Obsessed With the Wrong Reality

by Michael Kreicher | 10/20/05 5:00am

Trishelle Canatella, Veronica Portillo, Bob Guiney and Richard Hatch--do you recognize any of these names? If you are like me, they are almost as ubiquitous as Michael Jordan and Britney Spears. The only difference is that the first four men and women are simply the products of America's insatiable obsession with reality television. Before sitting down to write this column, I spent a few hours watching MTV reality shows ranging from Score, Next and -- I am almost too ashamed to admit it -- Miss Seventeen. But these are certainly not the only shows that I watch on a weekly, much less daily, basis. "Survivor," "Laguna Beach" (the real "OC"), "Trading Spouses," "Real World" and countless other network and cable programs are on my schedule. In fact, aside from ESPN, I can fairly say that I watch reality television almost exclusively. I will also be the first to admit that this is very depressing.

Few can deny the unique entertainment that can be drawn from various types of reality television shows. Many are in the form of a competition, elimination challenges being the most common type. Shows like "Survivor," "Making the Band" and "American Idol" are all examples. Competition reality shows allow the viewer to pick favorites and champion a particular player throughout the course of the season. Other shows simply follow a group of ordinary people as they "stop being polite and start getting real." Over the summer, I protested when my friends coerced me into watching "Laguna" -- now I rarely miss an episode. I suppose there is something rewarding in viewing regular people lead relatively genuine lives. Regardless of accusations that much of reality television is scripted, sizeable parts of it are real and unpredictable.

The unfortunate outcome of America's obsession with reality television has been a dramatic increase in the number of pseudo-celebrities. On the one hand, contestants and characters on these shows should be incredibly thankful that they have been arbitrarily made famous through no talent of their own. Some random casting director chose them because they fit the mold and they have become household names. "Real World" and "Road Rules" characters like Trishelle and Veronica are now among the ranks of Madonna and Prince, recognized by their first name. Then again, the media has also instilled these ordinary men and women with delusions of grandeur. Once the next season of the reality show airs, most of America will forget about these temporary celebrities. We will move on to worshipping the next set of cast members. Most of these reality television stars' fame will end almost as quickly as it started and many will become struggling actors, or worse, they will end up in the "Surreal Life" graveyard.

The obsession with reality television is part of a growing trend. In the past five years American media and society as a whole have become obsessed with creating stars. We continue to pump out American Idols, all of them duds except for the incomparable Kelly Clarkson. In my opinion, the title of American Idol loses its luster when there are ten of them. We enjoy building up celebrities and knocking them back down. We put people in the public eye, give them their fifteen minutes of fame and ultimately pick them apart. The show "Newlyweds" was certainly a large part of the reason that Nick Lachey and my beloved Jessica Simpson are now separated. Obviously, our energy and focus would be much better spent on other things. We simultaneously idolize trashy characters from shows like "The Apprentice" and neglect to honor the troops that are defending freedom overseas and the people that are actually making positive contributions to society, such as doctors and firemen. Regrettably, it cannot have anything to do with sheer ignorance and lack of culture; Dartmouth students like me are just as guilty as anyone else. I suppose that the best solution would be to enjoy the reality shows, yet allow the cast members to disappear back into the woodwork when their season ends. No celebrity status will be given or taken away. That is all for now. The newest episode of "Extreme Makeover" is about to come on.

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