If a population can be judged by what it watches on TV, the American public presents a scary sight. First Lady Michelle Obama has made it her mission to persuade Americans that if they are what they eat, they’re a fat mess. I’m thinking if we are what we watch, the prospects are no more promising. You could argue the chicken-or-egg theory about which came first — the crappy taste of the viewers, or the crappy channel offerings from which to choose. Certainly one must precipitate the other, but the question persists as to once they coexist, how much influence do they exert on each other? For instance, psycho bride behavior has probably gone on since before weddings started to resemble royal coronations. The thing to consider is how much has a show likeBridezillas perpetuated that kind of insanity by giving it a public forum labeled ‘entertainment’. Let’s take a peek at some primetime offerings on network and cable channels that extraterrestrials might observe to judge our planet’s inhabitants. Keep in mind that all these shows have been running for several seasons, meaning that their regular viewers are not just the Farkle Family with the rabid dog at the end of the block.
American Pickers does not refer to a public fixation with clean nasal passages, but rather to another American obsession: other people’s junk. This is, believe it or not, offered on the History Channel, suggesting that the folks who choose the programming over there believe Americans already know all there is to know about actual history. This is clearly not the case. I read recently that 65% of Americans could not tell you what years the Civil War spanned. Even fewer know when women won the right to vote. But they certainly all know that a fully restored Coca-Cola machine from the 1940’s is worth big bucks.
The Arts & Entertainment channel (A&E) has its own version of junk picking called Storage Wars. Here a group of savvy entrepreneurs in shorts and tattoos bid on abandoned storage lockers. You can almost smell their clammy T-shirts as they stand on the baking asphalt in front of metal roll down gates shouting out their bids. A&E is also home to those granddaddies of reality entertainment, Hoarders and Intervention. Discriminating viewers have the choice of being voyeurs into the life of someone compelled to save every piece of garbage they’ve ever owned, or someone driven to shoot garbage into their neck veins. If that fails to appeal, they can always open a bag of chips and watch obese people weigh themselves over on NBC’s Biggest Loser. This show is a huge hit, based apparently on the concept that WATCHING someone lose weight is preferable to losing weight YOURSELF, which, as we all know is as entertaining as watching paint dry.
Here in New York City, IRT refers to a subway line, the Interborough Rapid Transit. On the History Channel, it means Ice Road Truckers, a show that follows the adventures of truckers on dangerously icy roads. As opposed to Ax Men, which chronicles the adventures of men chopping wood. Are we this starved to watch other people being active while we sit on the couch eating Fritos? No? How about Cheaters, a hidden camera show that follows adulterers around waiting to catch them in the act. Are we not satisfied with our own cheating? OrSwamp People, History Channel’s foray into the Louisiana bayou and the bizarre culinary habits of its earthier denizens. Has Martha Stewart failed to offer us sufficient squirrel recipes?
An offbeat comedian named Natasha Leggero echoed similar sentiments on Comedy Central when she said that the only thing missing from TV today is a show about the pathetic women who give birth without ever seeming to know they’re pregnant. To illustrate, she walked around the stage looking around idiotically, then stopped, looked down, and cried out: “OH MY GOD!! WHERE DID THIS BABY COME FROM?” She took a few more steps, looked behind her, then yelled, “AND IT’S FOLLOWING ME!”
Some of these exercises in Everyman reality programming work better than others. Deadliest Catch is hard to look away from as the fishing boats pitch in the roiling sea and the crews struggle against the elements and their personal demons. Pawn Stars is a keeper, as much for the quirky staff as for the characters who walk in with their treasures to sell. It’s kind of a working class version of Antiques Roadshow. Pawn Stars even provides an element of education in that the shop owners give an overview of the item from a historical perspective, like, “This is the type of bayonet routinely distributed to officers in the Union Army.” It’s also interesting to consider what possible job Chumlee would have in the actual world if he wasn’t employed at the pawn shop. I mean he either has the IQ of a cranberry or he’s the most gifted actor on TV. Husband and I find the show oddly compelling, but we get a little worried when we both say out loud, “Damn, we already saw this. It’s the one with the Faberge brooch worth $15,000 that the dim-bulb owner thinks is gold-plated.” Then we look at each other like maybe it’s time to do something productive, so we go downstairs and he waters the lawn while I dust the ceiling fan. Sounds like the makings for a hit show. Don’t even pretend you wouldn’t watch.
Daughter’s Fotos pay tribute to NY’s Marriage Equality Act and 2011’s Gay Pride Parade