In the interest of full disclosure, let me start by saying that I am a full-fledged “Jersey Shore” addict. When I discovered that the entire second season was on Hulu, I watched like four episodes a day until I was caught up. There was a year where I was hooked on “American Idol.” I find “Celebrity Rehab” perversely entertaining. And though I may attempt to justify my own viewing habits by high-and-mightily saying “oh, well I only watch these shows because these people are such glorious imbeciles”, as though implying that reality television is some kind of human zoo, in the end all that matters – and if you ask any television executive this, they’ll attest to it – is the fact that I’m watching. This, of course, is what makes reality television so wildly popular: We watch, utterly repulsed, insisting to ourselves and the people around us that we’re above these cretins, and yet we cannot look away.
Even as a self-avowed fan of reality TV, I strongly feel that the genre is almost entirely devoid of merit. It’s entertaining as hell, but it’s the most mindless of entertainment, no more “real” than your average daytime soap opera, and arguably twice as destructive for masquerading as “reality.” It allows the vapid and talentless to create long-standing careers for themselves built on doing absolutely nothing. Seriously, I’ll give a hundred bucks to the first person to tell me five things that the Khardashians contribute to society. (Ed. Note: Did we mention that this man is also hooked on ‘Keeping Up With The Khardashians’? Sigh…) Reality television is the new Publisher’s Clearing House: A mystical opportunity to get filthy rich by doing nothing at all. It’s actively making us all dumber, and the worst part is, it’s never going to go away, because we’re never going to stop watching it.
Yesterday, however, reality TV had its proverbial curtain pulled back by the most unlikely of people: Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag. Yes, those two, arguably the biggest fame-whores in history. If you haven’t read the article I’m talking about, take a few minutes right now to read it. If you’re too lazy to read it (or only have a few minutes in between commercial breaks), I’ll summarize: They’re broke now, living with their parents, their well having long since run dry. They talk in depth about how they were coerced into playing characters by an assortment of shady producers, and how the line between who they really were and the characters they were playing quickly blurred. Spencer recounts a particularly chilling episode in which one producer tried to get him to punch his sister in the face, then goes on to talk about how he’ll probably never be able to get a legitimate job again thanks to the stigma that’s now permanently attached to his name. It’s heartbreaking. These two, at one point the biggest stars in reality TV, have nothing left. Their money? Gone. Their families? Alienated. The public? Hates them. They come off sounding like two people who have just woken up from a decade-long nightmare, like the kidnapped kids in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
Now, that’s not to say that these two are pure victims. They made their own decisions in life, regardless of how coerced into those decisions they were. But in a weird way, it’s these two that I feel worse for. They have nothing to turn to now, no skill set to fall back on, nothing but their tarnished names and the hope that maybe they’ll end up on another reality show someday. So what’s the bright side? It’s that these two finally woke the fuck up. And that hopefully, maybe, they’ll serve as a wake-up call to the other “stars” of reality television, both current and aspiring (because believe me, somewhere there’s a ten year old kid whose only aspiration is to be the star of their own reality show). This is not a career. This is not a lifestyle. It’s a machine, and it’ll spit you out just as quickly as it sucked you in. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can get out. You don’t have to play these parts forever. Rise up, reality TV stars! Your future is entirely in your own control! Ah hell, what am I wasting your time for? I’ll just let the incomparable Ricky Gervais show you how it’s done: