When you stop and think about it, human beings are truly miraculous creatures. Where else in the world can you find an animal simultaneously capable of love, compassion, apathy, destruction, greed, and empathy. Not that those are the only characteristics and emotions we’re capable of, they just happened to be the first to bounce around in my head. The human condition, our capacity to do so much and our potential to be even greater than we are…this is what drives me, compels me, and draws me in to the social sciences. I study psychology, criminology, and a host of “ologies” because I want to better understand, not just myself, but everyone. Perhaps it’s a subconscious desire to gain insight into the meaning of life. Perhaps it’s a perverse desire to know and understand everything…a God complex if you will. And perhaps I’m just curious to discover things and put pieces of the human puzzle together in my own way.
And I’m not the only one.
Anyone who knows me, understands that my hatred for reality TV may in fact be greater than a Sith Lord’s hatred of all things Jedi. But it may be the most popular forum in modern media. For someone like me, someone interested in what makes people tick, you’d think I’d be in heaven watching various MTV, Bravo, A&E, and network reality shows. But the simple truth is…I hate it. I despise it. I loathe it. If I were a politician I’d draft a bill to ban it and incarcerate every producer, actor, and key grip involved in the production of that garbage. I know it sounds harsh, but to film “real life” situations and televise them under the premise that we’re going to see how Beverly Hills Housewives react in everyday situations is a slap in the face to people who actually deal with everyday situations.
I’m offended as a man, a television addict, and more importantly, as a writer.
Writers are charged with creating stories that are enjoyable, interesting, thought provoking, titillating and a bunch of other “ing” words. But the way to do that is not so much through the stories, but through the characters. As a social scientist I study people. I watch them closely, monitor reactions to things, take note of interactions, emotions, expressions…micro expressions…because I truly want to understand who we are. By doing that, I can then create characters that people can relate to. When you see Big Wanda yelling at the store clerk in some high end boutique…yeah…sure…that can actually happen. I’ve actually seen it, as has anyone who has had retail experience. But on those shows, it’s sensationalized, it’s glorified…it’s…bad. Big Wanda doesn’t represent the majority. She represents our desire to see chaos. She represents our desire to see personal implosion and provides us a way to feel better about ourselves. We can say in all honesty, “Oh my God! I can’t believe she did that! I would never…”
And the truth is, THAT is the reality. The fact that the majority of us would never…
I avoid “reality” TV like the plague, because it’s not a true representation of who we are. Detective Eliot Stabler is a more accurate representation of who we are. Jax Teller, Walter White, Simon Adebisi, Katniss Aberdeen…these our more accurate representations of who we are. Whether placed in the real world or a fictional world like Panem, these individuals represent the majority of us. Their exploits, their adventures…the things that make them infamous, are events that we can see ourselves in. We wonder how we would react in those situations. We wonder if we’d have the strength to endure as they did. We identify with them because a writer has taken the time to watch, learn about, and understand the human condition and given us characters that are clearly capable of love, compassion, apathy, destruction, greed, and empathy.
Through loose scripting and ingenious editing, Big Wanda’s fight with Marilee looks intense…like they’ll come to blows at any moment. Someone might even get slapped. Then an hour later they’re out a dinner party together being civil because people need to see if they will actually fight. And someone will apologize and they’ll work together on some fund raiser the next week. They’ll talk about each other behind their backs…but they’ll get it done. Yeah…one of them may drag her feet on helping, or try to sabotage the efforts of the other…but they’ll get it done and come back next season.
When Stabler puts a chair on the neck of a pedophile, he’s not going to apologize later and give him a character reference at the trial. He’s going to reluctantly stop because he’ll catch himself, or, more likely, Benson will anchor him, then he’ll walk away, get sent home and possibly suspended, and his service record will look a little less…scripted. Stabler taps into our emotions and tests our boundaries. He makes us feel his pain because in the end…his pain is ours.
That is reality.
With all that we deal with, day in and day out, isn’t it nice to come home to a show that doesn’t include a main character who’s also planning to try and drop an album next Tuesday? I get the popularity and as a social scientist I understand the draw. But at the end of the day we have to stop thinking that these folks are “real”. We have to realize that a great deal of them are in some pain and dealing with demons that are being exploited for the sake of ratings and higher sales for their perfume line. Do you relate more to the idea of not wanting to kill others when dropped into an arena where the only way out is death? Or do you relate more to Honey Boo Boo and the seemingly gleeful ignorance of all things by her kinfolk?
What is your reality?