Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Snap Out Of It ...

Usually, I click on every column my friend Sheila posts. She's a fine writer and a woman of substance. Also, I love her addiction to seasonal Reese's peanut-butter shapes: pumpkins, trees, eggs. She likes their increased ratio of peanut butter to chocolate. Her last name is Quirke. Can you beat that? With a name like that, you know that adorable traits are baked right in.

Sheila and I went to high school together. And then we lost touch. And then Facebook happened and there she was, in the form of a Friend request. And we reconnected. And I was happy to hear from her. And I expected a typical, adult "this is what I've been up to" report. But no. At that point in her life, her daughter, Donna, was in hospice. And then Donna died.

And Sheila and I are now closer than we ever were in high school. And I usually click on every column she posts.

But I skipped over "I Blame Andy Cohen for the Downfall of Humanity." She'd made a reference to Bravo. I have no connection to Bravo. Andy who?

This morning, though, I read it. It was in my soon-to-be-no-more Google Reader, waiting. So I read. And I realized that my response to what she wrote was more than a comment on a Facebook page. It was a whole post.

And here we are.

First and foremost, let me say that I do not begrudge anyone their escapist TV if it gives them some measure of comfort while going through a difficult time. When your daughter is going through cancer treatment, honey, you go ahead and do whatever you need to do. So this is not judgment of that. Hell no.

This is something that's been on my mind for some time. As I wrote in the aforelinked post:

But kids. Really? "The Real Housewives of ... ":

... New Jersey ...

... New York City ...

... Miami ...

... DC ...

... Orange County ...

... Atlanta ...

and ... Beverly Hills?


And "Big Rich Texas" and "Toddlers and Tiaras" and "Jerseylicious" and "Jersey Shore"?


Just why?

What is the world gleaning from any of this?

For Sheila, it was escape in a difficult time. I totally get that.

But what about everyone else?

Why are they watching?

From a network perspective, I get the allure of reality TV. It's relatively cheap to produce and it brings in massive buckets of ad revenue. Reality TV makes for mighty fine balance sheets, I'm sure.

But from the viewers' perspective, I see it as a diversion.

I'm not saying every hour spent watching television should be spent on NOVA or C-SPAN.

But seven – or are there now more? – "Real Housewives" shows alone?

It's the modern-day "circuses" in "bread and circuses."

Forty-four million Americans – give or take a million – don't have health insurance. Millions of Americans don't have jobs. People are losing their homes. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our planet is suffocating. Storms of all kinds are increasing in ferocity and frequency. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Wildfires. Droughts. Oil spills are destroying ecosystems. Children are being massacred by assault weapons. Iran and North Korea and Syria are crises waiting to happen. Or are happening, if you live there. We're still at war. We spend more money on our military than the next largest 17 countries combined but we can't even talk about touching that budget. No, instead, we have to kick kids off of Head Start and slash education funding. Those who write our laws won't close tax loopholes on the rich if there's a way to take money from budgets for social services. Unions are busted. Corporations are now people, my friend. Republicans have succeeded in bringing Washington to a grinding halt.

I could go on. But I think you get the idea.

My concern isn't that folks are watching an hour of "The Real Housewives of Wherever" as a means to escape all the "too much"-ness in the world but then getting down to the business of doing their part to make the world a better place. My concern is that folks are watching an hour of "The Real Housewives of Wherever" and then watching another hour of "The Real Housewives of Wherever." And then "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." And then "Toddlers and Tiaras." And then "Dance Moms." And then whatever show has been dreamt up in the last 10 minutes. (Kudos to "SNL" for this Bravo spoof. "Then on Sundays, for one minute ... .")

And my further concern is that those same folks are not watching the news. Or reading a newspaper. Or talking with their neighbors. Or going to vote.

Or worse: going to vote. If you're going to cast ballots blindly, I'd rather that you just stay home.

Sheila's a very smart woman. And she's more involved than most. I'm not worried about her consumption of fluff. But I am worried about others', generally.

I've often mentioned "Idiocracy" to family and friends. I've mentioned it here, too. It's set 500 years in the future. Society has become very, very, very dumb. The most popular show on TV is "Ow! My Balls!"

You know what it reminds me of?

"Wipeout" on ABC. (Update: Behold the value of education. A friend writes: "Wipeout is a cheap knockoff of Japanese game shows from the 1980's and '90's such as 'Takeshi's Castle'. Not quite highbrow stuff, but at least there is a goal and a payoff. If you want 'Ow! My Balls!', turn over to MTV for 'Ridiculousness'. ... I'm telling you that show is both retarded and retarding.")

And why did the society in "Idiocracy" become so dumb? Because smart people waited to have children and so had fewer or weren't able to have any while stupid people procreated like rabbits. (You'll remember that erstwhile presidential candidate Rick Santorum said birth control is not OK.)

It's a diversion, this steady diet of televised crap. And the really, really rich people are perfectly happy to have folks watch a bunch of Botoxed women scream at each other and Honey Boo Boo slurp her go-go juice while they gamble with the world economy and threaten catastrophe unless taxpayers to bail them out, buy our elected officials, decimate our election process, bust our unions, and take control of everything.

Kids, ExxonMobil made $41 billion dollars last year while you paid $4 a gallon for gas.

And it's cleaning up the tar-sands oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas with paper towels.

So, please. Turn off the crap on TV.

Networks make what people watch.

That's not Andy Cohen's fault.