Jewish World Review Jan. 15, 2003 / 12 Shevat, 5763

Media Person

Media Person
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Consumer Reports

Not My Cup of Joe | The reality show has entered its time of decadence, and this makes Media Person sad.

Remember the good old days? You had simple, dignified entertainments like Survivor, which would maroon a bunch of people in the bush, make them eat rats and let us watch them stab each other in the back and vote each other into oblivion.

But now look what we've come to. Producers practicing trickery and deceit on their own contestants. One network charging another with plagiarism. Lawsuits. Piles of fake doo-doo. Celebrity Mole Hawaii. It's all so sordid. Where are the standards? Whither the nobility of purpose? It's exactly like France just before the ancien regime fell to the howling rabble and the Terror swept away all restraint in a torrent of blood and rage.

OK, maybe not exactly like France, but surely some cataclysmic reckoning or other must lie ahead, and it's about time. Look at the big new hit Joe Millionaire. All you hear is how stupid and rotten and low and mean-spirited it is. Nobody likes Joe Millionaire, nobody condones it, but everybody watches it. (Not you, of course, because you remain the same polite, unpretentious sweetie you've always been, but everybody else, the depraved scum.)

Whereas ABC's The Bachelor, Joe's predecessor, was about a pasha selecting a favorite from among his harem, a perfectly straightforward and honest concept that St. Augustine would surely admire, the Joe debauchery introduces the big lie. The title hunk, the poor sucker ladies are told by the conniving host of the show, has just inherited 50 million smackers.

Their jaws drop. Cash-register dollar signs pop up where their eyeballs were. Surreally, they are transported to a chateau where Sir Not Really rides up on a horse (nice touch, that) and hands out necklaces.

They swoon (though not neglecting to bite the pearls) not knowing he is really Evan Marriott, $19,000-a-year construction worker, part-time underwear model and potential cover boy for GQ. At home, the cruel viewer cackles pitilessly over the hoodwinking of these hapless babes, their voracious greed exposed for all the world to jeer.

Later, in the newspaper, you could almost hear the heartbreak in their voices as the victims gathered in a bar in Manhattan to watch their own humiliation on television and share their suffering with a reporter from the New York Post. "We were manipulated," one wailed, and you could almost see the single dewdrop-like tear trickling down her soft, alabaster cheek to splatter wretchedly upon her proud, quivering bosom. "I feel betrayed by the $50 million lie."

Of course, the cruelest irony of all is the fact that in our go-for-it land of self-help-yourself, had the bamboozling bounder been a genuine millionaire, no one would have condemned the luckless ladies as "gold-diggers" but applauded them for their pluck and drive.

But the point here, assuming there is one, is that the public is no longer satisfied to see a contestant suspended upside-down in a terrarium filled with asps, kraits and pit vipers, his head smeared with jellied reptile kibble. Now we must have psychological as well as physical humiliation. We must see egos shattered.

And mark Media Person's words -- he'll wait while you get one of those yellow marker pens -- we will pay. Oh yes, apocalypse fans, we will pay. The omens are already gathering, as omens always do when the gods grow angry. If you doubt Media Person, just check any sheep entrails you have lying around the house.

Omen #1: A new reality show called Swag is starting up in London. The format is to try to tempt people into -- get ready for this -- committing crimes. The producers leave an expensive car unlocked in a crummy neighborhood and wait for someone to come along and steal it. So someone does. Only the guy spots the hidden camera across the street. He takes offense, runs over and stabs the cameraman with a screwdriver. It was only a small news item in a small newspaper, yet it was significant because ... things went out of control.

Omen #2: Another news item, this time a longer one in a larger newspaper. It seems that reality-show suckers less inclined to violence than the miscreant in London are starting to sue. One couple, for instance, brought action against a new MTV show aptly named Harassment after they checked into a Las Vegas hotel for what they thought would be a nice vacation and found a body in the bathtub. The natives are revolting!

Omen #3: (which makes it official because the well-known rule of journalism states that you've got to have three of anything to make a trend). The networks are suing each other. CBS sued ABC because, it claims, CBS' new show I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! is a blatant steal of Survivor.

People, does Media Person really have to tell you that when television networks can't rip off other shows, then television is finished? And if television is finished, then our entire way of life is doomed. Media Person just thought you should know.

JWR contributor Media Person -- a.k.a Lewis Grossberger -- is a columnist for Media Week. Comment by clicking here.


01/09/03: It was back in '03
12/17/02: Did you get taken?
12/05/02: Mathers of importance

© 2002, Lewis Grossberger