The Opposite Sex 

The unreal world

The unreal world

BEN: It would seem that we have a new favorite American pastime these days: watching idiots. Television is swarming with “reality” programs featuring people so irredeemably flawed that they start to make you lose whatever faith you had in mankind. We’re into our fourth week of the horror that is Survivor, and I would give anything to see these suckers roasted on an open pit by some unknown cannibalistic tribe hiding on the island.

If you happen to live under a rock and don’t know the show’s premise, it boils down to this: About 14 people have been abandoned on an island that’s completely deserted, except of course for the film crew that films their every move. In the course of 39 days, they’re forced to fend for themselves and every once in a while dispense with the person they like the least by voting him off the island. The last one left in this Darwinian social experiment wins $1 million and I suppose the honor of being most personable.

More than entertainment, though, Survivor serves as a depressing example of just how pathetic and stupid humanity is. The show sets up these little games for the two village “tribes” to play, so they can win prizes that will help them with their survival. One team won a fishing spear and snorkel. But one tribe member, offended by his teammates’ lack of appreciation for his efforts, maintained that he would continue to fish with the Superpole 2000, a bamboo rod he had fashioned with string and a lure. The dunderhead even took the time to carve “Superpole 2000” on the side of it; you really wouldn’t want to mix up this brilliant invention with a regular bamboo stick.

This show is only another in a long line of dumb, “reality”-based programs. It all started back in ’92, when MTV presented us with The Real World, a show about what happens when seven self-absorbed twits are set up in a phat, expensive pad in a big city and start trying to hump each other. Each season has tracked a progressive decline in the intellect and moral standards of the assembled cast—it’s sort of television’s version of a backwards evolutionary chart. The main requirement for getting on The Real World would seem to be that you’re willing to do anything for attention. A new season just started, and one of the cast members wears large red sunglasses all the time but maintains that he’s making an artistic statement. Even if he wasn’t on TV, he’d apparently go out of his way to look this stupid every day.

My real bile, though, is reserved for everybody watching these grotesque manipulations of reality. Do people think these shows are actually valid sociological studies? Do they identify with these losers? Is it the train-wreck syndrome—they can’t turn their heads away from the tragedies taking place onscreen?

Whatever the reason, I beg of you: Quit watching, so we won’t have to see any more of this swill, and we won’t keep fulfilling these obnoxious, talentless attention-hogs’ dreams. If you’re interested in watching shows about reality, rent a documentary.

DANNY: Am I the only one sick to death of Ben’s pious attitude? The amount of time he’s spent watching The Simpsons—the most mindless 30 minutes of spoon-fed sitcom jackassery on television—is eclipsed only by the time he spends surfing the ’net for porn. I say that’s fine—we all have a guilty pleasure or two that allows us a temporary escape from real life. MTV’s The Real World is certainly mine. I’m so riveted during those precious 30 minutes a week that Jesus Christ himself could call and get screened onto my voice mail.

What’s the draw? First of all, I’m fascinated by people. I love to watch them in the airport, even at Kroger. Now, I’ll agree with Ben that Real World-ers seem a bit put-on with their hats, their sunglasses inside the house, and the girls’ constantly perfect lipstick. But then, everyone acts differently when a camera is trained on them, and this is no home movie—the whole world is watching.

If The Real World consisted only of flagrant grandstanding, overly dramatic soul-searching, and early-20s clique forming, I’d still watch the show, because it’s really nothing more than a real-life soap opera, without the recurring amnesia and evil twin sisters. But I’d argue that MTV has a leg up on the greed-premised shows like Survivor and the soon-to-air Big Brother. The show’s producers try to pick people who might truly benefit from the experience in some way, with no other reward than a little bit of pseudo-celebrity. For example, this season they picked a young Mormon girl from BYU who had never even met a gay person or spent any time around African Americans. Sometimes cast members even have a real message. For example, Pedro, a part of the San Francisco cast, had full-blown AIDS. If he helped educate just one viewer by putting a real face with the disease, then the whole series is worth airing. Conversely, I’m currently searching the Internet for an “I Hate Amaya” (from the Hawaii cast) Fan Club. She did nothing but whine and cry and make a total fool of herself—and still I couldn’t turn off the TV.

What I have no problem turning off, though, is Survivor. How staged can you get? How strongly can I believe in this castaways-eating-rice-and-living-in-bamboo-huts premise when some Stone Phillips wannabe meets them every third day on what appears to be an extra set from Pirates of the Caribbean? Leave it to network television to try too hard.

But I stand behind my Real World fixation. If MTV wanted to put me up in a fabulous house, give me a cushy job, and fly me to Nepal with six pretty people just to record my every move and thought, I wouldn’t say no. And if Hugh Hefner invited Ben to the Playboy mansion and plied him with wine and women just to record his debauchery, my best bet is that Ben would be packing his bags. Sappy or serious, gay or straight, white or black, these are real people with real thoughts and at least semi-real problems. What a nice change from stick figures reading scripts.

E-mail your questions to Ben and Danny at oppositesex@nashvillescene.com.

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