Temptation and trash TV

Posted: Jan 10, 2001 12:00 AM
Doesn't anybody stay together anymore? In the age of drive-through divorces, maybe that's too much to ask. It would be nice, however, if the cheaters would do us surviving vow-keepers a favor and indulge themselves in private. Alas, infidelity chic is sweeping the airwaves. This week, Fox television debuts a new "reality" series called "Temptation Island." Here is how self-deluded Fox TV executive Sandy Grushow describes the program: "This is a show that is exploring the dynamics of serious relationships." You know from the trashy title that we are not talking about troubled lovers discussing their tribulations on a therapist's couch. No, the "exploration" of relationships takes place on an exotic resort off Belize. Four couples work out their relationship problems not through serious adult discussion, but through soft-core fantasies and juvenile "tests" of their love. The show producers hired 26 "fantasy singles" to tempt the separated couples into betrayal during their island vacation. Among the lithe and lean seducers are a former Laker dancer, a former Playboy model, Miss Georgia 2000, the founder of an online dating service, a bartender, and a massage therapist. Fox executives insist that the show is not about illicit sex. The heavy-breathing promos, including one that features a bikini-clad nymph lustily eyeing three men crammed with her in a hot tub, say otherwise. Press reports reveal that the tempters and temptresses were screened for sexually transmitted diseases. The Washington Post says that one of the seducers, a real estate agent, "likes it hot." We can safely assume he is not talking about taco sauce. One of the couples includes a swinger; another includes a man who recently cheated on his girlfriend, who reportedly liked being hurt so much that she wants to recreate the trauma before a nationwide audience. Are these people for real? We'll never know. The Fox network refuses to reveal the cast members' full names and is urging inquiring reporters to "respect their privacy." "Temptation Island" is only the most recent of a spate of tabloid TV shows that glamorize giving in to temptation. Another new program called "Cheaters," introduced last fall, invites viewers to report on their philandering spouses or significant others. The producers arrange for camera crews and bodyguards to barge in on trysts. The show then allows the victimized partners to dress down their half-naked mates. The thrust of the show, however, is less about catharsis than titillation. Ratings are high, and e-mail tips to the show are pouring in. Then there's "Cheating Spouses: Caught on Tape," another reality special featuring adulterous voyeurism. The Fox network decided not to air the show, but it was rescued by the bottom-feeders at the UPN network -- who are now planning a sequel. It is sadly ironic that this trash TV torrent comes on the heels of news that teen abstinence campaigns are catching fire and showing success. Federal researchers reported last week that teenagers who take voluntary and public virginity pledges, under certain conditions, delay intercourse substantially longer than those who do not make such commitments to chastity. More young people are saying no to sex outside marriage as members of their parents' generation tune in to watch vulgar acts of sexual infidelity punctuated with a laugh track. There was a time when parables of temptation were taught to the young to show them the destructiveness of personal unrestraint. Now, it's cheap entertainment. Somebody needs to tell the TV execs that the story of Adam and Eve was a cautionary tale, not a how-to guide.