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Flowers For Puck.......Love, Algernon

By Tom “no man is a paradise island” Waters

November 1st, 2003
Somewhere between the stale, canned laughter of formulaic situation comedies and the mind-numbing, suicidal boredom of home movies lies.....reality shows. At some point towards the end of the twentieth century, television exploded. Forty odd channels on a box begat two hundred on a satellite dish the size of a custom fit trench coat for Chris Farley. Which in turn gave birth to digital cable, spawning in the neighborhood of forty billion stations (with five local affiliates in each county). In the beginning of the twenty first century, we had more channels than actual viewers. Stations like "The Naval Lint Network," "Just for Humus Aficionados" and "Turner Colon Exam Still Shots" delivered proof that national programming was in need of a new premise. So an contemporary concept was realized, conceptualized, and implemented. It was decided in the back of board rooms and in dark lairs (reeking of sulfur and Bette Midler) that if a new programming genre were forged, it would have to be dumber than any standard breached before. The lowest common denominator, the lobotomy demographic, would be uppity by The New Show’s Standards. Middle America itself could climb onto a high second-cousined horse in the presence of this abomination.

Networks took a wrecking ball to the famed fourth wall and what we, the viewers are left with is a new culture boom. Ordinary is no longer something to be ashamed of. Ordinary has come out of the closet nancing about in a tutu trumpeting show tunes in the light of day. A level, B level, and Z level celebrities have found a loop hole to their fifteen minutes of fame by stretching it out with hours of embarrassing, candid, behind-the-scenes glimpses into the kaleidoscopic splendor of their fame, their downfall, and their private moments. This new medium has filled the programming gaps with cosmetic banality. We’re all guilty of tuning in. We have a new theme to trample into the ground now, and it’s about as original as Lenny Kravitz. The series with a thousand faces and the same frigging spin. Fish out of water.

Cable has finally found a profitable use for cult tactics. Imagine the ratings if the folks in Jonestown would have held out! “Kool-Aid Kompound!-The last person standing wins a million bucks and a lifetime supply of Sunny D!” Or the sweeps-week slaughter of “Heaven’s Gate-First chosen soul to the meteor eclipses 25 grand!” A bit extreme, but you see what I mean. Which brings us to our lucky contestants. What motivates them to make such sparkling asses of themselves for millions of people? Why would they sign a waiver so that someone could film them losing bowel control while bungee jumping off a hang glider over a volcano? Is that something you’d save for family slides with your grandchildren? Greed inspires them, without a doubt. I’d do a lot of foolish things for a million dollars. Hell, I haven’t been able to sit down without wincing over what I did for five bucks and a video rental. But that’s not the prime motivator. The new stars do it for the fame. Not the glitzy, immortalizing type, either. Just the notoriety. We’re now rewarding the most savage behavior with the lion’s share of the market share. One of the pioneers of reality shows was (God help us all) MTV’s Real World. A show that I can’t resist watching four hour blocks of. I’m repulsed with myself during viewings, and I come down from the shock and shame by taking sponge baths in vinegar and Liquid Drano. Yet I always return. I don’t even seek it out, but there, in the midst of my afternoon channel surfing, it rears its pierced, peroxided head. Each season has been broken down into a bite sized demographic. An outrageous, sweltering, simmering, ‘don’t go there’ melting pot. The Midwestern simpleton, innocent, charming, and dumber than a ball of twine. The outspoken Black/Hispanic/Mongolian, hipper than the rest, but all too familiar with the stigma of coming up a little bit different. The flirtatious bleach blonde with bisexual tendencies who hasn’t promiscuously humped off the baby fat around her face yet. The conservative gay guy who gets along with everyone in the house, while nursing a secret pain. Watching it today inspired the literary gorge you see before you. During one of the shows romantic moments, a couple crossed a busy thoroughfare, confronting their inner conflicts and emotional roadblocks with each other:

“So, like, even like, I like, really think you’re like, great to,like, be with and like, we have, like, this total like connection, I can’t like, imagine, like, seeing, like, someone in a, like, long distance relationship.”

The object of longing, processing this monsoon of sensory input, replied: “Like, I know, like, where you’re coming from. Like, it’s tough to, like, get into, like, that sort of, like, set up.”

