Reality Bites

Photo Ambro,

Photo Ambro,

Am I the last person in America who hates reality TV?

My head starts to throb every time I flip through the channels and I feel my brain’s gray matter transform into a gelatinous oozy substance, perfect for the aliens to come take it over. I’ve got 900 channels and most of them are filled with so-called “reality” shows.

Why are these shows called “reality television” when they are so far detached from reality anyway? Reality is not competing for a prize on an island and it is not trying to become the biggest pop sensation in the country. Just writing these words makes my head spin. I’m literally dizzy with annoyance, that’s how much I hate those shows.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those alternative school parents who drives around with a “Kill Your TV” bumper sticker on my minivan, like ahem, one of my dearest friends.

I’m not against TV. I watch plenty of television, and most of it’s not on PBS. And it’s not that I have a problem with lowbrow entertainment-anyone who has met my husband can testify to that. But there’s something about the cheesy search for stardom on American Idol,  and the ridiculous search for romance on The Bachelor that I truly loathe. These show are more than just “not my cup of tea,” I despise them with all of my heart. They make my skin crawl.

Partly it’s the desperation to be in the spotlight that unifies the “stars” of all of these shows that makes my stomach churn. When I was six I wanted to be a ballerina, when I was eight I wanted to play on center court at Wimbledon, and when I was nine I wanted to sing on Broadway. But when I was 12 I accepted the reality that I didn’t have the talent to do those things, so I went on with my life.

These reality TV people need to realize it’s time for them to go on with their lives too.

But no, instead we now have this new group of overnight celebrities who are famous because they slapped someone, stole their boyfriend or spit in their face. That used to be how you became famous in junior high, not the pathway to fame in America. Now all of those overgrown teenagers are chatting up Leno, Ellen, and Regis and Kelly. Not to mention all the airwaves that are filled by wannabe/has-been actors trying to stretch their 15 minutes of fame to the breaking point by humiliating themselves on reality TV.

Here’s the thing: real stars have real talent. I don’t know what reality “stars” have. Chutzpah? Balls? A deluded sense of their own importance? Sure, some reality “stars”-albeit very few-may actually have some talent, but the only thing I’m sure they all have is the ability to really, really annoy me.

It’s not just that these shows are so popular and I can’t understand why; it’s also that as a writer I know that the cheap production values and nonexistent writing staffs of these shows are forcing the professionals out. It’s always been an uphill battle to get a well-written comedy or drama onto network television, but the success of these reality shows has made it almost impossible to get good shows on TV.

I can’t wait for the day when America’s fascination with reality TV finally runs its course. While I too enjoy watching my favorite characters claw their way to success through conniving, backstabbing, lying, cheating and stealing-I prefer to watch them do it gracefully via the piquant prose of  Mad Men, the dexterous dialogue of Damages or even the morose monotones of CNN.

When Leslie’s not ripping into reality TV, she can be reached at email . Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 3, 2009.

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