Forget about the Russians, for just a minute. (Although please do not completely forget about them, they do matter.)
Once upon a time, there was a group, a union if you will, that provided most of the glittering entertainment that we all enjoyed after our long days. When we would gather around the TV for a respite from our lives.
Then one day the group, ah union, decided they didn’t like how they were being compensated. (And to be fair, they had some points.) So they decided to stop working. Now the studio's weren’t too concerned. After all they had some product in the pipeline and had scripts that just needed to be green lit and produced. (I am simplifying this obviously.) They felt confident that this “strike” would cool off once people saw their “mail box” money extinguish.
“So go ahead" the studio chiefs said, “Strike. We’re good.”
And so they were. One tiniest of problems, was the strike went way longer than their magical pipeline of product lasted. Not to mention re-writes and you know, the daily stuff that needed to be written.
So the studio heads started producing much more of their “reality TV,” cinema vérité. Stuff about ordinary people for all of us to now watch after our long days. Where we could see not just ordinary people do weird stuff, we could see Celebrities (uhhh, they are just like us!) in weirdly ordinary situations and still look (kinda) like Celebrities! Voyeurism with permission.
This, what was supposed to be a stop gap measure, turned into a genre! WTF, really?? REALLY? Why yes, really. Turns out writers are pretty damn important and if you don’t have them you get… oh please don’t get me started.
I once watched 4 hours of (I cringe writing this) “Dancing Moms” and 6 (yes, that’s right) hours of “Honey Boo Boo.” in a row. When I awoke from my reality haze, I felt… sad, really sad. That there were people out there like this. And then my own sad reality set in, I had lost at least 10 points off my IQ. Fuck! I not only lost those 10 hours or 10 IQ points but my own reality would never be the same. And how prophetic that thought was.
And it is from this very ether that this guy, a lot of people voted for, arose. People watched every season, this man who seemed so in charge. He was RICH, he had POWER and he FIRED people, something most of us fear. He was something to behold.
And yet, when the participants left the board room, the lucky ones wiping their sweaty palms and the unlucky ones wiping their eyes, no one saw what was really happening. No one saw the machinations that appeared as “reality” right before their eyes. They were watching something fake and pretending it was real. Cause isn’t that what entertainment is about, pretending? Isn’t that why we can suspend our beliefs for a while and let our hearts feel sad for the bad guy? Or the ugly girl who gets to finally be pretty and be with the cool guy? Or that we can see, through the magic of Hollywood, a seemingly normal person turn into a robot?
We were watching a fake show about reality and some people got thinking that he was REAL. (OK, I just heard Pinocchio’s voice “I’m a real boy. Thanks for letting me share.) But it wasn’t real. All of it wasn’t real.
I was in Lisdoonvarna Ireland, walking from my b&b to post a card and I wasn’t sure where the post box was. I walked through a courtyard passing a trio of teens and asked for directions. They popped off the bench (mind you, this was Friday evening around 8) and said they would show me. As we walked, I asked them questions about what they did in their lives. And they asked me questions about America. It was a great conversation; and telling.
But the saddest questions they asked me was “are reality shows really real?” These lovely teens across the pond asked with complete sincerity, was it real?
I felt like someone with a pin standing next to the kid with a balloon. “No, no it’s not real.” I said.
“Think about it.” “Wait, let’s do reality TV right now, you guys are on a show.” I put up my hands like I’m holding a movie camera and I say “action!”
So of course they do nothing. Because when you are a teenager anywhere in the world, there is nothing to do. Fact. Deal with that reality.
And it’s a set-up because they don’t know Hollywood and they don’t know that Hollywood can alter reality, that that is actually their job.
I asked them “have you ever seen anyone in your family throw a glass of wine into someone else’s face?” (I was remembering a promo of a reality show where this occurs on a regular basis.)
They responded (appropriately) “NO!” because they do know that that is not reality. So I ask “what would happen if someone did do that?”
“Well, they would be asked to leave and not let back for a while.” And that my friends, is reality.
I tell them with all the motherly love I have felt for my sons, “if we were shooting a reality show and you guys were in it, you, (I point to one of the girls) would have to be pregnant and the boy who got you pregnant is denying it is his. And you, (I point to the boy) would have to be gay and you haven’t come out to your parents, which is getting more difficult to hide. (I point to the final girl) you would have to have a big fight with your parents and they would be kicking you out. And you have nowhere to go.”
I said, what you guys are doing right now is reality. Hanging out with your friends on a Friday night, talking about the things that bother you and how your parents have no clue who you really are. Who your secret crushes are and why do you have to go to school, you’re not learning anything anyway.
But these are the best years I tell them. This is the best reality. These are the people you pick to hang out with. Not a bunch of fake people making up fake problems so they can then fake solve them.
Which leads us back the Pennsylvania Avenue. He didn’t really solve those problems, he had a shit ton of writers and producers who did that for him. He really didn’t fire those people, they got paid for being fired because they were a part of the story arc and every good writer and watcher knows you need a story arc, every week. And while he may be rich, we may never really know because, we don’t have transparency, another thing that reality truly requires. The ability to know what is real and what is fake.
Now, about those Russians…