Tuesday, September 29, 2009

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There's something slightly magical about that moment each evening, with the kids tucked away and the nightly chores wrapped up, when my age-worn glutious maximus burrows itself into the leathery softness that is the family room sofa. The remote seems to magically appear in the palm of my hand, its cold, smooth plastic all but saying, "Welcome back, old friend."
Such was the case last night, as I flipped on the idiot box (By the way, this post is part deux, the nighttime edition, of my two part series on television.). 
The first show I came across was a Discovery Channel offering, about life in the Las Vegas County Jail. It documented the lives of the prison staff and, yes, the prisoners. Featured last night was an inmate named "Snake." He'd been arrested 27 times, was part of a skinhead Nazi gang and had more tattoos than brain cells. Snake proudly stated that he refused to share a cell with anyone who wasn't white, and therefore would immediately fight any cellmate who wasn't of the Caucasian persuasion, thereby securing a private room for himself. What a guy. As Snake proudly showed off his ripped upper body for the camera, it appeared evident that the guy spent most of his time powering out sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups and whatever other "-ups" could be performed in a six-by-nine-foot box.
At that moment, I reached a moment of clarity—television has reached an all time low. The networks have now decided to offer up the most racist, moronic felon as a reality TV celebrity.
It was certainly a slow evolution to this state of affairs, so let's try and retrace how we arrived at this point.
The 1970s:
No reality shows to speak of, unless you counted Battle of the Network Stars, in which actors from the various networks competed against each other in endeavors athletic. You might see the guy who played "Tattoo" on Fantasy Island arm wrestle Mary Tyler Moore, or Farrah Fawcett could possibly race Suzanne Somers in the 100-yard jiggle. Solid viewing if you're fifteen years old, which I was.
The 1980s:
Television was extremely well-acted, plot-driven and highly dramatic, with shows like "Magnum P.I." ," The A Team" and "Alf." However, a storm was a-brewin', with the premier of the Neil Armstrong of reality shows—Cops—and TV would never be the same. Here's just a sampling of this riveting reality pioneer:
Cop: "Do you know why I pulled you over?
Shirtless Guy: "Because I'm not wearing a shirt?"
Cop:"No, because your car is weaving across five lanes of traffic. Does that pipe in your hand belong to you?"
Shirtless Guy: "No, I'm holding it for my six-month-old baby. That's her sliding around in the back seat."
The 1990s:
MTV's The Real World redefines our desire to watch people at their worst. For the first time, we witness the visible adrenaline of an exchange like this:
Jason: "Where's my peanut butter?"
Ashley: "Puck ate it."
Jason: "Puck, did you eat my peanut butter?"
Puck: "Yeah."
The 2000s:
At this point, all bets are off, there's so much goodness to choose from. We can see nearly-naked, morbidly obese people standing on scales. We can watch washed-up celebrities suck up to a billionaire with a comb-over. We can watch convicted felons boast about their hateful ways.
Or, we can watch our index finger push down, a little too hard, on the "off" switch.

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