I'm from Mexico City and lived in the U.S. for a total of more than 24 years. Now I'm back in Mexico. I realized I was seeing my country through the eyes of a native stranger. This is an attempt to process the differences, to explain Mexico to the U.S. and the U.S. to Mexico. With digressions along the way.

martes, febrero 01, 2005

"Reality" TV

So I watched a bit of TV yesterday and I'm blown away by the amount of reality TV shows that are on now. I'm not sure I saw any other kind of programming, actually, except maybe for the news, but you know, same difference. A friend of mine, Cris, who worked for Rocket Science Laboratories (proud producers of such greats as Temptation Island and Trading Spouses) at some point, told me the boom started when there was an actor strike a few years back and networks realized they could pump out these shows for very little money. What's a million dollar prize at the end of a season in comparison to having to pay Seinfeld a million per show? (Or was it three million?)
Well, I have to admit that I am morbidly fascinated by a lot of these shows. I cannot take my eyes off of the plastic surgery ones even while I clutch at my stomach (and I'm not talking about the actual surgery scenes). The Bachelor/Bachelorette shows probably disgust me the most, but even that I have fun scoffing at. Bill Hicks hit the nail on the head when he said watching Cops was like messing with a sore tooth. It hurts but you just can't help yourself. At least when the TV is already on, in my case.
I'm of course not bothered at all by the lack of "reality" in "reality television." I don't really want, need, or expect any reality from my TV. But the level of depravity paraded before the lens here, the lowest of the lowest common denominator, is truly...well, fascinating. But it's not all that bad. I actually watched two shows that I think had some kind of merit. One was Wife Swap. Trading Spouses is being sued for copying it, but they're worlds apart (OK, so that's based on the one episode of each I've watched). Despite the PCness of the Fox version's title, Trading Spouses (which is promptly demolished by it's subtitle, "Meet Your New Mommy"), Wife Swap is the more, uh...humane of the two. It's the same premise: two moms from different families trade places for a couple of weeks and mayhem ensues. But Wife Swap has more of a "let's see what we can learn from this experience" kind of thing to it. In the episode I watched, they traded a single mom with ruthlessly disobedient children with an ultra-rich obsessively organized mom with completely repressed children and a distant husband. In the end, everybody appreciated their own family more but also made some changes with what they'd learned from the other family. Trading Spouses, on the other hand, just seems to revel in criticism and weak attempts at shock value (Oh My God! One of the moms thinks she saw a ghost!). It has an added element where they give the mothers $50,000 to spend and the adopted mom has to do the spending...awful, awful, awful. The other show that I thought was all right was Super Nanny. Apparently both the nanny and the show itself were imported from England. This woman comes into your home and teaches you how to get your problem kids under control. The episode I saw had some really good parenting skills demonstrated...I suppose those Jerry Springer scare-your-kids-into-submission boot camps could be considered the bizarro version of Super Nanny.
They may not be the end-all be-all of TV, and I'd watch Deadwood any day over those two shows, but as far as reality TV goes, I gotta say it's the best I've seen.


Blogger Ruth Kunstadter said...

That one with the ultra-organized mom was actually filmed in my town -- I don't know the family, though, and I'm certainly nothing like her! (I didn't see that particular show, but I heard about it.) I can't even find a sponge in my house, let alone have a three-level system. I think all these things are edited to make the people look as cartoonish as possible -- really good, really bad, etc. But at least they're not making anyone eat live bugs.

I have always thought the the REAL reality TV would be to have someone come in and try to teach an elementary class for a day. (Preferably someone who thinks they know what's good for education without ever having set foot in a classroom.) We talk about that one a lot at school, believe me!

8:52 p. m.

Blogger Nayeli said...

Ha ha...I guess I should admit that I scoffed at the 3 tier sponge system, but I'm pretty weird when it comes to stuff like that myself. I have a two-tier system...dishes and counters vs. floor. But the floor of my house can get really nasty.
I completely agree that they make the characters very cartoonish in Wife Swap, but it doesn't bother me--you've got 40 minutes and you choose two families who are as different as possible to play off of each other. Just like in Super Nanny they choose a family with out of control children and then exaggerate the chaos in what they show. But I didn't feel like they were as exploitative as other reality shows, and the "cartoons" were well drawn and not demeaning. You end up seeing value in the people they depict, even if you're getting a pretty superficial picture.
As for the show about sending a newbie in to teach an elementary class, I'm sure it's in the works and will be slated after that quitting smoking reality show Cold Turkey. In the meantime, you might just have to bring the reality show into the classroom: http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/public/wsj_worms.html

9:33 p. m.

Blogger Ruth Kunstadter said...

Oh my god, I just printed that article out and I am going to post it here.... it is just terrible that we have to resort to this kind of thing to motivate kids. There seems to be so little intrinsic motivation these days, students wanting to learn just for the sake of learning, putting effort into the subjects they DON'T like as well as the subjects they do like, etc. So many of them expect to be entertained in school, and if we want to keep them on task, we really have to do that. But it has gone overboard, and the intrinsic motivation has been lost.

11:18 a. m.

Blogger Nayeli said...

My mother keeps on mentioning a book called Punished by Reward that I bet would relate to all of this. I think it's cool the teachers and administrators are willing to let down their hair, but I completely agree that the essence of a good educational philosophy is sparking internal motivation for learning.

5:04 p. m.

Blogger blue2go said...

I like the spouse-swap TV shows, even the ones that are a little hokey. It's interesting to see the different lifestyles. I don't like the delibrate drama and pitting people and families against each other like certain ones have, though. Love "The Apprentice" however one feels about Donald Trump, the show itself is a valuable learning experience for business. Some of my friends argue with me about that, they say the show is too cut-throat--but that's exactly how I've found the office/corporate world to be. They don't work in that field and are very lucky to never have run into it.

5:24 p. m.


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