Culturally, this has been the decade of the reality show. And what do we have to show for it? Not much more than the contestants themselves.
Survey the wreckage. Richard Hatch, the first "Survivor" champion, was just released from prison (he didn't pay taxes on his winnings). The marriage of the Octoparents, Jon and Kate, is a shambles. Richard and Mayumi Heene were so desperate to land a reality series, they concocted an enormous hoax, convincing the country their child had been carried away in a balloon. Michaele and Tareq Salahi tried to claw their way onto the sure-to-be-hideous series "Real Housewives of D.C." by brazening their way into a state dinner. And alleged wife-killer Ryan Jenkins, a contestant on two VH1 shows, is a stark reminder that fame is not a reflection of good character.
Which brings us to "Jersey Shore." The show, which just started airing on MTV, follows a gaggle of barely literate bridge-and-tunnel steakheads and slatterns as they spend their summer at "the greatest meat market in the world." One of the absurdly tanned gibbons goes by the moniker "the Situation" because it gives him the excuse to ask women, "Do you love the Situation?" as he lifts his shirt to show off his washboard abs. Even if they all put their heads together, it's doubtful they could beat a carnival chicken at Tic-Tac-Toe.
In a teaser for this week's episode, one of the girls is punched in the face at a bar. But, after "consulting with experts on the issue of violence," MTV announced it wouldn't show the actual assault. While I can't fault the decision, it is kind of funny. The producers see nothing wrong with glorifying drunken idiocy and moral buffoonery in every episode, but they "responsibly" draw the line at physical violence because MTV is loath to promote reckless behavior.
When the not-so-hidden cameras catch one of the girls cheating on her boyfriend with a housemate sporting a pierced you-know-what, that's just pure entertainment. "You have your penis pierced. I love it," the drunken vamp exclaims.
Don't get me wrong; it's great television. But gladiatorial games would be great TV, too.
The Los Angeles Times reported the other day that the reality show industry is suddenly having a crisis of conscience about its impact on the culture. That's nice to hear, but it's not nearly enough.
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