Television (Boston Globe 3/8/03)
THE NIELSEN sweeps for February have just ended and it's time for all
of us to get back to our own real lives. Personally, after watching the
most recent batch of reality television, I feel much better about my own
normal, boring, day-to-day existence. In fact, that's why I watch reality
television, to feel good about myself. And I feel great! Admit it, you
I feel good about not being a loser, not getting a rose, not receiving
a necklace, not being told how awful I sing. But isn't it fun to watch
other people lose? That in fact is the premise behind ''The Bachelorette,''
''Joe Millionaire,'' ''American Idol,'' ''Meet My Folks,'' ''Fear Factor,''
''Survivor,'' ''Are You Hot?'' ''The Amazing Race,'' ''Temptation Island,''
''Elimidate,'' etc. etc.
Don't believe the advertisements. We're not dying to know who wins these
ultra-extended drawn-out versions of 1970s game shows. (Isn't ''The Bachelorette''
really ''The Dating Game'' plus 22 bachelors and a couple of hot tubs?)
We're tuning in by the tens of millions to find out who loses each week
and more important, how they lose. Now that's entertainment.
How could Trista hang all over perfect Charlie for seven weeks then dump
him for fireman Ryan? How could bulldozing Evan salivate on camera each
time he talked about money-grubbing Sarah, then awkwardly tell her to
pack her bags in favor of plain ol' Zora? The anguish, the scorn, the
shock, the humiliation. Set 'em up and shoot 'em down.
Everyone loves a loser.
Each show has a contestant who falls hard every week. And the networks
parade them around the talk show circuit the morning after their demise
so we can feel a little bit better knowing that just like slick Charlie,
or scorned cowboy Brook, or funny fat Bob, or attention starved Russ,
we won't be sleeping with Trista. Misery loves company.
But with each anguishing week, the hot Miami Heat cheerleader cools off
as her sincerity sinks. We dislike Trista more and more as she leads her
men down a path of false romance. Frankly, it makes me feel so much better
about my own wife. I made the right choice.
To make matters better, Trista was a loser from the start.
Left roseless and teary-eyed, Trista was booted by the first bachelor
who recently reappeared on national television to dump the bachelorette
he ultimately chose to live happily ever after with. How great is that?
Even the premise of the show failed. Give a guy 25 beautiful women and
he still blows it. What a loser!
The pinnacle of this feel good-a-thon is the mandatory loser reunion episode.
The reality losers come together one more time in ''tell all' specials
to whine, complain, and delay the airing of the final episode by another
painful week. Let's hear loser Brook say Trista is ''shallow'' one more
time. Why not?
Even the celebrity reality shows roll out loser after loser.
''The Surreal Life,'' ''Celebrity Mole,'' ''I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Outta
Here.'' Washed-up celebrities awash in the jungle. From reality shows
with no name characters to reality shows with no-name celebrities. I love
watching a once popular, overweight, falling star pick ticks off the wrinkled
leather neck of Rod Stewart's ex-wife during a monsoon. Makes me feel
clean and fresh in my comfy suburban home. And we get to vote which one
has to swim with vermin? Even better!
C'mon, we knew we had more talent than they ever did. And when a celebrity
truly does possess artistry, he can't function as a normal citizen as
we can. So let's watch him crumble in a more traditional reality show
- the documentary.
I may not be able to dance like Michael Jackson. But if there was one
loser celebrity who resurfaced during the February sweeps to make us all
feel better about being responsible, loving parents, it was wacko Jacko.
Twenty-seven million of us turned the dial to ABC just so that we could
all turn to our loved ones and say ''I told you he was weird.''
Yep, that's right. Michael Jackson is weird. And I feel good about it.
Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre
at the University of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2004 Ted Mandell.