Scary moments with my fellow countrymen
Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. “Tomorrow Never Knows” John Lennon, Revolver
I often despaired at just how our nation was able to be led into the Iraqi war, the Patriot Act, and other such acts that a civilized, enlightened society would smother in the crib of bad ideas bred of fanaticism. How did we elect (such as it was) such a transparent, dimwitted puppet to rule us? Why do we stand still when old women are lifted out of wheelchairs and groped in airports, under the guise of “homeland security”? It boggled my mind.
Until the other night.
At the behest of a friend, I actually watched a program on commercial television. Generally, my set is used for playing DVD’s and watching baseball playoffs, but in this occurrence, I ventured out of my safe little cocoon and watched The Surreal Life on WB. Now, it all becomes clear. I understand how the powers that be have pulled a mythical bunny out of their hats, while a nation gazes, glassy-eyed, and wonders if those are real rabbit ears, or implants.
The show revolves around the premise that there exists an audience desperately wondering what has-been celebrities would do in “real life” situations. This season (yes, Virginia, this show is seemingly popular enough to have gone into a second season. Death, where is thy sting.) features porn star Ron Jeremy, Vanilla Ice, Tammy Faye Baker, Eric Estrada, and two bimbos whose names start with “T”. And before you get your liberal back up about me tagging these fine females with such a dismissive moniker, watch the show. They are bimbos, and exceedingly proud of it.
The premise for the show sticks this group of desperate goons into a cheesy-looking house in L.A and then throws “scenarios” into their laps, while we watch, vitally interested in just what sort of short-order cook Jeremy (the “Hedgehog”, for those at home) would be. As expected, none of these people have any ability to perform even the simplest tasks — watching Tammy Faye attempt to take orders as a waitress was painful- but that wasn’t particularly surprising for me. Having spent a fair amount of time around musicians, I learned quickly that once you took the guitar out of their hands, they were dumb as stumps, and woefully ignorant of the world around them. They were emotionally stunted children, with a painfully inflated sense of their place in the cosmos. Watching Rob Van Winkle (aka “Vanilla Ice”) rage against his image as a baggy-pants buffoon of yesteryear boggles the mind. Dude, you made a Ninja Turtles movie. Just how seriously are we supposed to treat you, jackass?
No, seeing these faded stars fail miserably at “real life” was in no way surprising. It was, however, disquieting. These people have no tools to relate to the world, at least not in the context of the show — they are, essentially, emotionally and mentally handicapped in “reality”. Watching this group of people attempt to work at a drive-in restaurant is akin to those people who pay money to watch dwarf tossing. It is ugly, it is demeaning — not to the celebrities, who seemingly would have sex with a goat if it would get their faces back on TV, but rather it is degrading to it’s intended viewers, a nation, seemingly, who have lost all sense of shame. At one moment in the program Vanilla Ice lifts a sputtering Gary Coleman up like a sack of clothes and mocks dropping him into a fry vat. Coleman, after suffering through this and other taunts, summons up the only exhibit of pride and dignity in the entire 60 minutes and leaves. Bravo to him.
In a society that allows such displays of cruelty to masquerade as entertainment, it is no wonder that such atrocities as the war in Iraq are allowed to continue. Have we, as a culture, sunk so low that we accept such humiliation, this callous disregard for other people’s worth, to become fodder for our amusement? Evidently so. No one who watches these programs (at least, none I’ve encountered) seem to take them seriously, but rather dismisses them in some hipster, post-ironic fashion. Well, perhaps, but I doubt such a group of viewers — The Onion-reading, latte-swilling clique — are enough of a demographic to entice advertisers into backing a program. No, there exist enough people who want to watch human beings debase themselves for money that such shows prosper, without anyone standing up and saying “enough, already”. By dehumanizing these people, it is but a small step to caricaturing the faceless innocents upon which we rain bombs in order to “liberate” them. By abandoning our social contract — that unspoken, yet binding sense of what is fair and just in the world — we allow those who govern us to perform hideous acts of terror with only the barest attempt at rationalizing the butchery.
If it seems that such a show as The Surreal Life doesn’t warrant such attention, that would be true. It’s a loathsome, insipid bit of pop culture crap that will be forgotten in short order. The show itself says — and means — nothing in and of itself. But it speaks volumes about us, a nation of sheep with no evident sense of moral outrage. If this is our world, then by all means, let the warmongers triumph. Blow it the fuck up. Just make sure you televise it.