I like to think I don’t have an addictive personality. I can do most things in moderation…Except when it comes to television.
In the presence of cable TV, I get lost in an entertainment vacuum. So back in 2001, I got rid of cable. In fact, I’ve lived without it for most of my young adulthood. It’s been a good exercise. I’ve had an antenna for the past few years and life with 7 channels has worked out pretty well. I still have access to the CBC, the CTV, and a homegrown treasure, Télé-Québec. On weekends, there’s seldom anything on until Sunday evening, so I can keep busy doing other things.
Then, the boyfriend and I decided to move in together, and he insisted on cable TV. We got a satellite installed earlier this week, and since then, I’ve had a chance to fully grasp how the televised landscaped has morphed into its own version of 2.0.
Not that I haven’t been exposed to cable in the past few years, but the breadth of it is something I haven’t had the opportunity to consider much. In short, it’s a vast and veritable desert of “reality,” populated with rootless Joshua Trees in the form of Dr. Firstnames and long-supernovaed stars. I could take the snooty approach and call it a wasteland, but isn’t that beating a dead horse? That’s what we were saying about TV back in the pre-Survivor days of Who’s the Boss and even Friends. Anyway, how could I possibly look down on anything that’s this fascinating.
Granted, the term “celebrity” can be used a little more loosely than before, but you have to love how some people are perfectly willing to live it out in front of cameras. In Madonna’s Truth or Dare, the queen’s then-boyfriend Warren Beatty commented on how she didn’t seem to want to do anything unless a lens was following her. Back then, we called Madonna an exhibitionist. Today, we’d never so much as hear her voice over the phone on a reality show. Funny, innit?
Still, some of the world’s biggest stars aren’t so reserved. Take Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels. A compelling, if somewhat contrived, take on the Osbournes’ format. If anything, it’s more of a Gene Simmons infomercial (he’s a businessman first, a star second), but I still enjoy the bits where his kids take a few loving jabs at their dad. Then there’s Paris Hilton’s New BFF. Okay, so people might question the validity of her stardom, but girl got gumption! I can understand how people would participate in The Apprentice for a shot at working alongside a real estate mogul, but going through a series of “challenges” to see if you’re fit to be someone’s friend? That’s just crazy talk. Until Paris Hilton turns it into a show…that people watch!
Has TV turned into a barren landscape? Maybe, but that’s the nature of the medium. It doesn’t produce offspring very well (name 5 successful spin-offs; yeah, didn’t think so). It’s not the kind of thing you can cultivate or grow, and you’d probably have an easier time training a Siamese cat. When you think of it, it’s a lot like Las Vegas: a mirror that reflects what we want most and where we are as a society. What does reality TV tell us about ourselves? Our curiosity about real life is as important as our need to escape through fiction. Also, it’s quite possible we all have A.D.D.
Sure, I miss the days when MuchMusic was about music, but you have to love how your next job interview could well be televised. Now there’s a revolution.
Fabulous footnote: Has anyone noted the progress of Nikki McKibbin? According to her IMDB page, she’s had more appearances as her “self” in her career as a performer. She first came to TV in Popstars, ranked 3rd in the first season of American Idol, participated in Fear Factor, Battle of the Network Reality Stars and All-Star Reality Reunion (aired in 2005, a mere 3 years after her American Idol not-so-victory), before ending up on Celebrity Rehab and Sober House. Her entire success depends on being a fuck-up on TV. At least she’s always had cool hair.