Reality television shows are the current craze on American television and this cultural trend has now extended to all media markets across the world, with the most popular reality shows being the singing and dancing competitions such as American Idol and Dancing With The Stars.
In the Middle East you now have Arabs Got Talent and several other talent shows with the prerequisite three-person judging panel. Similar shows have also been spawned in Asia, Australia and South America. This winning formula has created a vast viewing audience and has created a slew of wanna-be television and industry stars. As a result of their popularity, there is no limit as to what disease, addiction, or dysfunction will be filmed and aired on national television.
Reality shows featuring dysfunctional relationships are different from your usual dramatic programming such as CSI, in that they are supposedly unscripted, therefore documenting the foibles and actions of people ‘as it happens.’
The most popular reality shows are law enforcement dust-ups like Real Stories of the Highway Patrol, To Serve and Protect, World’s Wildest Police Videos, Rescue 911, Boot Camp and Inside American Jails. While eating popcorn in the comfort of home, viewers can watch spectacular car chases, gun battles, factory explosions, fires, shake-downs, car crashes, domestic dispute stand-offs and jailhouse beat downs, with the high-speed action being caught live on camera by helicopters that swoop in over the action.
If police brutality isn’t your thing, there are the hidden camera comedy shows for the voyeur. In these shows, video cameras and microphones are hidden in restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters, homes - anywhere that the unsuspecting chump can be duped into doing incredibly dumb or embarrassing things. There’s Candid Camera, TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes, Totally Hidden Video, Cheaters, Oblivious, Girls Behaving Badly, Punk’d and Scare Tactics. The chap who’s been taken usually demonstrates what a great sport he is by laughing at himself and shrugging it off, but what I'd prefer to see is the chump who flips out and dusts off the camera equipment because he didn't get the joke.
The reality television viewer can also become the inveterate interloper into the ‘private’ lives of the housewives from the Real Housewives franchise. There were originally two shows, the Real Housewives of New York and Orange County; however because the series has become so popular and so enriched the television station from whence it sprung, a whole slew of spin-offs have been created, such as The Real Housewives of New Jersey and Washington and Atlanta and Miami and Vancouver. Each show follows the lives of five or six women who live in the above-named cities. In spite of some being successful businesswomen, most of these gals are shallower than a dugout canoe. The conflict driving these shows are their petty disputes with each other and how they either do, or don't, resolve them. These women look identical - tall, blond, with collagen-injected lips, smooth foreheads and fake breasts. They seamlessly parade their jewels, their houses, their cars, and their fake bits without an appearance of awareness nor concern for the financial plight of a great many of their viewers; indeed, they have been spurred on to greater heights of conceit by television ratings that demonstrate that ironically, in this time of need, this is what the American public wants: conspicuous consumption. Ratings have gone through the roof for this type of reality show.
What used to be my father’s favorite ‘reality’ show on television back in the fifties, wrestling, has also morphed into something completely different and taken to a new level. Wrestlers are not a bunch of skinny knobs with pot bellies pretending to slam each others head into the mat, or pretending to jump on each others stomach like when I was a kid and used to watch wrestling with my Dad. Viewers are much more blood-thirsty these days. They want bone-crushing action, and that’s what they get with shows like Extreme Wrestling, Celebrity Wrestling, Celebrity Deathmatch, Hardcore Homecoming, Heroes of Wrestling and Clash of Legends. Big goofy guys with blown-out arms and ridiculous mullets jump on other goofy guys with steroidal limbs, competing until the finale leaves the loser in a mangled heap after a heavy metal chair has been smashed into his forehead. The action is real; the blood is not fake. Sponsors know where the money is with the zoom-in camera shot, when the dazed gladiator finally stands and shakes off the blood from the nasty gash in his forehead and goes back for more amid the raging cheers of the blood-thirsty spectators.
However, talent shows, law-enforcement drama and housewives aside, the biggest contributor to and star of reality television was, in my estimation, extreme wrestler Mick Foley. Now retired, Foley was inspired to start wrestling after seeing Jimmy Snuka’s flying body smash from the top of his cage in the ring. But here’s where authentic reality really sets in. Since his career started in 1983, Foley’s endured six concussions, one broken jaw, two broken noses, one broken cheekbone, a separated shoulder, a fractured left shoulder, a dislocated shoulder, a second degree burn on his shoulder, second degree burns on his arm, fifty-four stitches on his left arm, a broken right wrist, bone chips in his right elbow, six broken ribs, a torn abdominal, a torn ACL, a broken toe, scars from thousands of thumb tack holes, has lost four front teeth, had two-thirds of his ear ripped off, and finally, has a total of 300 stitches in his arms, head, eyebrows, hands, ears, shin, cheek and lip. Now that’s what I call reality television. Well done, Mick.