Voices of the Clarion: Turn off that television

Society's fixation on reality TV a disturbing thing to watch

Posted: Sunday, May 29, 2005

I was watching television yesterday. They showed an interview with a woman who was watching a man threaten to jump off a crane. She said, "It's like watching a reality TV show."

I laughed, but I was sad.

Was there a definite moment in time when we as a society switched over from analog to digital? When did we decide the best way to live our lives would be to have other, more telegenic people do it for us while winning cash and prizes?

I was at a concert recently where the singer finished his set with a moving a capella tune. Just as the audience began to really get into the groove of the song, someone's cell phone went off in the small auditorium.

Later, I told a friend that there ought to be a law that says people who pull that kind of thing should be drawn, quartered, tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail. I don't quite know what any of those things are, but I bet none of them is a lot of fun.

If you're like me, you spend much of your day in front of some kind of screen. Whether it's a computer monitor or a television or a cell phone's LED display, most of us have become slaves to a world that's controlled by electrical impulses, mouse clicks and key strokes.

And if you're like me, you think this sucks.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm fully aware of the magic that computers and information technology have brought us. Information that would have taken a reporter a week to track down is available to me within seconds, which I like.

The funny thing is, we reporters don't write any more than we used to. All that time we used to spend tracking down information is just now allocated to other, more important tasks such as hiding from the boss in the break room and building makeshift couches out of discarded pencils and old newspapers.

Yes, it's true. Reporters are just as lazy as everyone else. We're just better able to observe that everybody else seems to be getting lazier. Then we turn around and report that the nation is getting fat and sedentary. It makes us feel better. But trust me, none of us are typing atop a treadmill.

What's infuriating to me about this whole thing is that people actually appear to be busier than ever. Most people I know spend more hours at work than ever these days, all in an effort to ensure that the cable bill is paid, the computer is fast and the latest video games are available for the kids.

That way, when we get home from work, we're able to sit down and relax a little bit by watching other people live "real" lives — which seem to consist mainly of partying, jumping off tall things and eating bugs — so we don't have to. After all, who has time?

I think a worthwhile goal for all of us this summer should be to try and create "real" lives of our own. We might not be able to quit our jobs, but maybe we can rack up a little less overtime and cut out early on occasion. Don't worry about the boss. He ought to be doing the same thing.

Go find tall stuff to jump off, strange things to eat and real parties to attend. As strange as it sounds, the company of actual people can sometimes be just as (or more!) enjoyable than the company of people you'll never meet.

This also might come as a surprise, but cable news isn't the only source of enlightenment, nor is riding a couch the most thrilling way to spend an evening.

Reality television is a lie.

Don't believe me? Turn off your TV. Stare at where the picture should be, and you'll see a reflection. Keep staring. Watch yourself sitting there with that vacant look on your face for a couple hours.

I guarantee you it'll be the most real thing you'll have watched in a long time.

Matt Tunseth is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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