Reality TV likes to push our buttons.
It aims for the jugular, encourages the pathos, and pokes the bear inside. Yep. And it’s as cliche as all those statements, too.
But there’s almost no filter anymore. It’s one thing when people are debasing themselves and showing the very worst of humanity, but it’s another when we put life-risking behaviour on television and call it entertainment.
With shows like America’s Got Talent, there’s nothing more important than raising the stakes with each performance. That means something completely different when you’re comparing singers to circus acts.
Take this week’s performance show. A danger act had this guy with a crossbow, upon which he bracketed another three pre-loaded crossbows. In a full theatre with a live audience. Naturally, a sexy blonde stood terrified, her smile fake and breath quivering, between four balloons on a wall. Sure, he hit everything dead-centre, but what if?
What if the audience has just one guy with a screw loose who shouts when the archer is aiming? What if he has a muscle spasm, or sneezes?
We like to think we can account for everything. We are man, we have science! Opposable thumbs! Rah! We have got it covered, baby. Besides, we had a dress rehearsal.
Whether it’s the scandalous talkshows bringing together people who clearly hate each other at the point of violence, or pushing at guests with known mental issues in the past, or shows that take obviously over-the-top risks, television seems to to want the ultimate tragedy for the ultimate ratings.
When it comes to something like BMX stunts, I’m all right with the insanity. Riding a bike comes with risks. When it’s a guy doing a 50-foot dive into a 8-inch pool of water, or whatever it was last year, not so much. When it’s an archer with four pre-loaded crossbows? Also not a fan.
What irked me, though, was Howard Stern. I know he’s “the Shock Jock,” but his words cut a little too close to the truth. And where’s the hue and cry? I see nothing on the web. No one’s even blinked, it seems.
“You’re a danger act. If anyone ever thinks that that’s not dangerous, that is insane. I thought we were gonna have a death on this show, which would be great for ratings. Let’s be honest. Maybe next time.”
And no one blinks. Really? Oh, but he said it dryly. Yeah. But he said it.
It’s like we’re in the Thrill Kill Kult fanclub or something. It’s the entertainment equivalent of porn escalation. We like it rough, then rough doesn’t cut it anymore.
“Sorry, that was dangerous in 2009 but it’s old hat now. We’re gonna need a bigger knife.”
Romans used to throw Christians to the lions, and medieval townsfolk would cheer on torture in the town square, so this is kind of who we are. We’ve always cheered on the primal. We like death. We celebrate people’s demise. The messier, the better.
We try to pretend we’re offended at the thought, but deep down inside, we’re entertained. Let’s just admit it, then run to hell and back with that ball.
Murder television, it’s good ratings. Just ask Dick Wolf and the Law & Order franchise.
But here we are, popcorn in hand, televisions glowing in the night, eyes wide open, watching as a guy with four crossbows takes rather nerve-wracking aim at an innocent blonde on live worldwide television. What could possibly go wrong?
Someday, somewhere, something’s gonna go wrong. But will you be watching?
Television hopes so.
And that day might come sooner than later. After all, more people than ever are cutting their cable connections and going web-only. But what if you could only experience the enthralling nature of someone dying live if you had a television subscription?
Marketing hasn’t demonstrated a healthy respect for boundaries before now. I can’t see why they’d let a silly thing like taste or death get in their way.
Television: Entertainment worth dying for, coming soon to a cable provider near you.