Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why TV Sometimes Depresses Me Regarding Our Culture

American Gladiators and Circus of the Stars.

You may remember old-school American Gladiators--big, tan people in red, white, and blue costumes, with fabulously feathered hair and big smiles. They sometimes answered viewer mail and always did so with compassion and encouraging voices. The contenders were generally very earnest people, strong and fast and forever giving messages of love to their families. They had steady jobs and smiled almost as much as the gladiators. The announcers were dressed like ESPN guys, in suits and neat haircuts. They were nice people, and the theme of the show was to do your best, and stay positive. You got the feeling that you should stay in school and work hard, and be nice to people. You should be a good sport.

I find the current American Gladiators completely unwatchable.

Everyone looks so angry. It's all about power and performance, about winning and looking mean. These people look scary, not like people I'd want to hang out with at my local public house. On the old AG, if someone lost his or her temper, that person would take a minute, shake it off, and then shake someone's hand. I get the feeling that if anyone now lost his or her temper, a joke would be made and no effort would erase hard feelings. I could be wrong about that--as I said, I find it unwatchable, but it's just a feeling, and that is more important to me that what actually happens. It's the attitude of meanness and punishment over clean fun that bothers me the most, and I find that change both epidemic in our culture and disheartening. I don't want to watch a show where I'm just being yelled at for an hour.

Then there's Circus of the Stars. I don't know if anyone else will remember this. In the past, it was a two-hour circus made up of celebrities past and present, all learning interesting and artistic or funny circus acts. The fun of it was watching these actors and musicians learn the type of thing you'd see at Barnum and Bailey, watching them adapt and put their own spin on it. The show would often show clips of the stars learning their act, with all the spills and chills and injuries resulting from the process, but they would always work hard and put forth an optimistic effort. And they were glamorous and excited in the show, much like a kid at a dance recital. I will never forget the "listo" (ready) call of Mario Lopez and Jennie Garth on the trapeze, or Karen Black's dynamic elephant act. It was good TV, and I looked forward to it every year.

So, I was excited when I saw ads for what looked like a resurgence of the show. Imagine my irritation and frustration when I found out that it's actually a reality competition. Why must there be judgment involved?Why can't it just be fun to watch people do something fun? I hate the idea of competition leaking into everything we do or enjoy. This is part of the reason I don't watch dance reality shows, and certainly not these God-awful pick-a-Broadway-star competitions. I want to enjoy an art, not have that gnawing feeling of "who will win?" and "someone will feel like less of a person after this" lurking in my gut. There is enough angst and worry in the world without trying to prove you're better than someone else. And I say that as a competitive person, but one who is tired--tired of watching everyone have to get mean or antagonistic before anything gets done.

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