A lot of discussion has revolved around the craze for “reality television” shows, most of the same, tired digested talk about how Americans view themselves in a perpetually competitive environment, where individuals must fend for themselves and must be pitted against equally driven and sometimes noxious peers. These recreated worlds of alliance and rejection, where contestants eat cockroaches for a half a million, or fight over Mr. Right in a Jacuzzi with six other girls, are no doubt addictive (or else America would not subscribe to the upcoming series that goes beyond the formulaic blind-date to the completely innovative blind-marriage). We are sick of pop-culture analysis, and whatever happened to entertainment for the sake of entertainment? Although I don’t want to belabor the point, the fact that a fair proportion of Amherst students tune in to FOX, including myself, of course, does make a statement. It is escapism in many regards, that drives me to tune in to FOX and out of my 50-pound multilith for a structured hour of diversion. It is detachment and a pure brain melt at best. So what is wrong with this picture?
In a state of high, color-coded terror alert, I feel a baseless anxiety, little prevention or solution and almost as if I am surrounded by a cloud of ignorance, mostly my own fault, some imposed by the government itself. I am tuned into a millionare show, with definitive results and actions, manipulating and calculating, but all made visible to the viewer before the contestants can see it pan out for themselves. It is the dramatic irony that Greek plays boasted of, the ability for the audience to detect the outcome before the characters themselves can foresee the consequences of their actions. It is power in the hands of the viewer, knowing more than the contestants-that Joe doesn’t really have a million dollars, and, more than the bachelor himself, that the women fighting for him crave the caviar at the end of the tunnel. The omnipotence of the viewer is in fact far from “reality.” Truths are made simple and tangible, whereas the truths in the international realm seem incoherent and evasive. I don’t want to be a player in this dramatic irony, one of the powerless, subject to warnings to be on my guard when I am not even told what to look for. How do I discern between being cautious and being frightened or feigning ignorance as a defense? When should I stop living my life and start worrying about how we as Americans are going to have to live our lives, bound under the guise of patriotism but also of fear?
It’s not as simple as alliances and good versus evil, the fight for attention and the quest for victory. This diversion, this reality show, empowers the audience to one extent and undermines them to another. Should we tune out when the government tells us to tune in? I will continue to watch these programs; they are not interfering with the sense of who I am, although they may mask and disguise my fears, even if only for an hour. But in the remaining hours of the day, I am left to confront the fact that I do not live in a reality show where everything is apparent to the viewer, easy and digestible. I deal with the fact that I am in a complex world of truths, both hidden and visible, mostly covert, and I cannot predict the outcome. It is dealing with these truths, instead of allowing myself to virtually escape that will ultimately prove if I can function in the unstable state of our nation.
There is no credible parallel between Joe Millionare and our political state. I do not wish to connect incomparable entities, however I do relate on an emotional level to the ideas of escapism and confrontation, the way I deal with them in my Amherst life, and the search for greater truths none too apparent.