The 'Real' Deal

It is now officially time for this "reality" phase of entertainment to end. I'm sorry I ever spent any time with Elimidate. I'm through with "reality." Reality, without the quote marks, is what the hell we're going to do with ourselves for four more years. "Reality," on the other hand, is turning us all into lunatics.

Everything is so preoccupied with being "real," it's forgotten how to be human. Television is the desolate homeland of reality robots; Mary Tyler Moore would never make it these days unless she'd consent to being tailed 24/7 and fighting with Gavin MacLeod over who ate the last doughnut from craft services. We're dangerously rewiring ourselves with this whole bachelor-seeking, father-marrying, mother-swapping, roommate-shagging, newlywed-following, marriage-saving, hetero-advising, home-improving, face-lifting, apprentice-hiring, model-competing, bug-eating, jungle-dwelling aesthetic. (And now they're offering us syndicated reruns—Fear Factor five nights a week, for anyone who fondly remembers the time contestants tried to digest congealed blood balls.)

Speaking of which, have you seen Tarnation yet? Jonathan Caouette won film festival accolades for his home-movie documentary about his nutcase grandparents, his schizophrenic mother, and his own dissociative depersonalization disorder. Call me as crazy as Mrs. Caouette, but the movie made me want to kick Jonathan right where the Sundance don't shine. Tarnation is full of an affecting rage, but it's aggressively self-indulgent to the point of assault, the surly cinematic stepchild of reality TV. Caouette's mom angrily begs him to stop filming if he wants to talk about their horrific past, while we, apparently, are to sit there and bemoan anyone so insane (what a loon—someone who doesn't want to discuss her shock treatments for the entertainment of indie-film intellectuals in Utah). Mom is also caught, in a grueling long take, babbling madly on some kind of schizoid ramble, during which cameraman Caouette still has the presence of mind to pan the lens toward the Christmas tree, as if to better capture the misery of the moment. It doesn't feel like a pained "See?" so much as a cunning "Look!"—everything but the bloodhounds yapping at his behind, sure, but isn't it great that he got it all on video? I felt like picking up a bullhorn and asking Caouette to just put the camera down, son, slowly.

Is it any wonder that ABC finally has a hit on its hands with Lost? The series is no masterwork, but compared to a culture fraught with pushy, ersatz vérité, it's a work of compassionate imagination, a crust of bread to a starving audience. It's set on a desert island among plane-crash survivors— including that guy from Party of Five—who not only don't vote each other off, but who might, in fact, have to band together against something supernatural. Something not "real." I'd give anything right about now to be on a desert island banding together with that guy from Party of Five. I'd be a little concerned about toilet facilities, and wouldn't know what to do about my contact lenses, but I think I'd get over it and settle down to a blind, bathroom-free existence if it meant I'd never again have to deal with The Swan.

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