I don’t know what free-to-air television is like where you’re from, but I can’t watch it anymore. I’m considering unplugging my television antenna and retreating permanently into the warm comfort of my DVDs, Blu-rays and the infinite possibilities of downloadable content. These days, it seems that there are only two types of show on television: police procedurals and reality TV.
The police stuff for me is only a minor gripe. I appreciate that there is nothing new under the sun. But at what point did it become important to have twenty different shows that cover almost exactly the same territory? At what point did it become okay to make the same show over and over, with the only variation lying in a change of geography (yes, CSI, I’m talking to you).
But that’s just an aside – it’s reality TV that really breaks my heart.
Reality TV is really just a symptom (like a cold sore or a severe rash) of a far more insidious cultural disease. It’s the same disease that’s resulted in a generation of young men and women looking into the mirror in horror at their imperfections. It’s the same disease that has instilled unrealistic expectations about life into the minds of the young. It’s even the same disease that’s caused a new obsession with having well groomed Frankensteins carve up human beings, stuff them with silicone, Botox and whatever other “upgrades” they have on hand, before sending them out into the world ten percent younger and twenty percent more synthetic. It’s the cultural disease of narcissism and it is unbearable.
Anybody can be a star, and anything is worthy of star attention. The lower a human being can descend, the more worthy they are of star attention. Monstrosities like “The Situation” aren’t liable to cause damage just because of the chronic eye-rolling effect their televisual presence has on viewers – the damage they cause is in the obliteration of standards. Success is presented as the result of pure chance.
People scramble so desperately for the screen that in England that they are literally willing to display their most horrific and embarrassing body-parts to the world – and we want to see them?!? And, Big Brother! A bunch of narcissistic train-wrecks locked in a room talking about themselves. I’m all for locking them up, but why add the camera? These are people so self-involved that, with the validation of the camera, they literally become intellectual black holes, surging through the airwaves to suck the juice out of the human race until we’re all reduced to babbling idiots. I’m aware most countries have cancelled Big Brother. So had ours – but then it came back like a serial killer in a poorly conceived horror sequel. A sad sign of the times.
Some people will argue that they watch these programs ironically, in order to laugh at the foibles of the rabble in front of them. I’m not particularly interested in watching people for the satisfaction of passing judgement upon them, and I don’t know if the introduction of irony acts as any kind of buffer. After all, eating a bowl of sewer sludge with a knowing grin is unlikely to reduce the effect on your internal organs.
So what am I blabbering on about?
Obviously, there are solutions to my problem. Cable, whilst predominantly made up of the kind of rubbish I was just complaining about, also features some of the best programs on television. And it is certainly true that the output of companies like HBO and the BBC often transcends anything that the small screen has ever seen.
But in the digital age we are able to obtain these programs at will, legally or illegally – I imagine mostly illegally. It seems that most people are pirates these days, having abandoned traditional television programming in favour or an entirely democratised approach. This may be morally problematic, but I can’t help but admire the way people have liberated themselves from the passive confines of traditional TV watching and made the experience their own. After all, it’s better to be a pirate than the victim of ocular molestation and a participant in cultural degradation.
All I’m saying is – switch it off.
Footnote: Of course there are the “other” reality TV shows about renovations, antique collection and stamp collection (I imagine there must be a stamp show). These are probably not to be tarnished with the same brush, although they are hardly art.