Reality Bites, Bite Back Harder
By Dennis Rahkonen
unhappy trend began with "Real World," which has been running
on MTV for years.
I'd often find my teenaged daughter raptly watching it as
I'd scurry through our living room, eager to escape a television
show where privileged American kids, with all the advantages
often so grimly lacking elsewhere, were routinely bitching
about their "unfair" lives.
I'll admit that being a young person anyplace can be hard.
But if you want to see "tough," spend some time in Somalia
or Bangladesh. Or work in a cross-border sweatshop where the
mandatory items of youthful U.S. fashion are exploitatively
In the imperialism-ravaged Third World, teens learn how
to operate assault rifles in rebellion against crushing injustice,
or even become suicide bombers out of abject desperation.
Pouting in Pleasantville just doesn't cut it as "harsh".
Following that off-putting offering's success, our TV networks
have become a "real" wasteland far beyond Newton Minnow's
bleakest expectations. A pioneering Federal Communications
Commission head, he saw television as a medium with disturbing
possibilities for great abuse.
Well, surf through the channels today and prepare to get
abused in spades! It's amazing how unreal reality TV actually
Does any North American's existence involve running around
an island jungle in a loin cloth while sweating bullets, brandishing
a sharpened stick used to kill rats for lunch?
We don't bungee jump from a gazillion feet up or chow down
on earthworms, trying to conquer the "fear factor" and become
the surviving winner who'll limp away with a nice prize.
A dozen beautiful young women have never competed to marry
me, and the odds are getting exceedingly long it'll happen
Here's my take on why all this is occurring:
First, reality shows save entertainment providers scads
of money. If you forego actors and screenwriters, you don't
have to pay for talent. Pocket the difference and laugh all
the way to the bank.
It's always been tough to break into the "biz". It gets
even harder when you're not up against another thespian for
a job, but a stock trader whose killer instinct from the brokerage
floor carries over well to a reality show where being ruthless
is an asset.
Most people I know are decent and kind, not cutthroat in
a fiendishly selfish extreme. They aren't into conniving and
backstabbing their neighbors to come out "victorious" in the
long-running series that is their lives. Reality programming
relies on just the opposite, and fosters a screw-others-before-they-screw-you
mentality that undoubtedly has Jesus shaking His head in dismay.
If you use TV to convey an impression that people will do
anything for money, it's easier to sell the notion that monopoly's
predation is normal. Don't whine about big business exploitation.
It's just a part of "human nature".
Also, there's a definite mollifying effect involved. If
you're out of work and figurative wolves are at your door,
at least you aren't in the Australian outback around a fading
fire as wild dingoes threaten to drag you off into the shrubbery.
Keep the proletariat from rebelling by showing them how bad
things can "really" get.
Reality television keeps us diverted. It manipulatively
focuses our attention on inconsequential rather than serious
absurdities, such as aggressive wars or outlandish tax inequities,
both carried out to benefit the very class that produces...reality
I'm not a believer in conspiracy theories, so I won't say
this is all carefully planned out to our mutual detriment
and the hierarchy's gain. But it isn't simple coincidence,
With the FCC having recently voted to give media giants
even more decisive control over what we see, hear and subsequently
perceive, the outlook for tomorrow isn't pretty. We're truly
entering an Orwellian era that'll obviate critical thought
What to do?
Individually blowing up our TVs, as singer-songwriter John
Prine suggested, wouldn't work. And neither would blowing
up a collected pile of TVs at a Madison Avenue intersection,
since George Bush would cry "terrorism" to justify more assaults
on our liberty and well-being, in freedom's name.
But, because the average person can't build a rocket ship
in his back yard out of spare parts and escape to Neptune,
we're forced - as a unified entity - to fight back.
The call for proper entertainment and accurate news has
to be integrated into all other demands for progressive change
that our various movements advance, to avoid mass peonage
under a few monopolized fat cats' thumbs... and their degraded
If true democracy and populism are to retain validity, we
need to click off our remotes, put away our beers and cheesy
puffs, and get active on an unprecedented scale.
Let's combine the best features of the Rebel '30s and the
Radical '60s, creating a wave of insistence not just for peace
and social justice, but for a nurturing of the human spirit
through the inspiringly uplifting, not the abysmally downgrading.
Let's show the bastards who the real "survivors" actually
Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, WI, has been writing progressive
commentary and verse since the '60s. He can be reached at