That was when I prayed for a trolley car to derail and maim them both, cleaving off their reproductive glands for the sake of humanity. But where does that leave me? How could I watch such trash, let alone following said season’s hive activity during week long marathons, straying away from the set only when my bed pan supply ran out? Do I envy these people, rollerblading in bright maroon pants and practicing bad folk music? No. Do I hang on show by show, anticipating the triumphant outcome these scamps eke out for themselves? I could care less what happens to them. I read somewhere that Baby Boomers got hooked on court room dramas because they enjoyed the position it gave them of passing judgment over the characters. Do these shows rekindle our all encompassing sense of righteousness that Sea Monkey-Quarium leering brought about? A little bit. Shows like these are the new fodder for water cooler conversations. How do I love thee, reality television? How many different ways do you disgust me? Let’s count the ways together. I’ll attempt not to cringe too often.

Joe Everybody and Susie Q. Public Get Shot Out of a Cannon. -This is how it all started, didn’t it? Pull a putz off the street and run him through the gauntlet. Remember how much fun it was to yank the wings off a fly as a kid? The networks can top it. Throw a gaggle of people onto an island, place them on a trumped up scavenger hunt, give them a Cannonball Run-esque premise and watch them squirm under the microscope. Dangle the carrot in front of them and prod them in the ass with a hot poker at the same time. The human drama. Lord Of The Flies meets Gilligan’s Island. This week Paul the banker and Tony the mailman tear each other’s arms off for an ice creamed sandwich after a fort night of tainted coconuts and twigs. Hang on for the season finale when Lois squats in the woods to pass water to the surprise of a feral badger sleeping nearby!

Bartenders and Salesgirl’s Fornication Centrifuge -Cast a handful of twenty-somethings with promiscuous tendencies and let the sexually transmitted games begin. It’s like hot potato with genitalia! Bodybuilders, consultants, and oversexed veterinarians rut their cares away with total strangers and come home red and raw like baboons with a bottle of Viagra and a jar of vaseline. Why go through the trials of dating, commitment and other conventional speed bumps when you can go on television and whore yourself out to a hungry viewing public? The romantic tension builds when the entire cast is coated in olive oil and stripped of all but their loin cloths. First prize is rewarded to the person who can harvest a new breed of crab. Don’t miss the week’s episode, when Donna puts a tent pole up her ass and gives Turkish happiness to an entire volleyball team dressed in Spongebob costumes!

Ed Begley Jr. Scratches His Ass For Your Enjoyment-Watch with suspense and surprise as we see a washed up actor/actress try and deal with everyday life after the money, adoration and bikini waxes are gone. Have you ever wondered what Steve Guttenberg’s been up to? We dug him up, got him to kick his methamphetamine addiction, and gave him fifty dollars to film three season’s worth of laundromat visits, Police Academy conventions, and lone crying jags in the corner booth of a Philadelphia Wendy’s. It segues nicely with the series premiere of Martin Mull: Didn’t You Used To Be.....?

Death By Karaoke-A Panel of judges, a legion of people who sing in their car or the bathroom, and you! Have you ever wanted to be a superstar? Haven’t been married to J.Lo yet? Just you wait! Murder a song well enough and we’ll press a vinyl album for late night mail order. We’ve all wanted to be on stage, up in lights, and now you can! Vote for your favorite diva, whether it’s the four hundred pound claims adjuster with rosacea caterwauling to “Electric Avenue” or the sixty year old albino doing his moving, reggae rendition of “Cracklin’ Rosie”. Tired of seeing adult talent shows? Well hang in next season for “In Utero Idol”, where you decide who comes out of the womb with a three album deal. We wire a microphone through a fallopian tube and let the baby do the singing.

I read in the paper that someone is launching a network with wall to wall reality programming. One of the daytime soaps is running a reality contest where the hottest guy off the street gets a walk on stint on the series? Why does it fascinate us? How did reality T.V. infest the airwaves so quickly? Part of our voyeuristic pleasure comes from torturing everyday schleps. By taking them out of their cage, shaking them around, and poking them with pointy sticks. Don’t give me that rooting for the hero in all of us crap, it’s all about screwing your neighbor. Making him eat Chicago Bulls testicles for two dollars and then telling him he didn’t chew fast enough to get to the semifinals..We also like to see people with their guard down, even if it’s an illusion. That, and the standard for quality is so low that it makes our own often-less-than-spectacular daily lifestyles look a bit more melodramatic. Personally, I watch on out of a morbid hope that the entire “Real World Schenectady” cast gets swallowed up by a spontaneous sinkhole. Like, really. Big brother is watching the ratings books.