Thursday, August 12, 2010

shameless promotion (2.0), part vii

Editor's Note: I intend to have a really long, involved post about a subject you probably don't care anything about later this evening. But for now, in a continuing effort to shamelessly plug my own career through this blog, here's a copy of this week's column for the St. Clair Times. Thank you in advance for your feigning of interest.

Televised nonsense actually causes health problems

As a young person, I was often kicked out of my own house.

This, I suppose, doesn’t make me much different from most people my age. The natural inclination for any child — and some adults, sadly — is to spend their free time doing as little as possible. In our case, this meant staying seated in air-conditioned rooms watching as much television as possible.

Of course, my mother would have none of it.

“Outside,” she said.

“But-but-but … the Ninja Turtles!” I’d whimper helplessly.

“You can watch them later,” she’d say. “Too much TV will rot your brain.”

(Note: Most of the time she sent us outside with little to no agenda, which, for boys in their formative years, usually ended with someone bleeding. I’m not sure if this was any more or less edifying than the Ninja Turtles.)

It took a while, but I finally figured out what Mom meant when she said “rot your brain.” I thought it was a figurative term. At least until I watched “Jersey Shore.”

In a world in which “reality” TV — code for, “we shoot this with natural lighting, so it’s supposed to look like you’re watching people live their normal lives, even though it’s perfectly obvious to everyone they know they’re on camera and are acting accordingly” — has taken our lives, no show is more unfortunately popular than “Jersey Shore.” If you haven’t seen it, premise of the show (apparently) is to follow around a group of the most loathsome people on the planet (only one of which is actually from New Jersey) while they chemically alter themselves and find new ways to swear and pick fights with random strangers.

That’s it. That’s the whole show. Basically, it’s exactly like “Lost,” only the complete opposite.

Five minutes into the premiere of the new season — no kidding, they’re in the second season and have plans for a third — I could actually feel parts of my brain rotting. I had to change the channel and call a doctor.

It’s not like “Jersey Shore” is breaking new ground here. With each passing year, popular television continues to glorify idiots (“The Hills”), serial dating (“The Bachelor”) and complete and utter lunatics (“The Real World”). In a weird way, reality TV has created a bizarre sub-culture (emphasis on “sub,” as in “sub-human”) in which people actually want to compete for the chance to have their every move followed by a camera crew.

Do the people auditioning for these shows not realize the joke is on them? Really?

What’s really strange is that these shows are flourishing in a time when some of the most cerebral shows ever created are also booming. The hopelessly complicated “Lost” enjoyed one of the most successful runs in history, and shows like “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire” managed to generate strong fan bases with plots that advanced well beyond “Gym, Tan, Laundry.”

It’s a puzzling dichotomy. And unfortunately, I don’t have an answer; I was pondering the question when my wife broke in.

“Aren’t you going outside today?”

Oh, yeah. Sure.