'Reality's a dream, a game in which I seem to never find out just what I am. I don't know if I'm an actor or ham, a shaman or sham.' ~ Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks, 'I Don't Mind'
This morning I listened to Tony Snow decrying the latest announcement in the reality TV world. 'Be My Baby' is a 20/20 show scheduled to air this Friday, April 30 on ABC. Barbara Walters and John Stossel, media champion of libertarian viewpoints, will host the one hour episode. Check local listings for times and stations!
Reality television shows have spiraled further and further toward complete human degradation. The show that has appalled me the most was 'My Big Fat Obnoxious Fianc',' where a would-be bride must convince her family that she is willing to go through with a wedding to a . . . uh . . . a big fat obnoxious man. The bride is supposedly unaware that the lunkhead is actually an actor paid to make things miserable. The show presented the bride's family as a prototypical white bread family with a bit of money and too much pride.
Given this setup, as you might have predicted, hilarity and outrage ensued. If you believe that the entire thing wasn't staged, then you might be appalled that someone would actually subject their family to such national humiliation. I watched a couple of episodes and found 'My Big Fat Obnoxious Fianc' mildly amusing but ultimately pathetic and embarrassing.
'Be My Baby' might be a plummet off the edge and into the abyss. Jessica, a pregnant 16-year old, judges the merits of five competing couples to take on her soon-to-be baby. As with any reality show, there are rules of engagement. Couples get a half-hour of face time with the sixteen-year old, who uses her worldly experience and wisdom to determine who wins and who loses. If perhaps Jessica is unhappy with the 80s hairdo of a prospective parent, out she goes!
Let's hope it doesn't come to that. I'll hold judgment until (if) I see the show; Mr. Snow should probably do the same. I think Mr. Snow is perhaps overreacting. If anything, as a member of the conservative right, he should be pleased at the attention given to adoption as an option over abortion. Anti-adoption forces (yes, they exist) should be happy that this show exposes a tip of corruption in the adoption industry. Pro-adoption groups should be pleased at what the show points out: Adoption pickings are so slim, one must face a sixteen-year-old judge who utters things like 'I was kind of playing God.'
In (real) reality, adoption agencies interview people all the time, and birth mothers often have a say over who the lucky parents are. It is always a competition, since there are far more parents who want to adopt than available babies. The distinctions with respect to 'Be My Baby' seem to be that (a) the competitive process is shown on national TV, and we must watch four unfortunate candidates have their dreams crushed, and (b) a sixteen-year-old is making the final decision.
But reading further on the ABC page, the birth mother is backed by an adoption agency and her mother. Both will help her make the decision. And even a sixteen-year-old with poor enough judgment to get pregnant can have enough sense to see which parents are a better fit. Her comments on the ABC page show that Jessica probably has enough interest in the things that matter.
Ultimately, while promoting and broadcasting this show as a competition is an exercise in poor human judgment, the only people it might hurt and humiliate are the willing participants. (It may also damage the adoption industry itself, but that's another matter entirely.) Viewers can vote thumbs down with their remote if the show offends them.
The trend in reality shows is to humiliate people more and more, and to push people into making more and more foolish choices in front of millions of viewers. I personally find it very distasteful and often hard to watch. Obviously, however, an audience exists, just as audiences have always existed for what some people consider distasteful movies and television shows. I should know--I own a copy of my favorite John Waters movie 'Female Trouble,' and the human drama in an occasional episode of NYPD Blue often rivets me.
Perhaps the difference is that we are watching people make truly poor life choices, and not watching actors pretend to make them. Yes, it's painful. But fools will always exist. One can hope that by elevating them to an audience of millions, we point out their folly for others to not follow.
Plus, I hope to someday reap obscene amounts of money from my own high-rated reality show. If you think that 'Be My Baby' is bad, consider these shows, coming soon to a network near you! While I'm certain others have already come up with these ideas, I figure I'll be one of the first to put them in print, so that I can sell the rights for each series.
Reality Series #1 -- Hope or Herpes?
We now regularly see ads for Valtrex on broadcast television. The commercials feature a pleasant-looking woman in her late 20's discussing her herpes outbreaks. She ebulliently talks about how Valtrex lets her lead a real life. We watch her scamper off with a pleasant-looking male partner, presumably one who is not already infected. So, we are already inundated with ads that make people aware of the ways they can try to fix their poor choices.
'Hope or Herpes' is a dating show featuring a single woman, Candide, infected with an STD, and five male participants. Four of the five participants are 'clean;' the fifth, Richard, is infected with the same STD. At the time of filming, none of the participants are aware of the diseases. All participants believe this is yet another simple dating reality show. Candide must reveal her secret in the show's finale.
Will Candide naturally gravitate to Richard? What if she chooses a clean participant? How will she reveal her secret? What if she's already . . . . Hilarity and outrage will ensue.
Reality Series #2 -- Survival
Tagline: 'Death is the ultimate reality.'
Not to be confused with the popular series Survivor, 'Survival' is a battle between five terminal patients. Each patient has been given twelve weeks to live by the series' official doctor. Billed as a tasteful competition, each patient strives to outlast the others. The winner is obviously the one who survives the longest. The prize is an all-expense paid sendoff (approximate retail value $12,000), plus $50,000 to the deceased's cause of choice. The rules are, there are no rules! It's a matter of life and death, and the competitors can't be held back at this point! This is the reality show to end all reality shows.
Hilarity and outrage will ensue.