Jewish World Review Oct. 6, 2004 / 21 Tishrei 5765

Felice Cohen

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Consumer Reports

Who needs reality, anyway? | My mom called it the "boob tube" and urged us to play outside when my little sister and I were found sprawled on our stomachs, heads resting on our hands, eyes glued to the television. Then one day in 1977 our TV needed repair. We dropped it off at the repair shop and after two days I had become an expert on the monkey bars. The repairman, meanwhile, filed bankruptcy and moved away in the middle of the night, taking our TV with him. Even though we didn't get a new TV until 1979, I can't say I missed it. Not that six channels was anything to be addicted to.

Later, though, TV addictions did arrive. In 1981 it was MTV, when it actually showed music videos. In high school it was "The Cosby Show" and "Cheers" and our curiosity about who shot JR. By the time I was in college, "Thirtysomething" had me running back to the dorm, and later on it was Seinfeld. After the first season of "The Sopranos," my Sunday nights were booked. Next, reality TV began clogging the airwaves and soon I found myself addicted to "American Idol," "Survivor" and "The Apprentice."

In their first seasons, they were fun to watch. Who will be eliminated? Who will be humiliated? Watching the challenges, we wondered if we had what it took to stand up to that type of ridicule. Somewhere along the lines, Reality TV turned into Rage TV. With less civility and more hostility, less creativity and more swearing, it's become less interesting and more frustrating. Not for the contestants, but for the viewers. It wasn't until last week that it became so apparent.

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On "The Apprentice," Trump wannabes spurted anti-semitic, homophobic and ageist rhetoric. Could this stuff have been left on the editing room floor? Sure, but since the ratings needed a quick pick-me-up, they remained.

Of course we cannot ignore how everyone - from station announcers to The Donald to the men - refer to the women as "girls." But I guess it's not as bad as the other oh-so-sincere name - "bitch." The sad part however, is that it's the women exchanging this pleasantry. The word has recently swum its way over to "Survivor," which also had a bitch-swapping segment last week. On both of these shows, while the men were fighting, the men were busy completing the task at hand. The result? The men's teams won. And rightly so.

It's bad enough we deal with aggravated, tired and cranky people everyday during our commute, so why subject ourselves to more of it on television?

But we really can't blame the contestants. Maybe it's their working conditions, maybe they're being set up or maybe it's all rearranged in the editing room. It was the judges who handpicked these people and the producers who manipulate the cast to become counterproductive. Perhaps they're right. Perhaps these personality conflicts will indeed score higher ratings.

But unfortunately, so far, it just lost one viewer. My mom was right, I'm better off playing outside than watching the Boob Tube. And even The Donald should recognize what's coming next. "Reality TV, you're fired!"

Comment on JWR contributor Felice Cohen's column by clicking here.


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© 2004, Felice Cohen