Reality TV is Flat
Trip Start Aug 04, 2009
191Trip End Aug 30, 2010
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Still, the thesis is sorta weak considering the scant difference between Lenny Bruce-style game shows of the 60's and Reality TV shows of today. While that doesn't disprove the possibility of general decline - it may be that we've been on a continuous downhill slide ever since The Gong Show hit the scene - it does mean the trend is new, recent or acute. So at least we can temper our alarm in light of the fact that the trend is 40 years old.
Or at least, we could if it weren't for the separate observation, of which NY Time's Thomas Friedman is the cheerleader-in-chief, that China and especially India are simultaneously on the ascent. Juxtaposing the two positions trends yields an image of those competing powers not only pulling even with America, but surging ahead and eclipsing our falling star, leaving us in the back seat of world affairs even as our dumbfounded pundits are left to stumble through a minefield of mixed metaphors.
So it was with no small satisfaction that, while bumming around the Kolkata hotel room that Rohini, Tahiye and Asif were staying at (Chisti and his other friend, Romel were both rejected their Indian visas), we flipped over to MTV India to watch Roadies 7, a Survivor-like reality TV series set in India. It started off with the girls' challenge:
- each team stands in front of a table stacked with glasses full of some orange liquid
- first girl would has to chug one glass, then run a short obstacle course
- return to table, chug another glass, repeat
- when can't carry on further, then next girl takes over
- team that collectively downed most glasses wins
Sounds simple enough? The hitch: whatever this orange concoction was, it was clearly something seriously foul -- every single girl ended up puking it out, usually before the 3rd full glass.
And those cameras made sure to capture every last gag and dribble as Agent Orange made its way back out.
By comparison, the guy's challenge was downright prissy: facing 2 large
professional wrestlers, try to stay within the ring as long as possible.
Now the armchair connoisseur in me was quick to nitpick the glaring blunder in this setup:
drinking til puking guts out => chicks?
wrestling in the mud => dudes?
I don't think so.*
Clearly Indian TV producers still have a lot to learn from their
American counterparts. Still, it's important not to lose sight of the bigger picture, that even as India pulls off its own little Horatio Alger trick, it's catching up to America on the cultural degeneracy front as well.
Even Bangladesh, with its relatively smaller economy, less developed entertainment industry, and more parochial culture, has been getting in on the act. A little while before coming to Kolkata, Rohini had participated in a one-off game show as part of a promotion for some new shopping mall. In fact, her performance was being broadcast in Bangladesh that same weekend that we had met up in Kolkata. So now she's joined Fish in that rarefied club of my friends who are TV near-champs.
So yeah, maybe the rest of the world is catching up to America. We might not like the taste of having to share the top rung of the ladder with others. But at lest it's not like they're ever going to displaced to a lower run, even if we are headed for the gutter -- not as long as MTV is there to show them the way down that path too.
*Before anyone starts lambasting as sexist my proposal that the girls do the wrestling event, consider that having them puke all over themselves in front of a camera on national TV was itself borderline misogynistic sadism.
I mean seriously, all of them looked wretched and humiliated. The girl who got voted off in the end was particularly distraught, and understandably so. It's one thing to lose because you weren't as fast, strong, or clever ... but being unable to hold down an emetic before going Linda Blair all
over yourself on national TV would have put me in tears too.
So you see, the wrestling option was clearly the less distressing, more chivalrous of 2 options.