Reality Bites? Well, Sometimes.

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I kind of hate “reality” or unscripted television shows, which has led me to swearing off most TV-watching altogether– generally I leave on the Disney Channel or BBC America as sort of a background hum, the entertainment equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” at the top of my lungs, coupled with the knowledge that if I leave one of those channels on indefinitely, I’m gonna get to see either Phineas and Ferb or Doctor Who at some point.  (A highly disparate set of likes, I know, but whatever.)  Anyway, there has been a media flap about some remarks made by Duck Dynasty cast member Phil Robertson which may or may not have been taken out of context, and which resulted in his indefinite suspension by his network, A&E.  The condemning quotes were from a GQ profile on the patriarch and concerned his views on the LGBT community and the African-American community, and have ignited the internets in firestorm of debate as to whether his suspension was warranted.

As I just said, I don’t watch reality television.  I get quite enough reality in my day-to-day life, thanks, and I keep to scripted work for the same reason I don’t read much nonfiction– I just want to be entertained, dammit, and that means tell me a freaking story.  Just seems like pretty lazy television, if you ask me, simply setting random people loose on camera doing whatever it is they do all day, but that’s neither here nor there;  I seem to be in the minority of the viewing public these days in my preference for actual scripted shows, which should automatically exclude me from being able to give a pertinent opinion on the matter.  However, as a true outsider to the format, I feel I am rather more qualified than most to give an objective opinion which is unswayed by anything I’ve watched, and my opinion is this:  What did you honestly expect?

Yes, I’m stating my opinion in the form of a question, because my real point is that by nature, reality television is just a reflection of the world it inhabits.  Of course you are going to meet some people whose viewpoints are different from yours, or different from society’s in general.  Some people are just jerks, like it or not, and an awful lot of those jerks are going to hide behind the mask of religion to justify their antediluvian beliefs.  I have no beef with faith, but as I’ve expounded in an earlier post, “faith” and “religion” are two different phenomena that often seem to have precious little in common, and the latter tends to twist the ideals of the former to its own purposes.  This has been the cause of countless wars, acts of terrorism, and human rights violations throughout history, but that’s a whole different soap box for a different day.  What I’m driving at is that your heroes are not characters in a story, they are actual people and have actual feet of clay.  But maybe you agree with Phil Robertson’s assertion that gay people are sinful and black people were happier sharecropping.  (I hope you don’t, but that’s just my opinion.)  Real people have a host of idiosyncrasies that can and do make them come out looking like a horse’s ass.  No one is perfect, you see.  And for a network bent on showing “reality”, A&E’s action against Robertson seems a bit hypocritical.  They certainly have a right to choose what opinions should be associated with their network, and I am not in any way defending Phil Robertson’s comments, but they did provide him with a very high-profile forum for the airing of his views.  That he did so in a print article rather than on his show is immaterial– were it not for the show, he likely would not have the very visible venue of a nationally published magazine at his disposal for offhand sound bites.  No one would hear and no one would care.  But Robertson is a “reality” star– a celebrity because a network chose to air him, as he is, warts and all.  He is, after all, a human being, and sometimes we disappoint each other.  That is the malevolent underpinning of the reality genre:  you are either going to be loved or hated for who you are– just like in real life.  And just like in real life, there are bound to be surprises from some quarters, bad or good.

Sometimes the surprises aren’t at all negative.  For instance, take a look at TLC’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.  The show’s setup was particularly ugly– Mama June’s family was very obviously given a show based on train-wreck potential, not to be revered but reviled.  (Sadly, it is also human nature to make ourselves feel better about our own lives by ridiculing others.)  However, what we got instead was a picture of a family that may not be perfect, but doesn’t seem to have a concept of hate.  They’ve got their quirks, but they all love each other unconditionally.  Even little Honey Boo Boo herself, Alana Thompson, expressed the opinion “ain’t nothin’ wrong with being a little gay,” in reference to her openly gay uncle Lee, nicknamed “Uncle Poodle.”  There might be laughs on this show, but to all appearances it’s because the people showcased are naturally funny, unpretentious, and positive people.  The same can be said of the Robertsons, as well, if the issue of tolerance is removed;  but the fact remains that both families are “real”, and their opinions, feelings and prejudices are their own.  Unpleasant or not, these are people the networks have chosen to display for one reason or another.  If A&E wanted to be politically correct, the denizens of Duck Dynasty were obviously not the proper mouthpiece, but it can be argued that the network knew exactly what they were getting, and their swift retribution seems spurious– a lesson in asking for forgiveness rather than permission.  Reality is as flawed, as ugly, as lovely and as kind as the people who make it, and so is reality television, and if a network wants to present an image of perfection, maybe they should stick to scripted series.  Rant complete;  if you want to talk, I’ll be watching Doctor Who.  

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