite entertained by the antics of Bear Grylls, Mike Row and Les Stroud over the years. These guys are the spirit behind the shows “Man vs. Wild,” “Dirty Jobs” and “Survivorman.” And I’ll go as far as to say I’m currently reading a book by survivorman Stroud himself. In my opinion, most of what is real here is represented by Mother Nature and the great outdoors. Then I began to wonder how many reality shows could there be. I mean, there are just so many ways you can watch someone sing, dance, cook, argue, build, survive or wrestle a crocodile. After doing some research, I was entirely thrown by the number of realty shows. I printed out 14 pages of reality TV shows -- 14! I perused through the names like “America’s Most Smartest Model” (would this be considered an oxymoron?); “Ax Men”; “ Bridezillas”; “Celebrity Rehab” (not a surprise); “Croc Hunter Challenge” (only for trained experts); “Date My House” (huh?); “Destroyed in Seconds” (not recommended doing at home); “Farmer Wants a Wife” (go get it tiger!); “I Want to Work for Diddy” (are they kidding); “In Harm’s Way” (surely nothing dangerous); “Murder in Small Town” (think I’ll skip this one); “My Big Redneck Wedding”; and “My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad” to name a few. And it gets better with “Pimp My Ride” (yep, real cars, real people); “Renovate My Family”; “Running in Heels” (this can’t be safe); “Smash Lab” (no kids allowed); “Tommy Lee Goes To College” (and we care because…); “Who Wants To Marry My Dad” (please someone!); “Wife, Mom, Bounty Hunter” (wow -- multitasker); “Will Work For Food” (must be college kids); “You’re Cut Off” (more college kids); and “Your Mama Don’t Dance” (speak for yourself!). Others that fall under the “R” rating include “Are You Hot”; “Arranged Marriage”; “Bad Girls Club” (bad boys club?); “Dating in the Dark”; “Fake-A-Date”; “Hell Date” (maybe this one can be combined with “Murder in Small Town”); “How to Look Good Naked” (go for it); “Looking for Love: Bachelorettes in Alaska” (don’t see heels and ice working here); “Lady or a Tramp” (you be the judge); and “Who Are You Wearing?” (sounds a little risqué). And we can’t forget “Doomsday Preppers” that explores the lives of otherwise ordinary Americans preparing for the end of the world and “Swamp People” who, I believe, hang out with alligators … in the swamp. 

And so, this leads me to the question -- why do we watch reality TV. For about 10 years, reality TV has dominated mainstream television programming, providing relatively inexpensive entertainment. The premise of reality shows requires that individuals place themselves on public display, forfeiting any claims to their personal privacy; all for the hope of becoming famous and securing compensation. There seem to be many reasons for why people love reality TV. Cynics will state reality shows promote the worst values and qualities in people and disguise them all as entertainment. Some describe the pastime as the public execution of our time. Others argue reality TV is just giving us what we want; that it is exciting when life is all too mundane; that it is dangerous when life can be all too secure. Supporters of this genre assert that it can be very informative for many. 

Most of us enjoy an occasional escape from reality and for many, (un)reality TV delivers this very escape. Some enjoy living viciously through these ordinary people while others watch for merely the entertainment. It is important to remember, however, that reality TV doesn’t always resemble reality.

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