Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The realness in reality

I'm not sure that I'm qualified to write on reality shows. In fact, I'm sure I'm one of the least qualified people in America to do so, because I have barely watched them at all. Sure, sometimes while flipping through the channels I've caught 5 or 10 minutes of The Biggest Loser or The Amazing Race, but the last reality show I purposely watched was also the first-- the first season of Survivor, way back in 2001.

In this unassuming little summer show were the seeds of every reality show to come-- the forming of alliances, the double-crossing, the bizarre product placements, the pointless but dangerous challenges, and the endless talk. It was all fresh and new, then, and nobody knew what to expect. Whether they knew it or not, those 12 people cast away on a remote island were setting the rules for a whole new genre, and they were doing it innocently and in good faith. (And even when they acted in bad faith, it was done in good faith, in the sense that they were following their own instincts and not some idea they had of how people were supposed to act on a reality show.)

I remember being blown away by Susan's famous "Rats and Snakes" speech during the last tribal council, and what fascinated me at the time was the amount of emotion she showed, yet when I viewed it again right now, what impressed me instead was her sincerity. She really believed that people's actions on the island reflected their personas in real life, and she was entirely willing to judge her fellow competitors on the morality of their behavior. That seems like such an innocent stance to take now.

The state of reality shows right now is much more confusing. Sometimes we, the viewers, want to believe that everything we see on a reality show is really real, that the couples that find true love will live happily ever after and that the people who get hired to work at a company will have long and fulfilling careers there. Yet at other times, when there is conflict involved, we fall back on the notion that it's only a game, that the things that people say and do to hurt each other aren't real, and that they are all just actors going through the motions and trying to make it seem convincing, in the same way that professional wrestlers do. We want to have our cake and eat it too.

Susan's speech is the reason I've never watched another reality show, because I realized that watching real people hurt each other was not my idea of entertainment. I remain devoted to fictionalized worlds that let us explore conflict in a safer way, without ruining the lives of real people. I hope that in time the rest of the world will join me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The conflict we barely see

Another good example of how our society's approach to conflict has changed is the difference between the two wars we have fought with Iraq. Although it only lasted a little more than a month, I can still tell you all kinds of things about the Persian Gulf War, because I, along with the rest of the American people, was there. I don't know if my younger readers realize this or not, but that war was televised, not just in quick soundbites on the 6 o'clock news, but with live coverage on all the networks for the first few days and then on CNN. I remember watching it in Mr. Hehr's study hall. We didn't usually get to watch television in school, but he thought it was important that we all should know what was going on, because the boys in my class were almost old enough to be drafted. See this video for an example of the coverage on CNN, and here is an example of the regular television briefings that General Schwarzkopf gave.

Contrast this with either of the wars we are fighting now and have been fighting for most of the last decade. How much information do we get about what is going on and the actual violence that is occurring? "Yes," I can hear you saying, "but there's no way we could take seeing that level of violence day in and day out." Which is my point exactly! If we are going to cause violence elsewhere in the world, we need to know what is happening and agree that it is necessary and we are able to live with the consequences. If we can't take it, we shouldn't turn our heads away and pretend it isn't happening! It is our removal from these conflicts that has allowed them to go on so long. (And did you realize that last month, the war in Afghanistan surpassed the Vietnam War as the longest-ever conflict involving Americans?)

Monday, July 12, 2010

In defense of nose-punching

In the same spirit as my earlier posts "In Defense of Stalkers" and "The Lost Art of the Celebrity Crush," in which I argued that our society has become too repressed on the topics of love and attraction, I now bring you "In Defense of Nose-punching." As with the previous post, my intention is not to argue that all conflict is good, but that we as a society have gone too far in covering up the expression of these feelings in their natural and healthy way.

22 years ago, George Bush Sr. promised to make this a "kinder, gentler nation." At the time, this seemed like just empty political rhetoric, but looked back upon now, his words do mark some kind of a watershed in our society. Although I believe his speech was just a signpost of changes already starting to occur and not the instigator of the change, real changes did start to happen in American society with the dawn of the 90's. This is the time when multiculturalism and political correctness became terms that everybody, not just the intellectual elite, was debating. And while the ideas of the extremists never passed into common use, that doesn't mean that these movements haven't had real effect on our society. Ask almost any college-age person today, and they will agree that all people deserve respect, whatever their beliefs, ethnicity or orientation. Look at how the debate over homosexuality has shifted. Twenty years ago we were arguing over whether they had the right to exist, and now we are arguing over whether or not they have the right to get married. These are all good changes.

I think it's good that people are more tolerant of each other when this reflects their true feelings, but the flip side of this is that I also see people papering over their differences and allowing them to fester instead of confronting them. When political correctness came to the fore, how you said something became more important than what you said, and I think this had a chilling effect and made lots of people just stop talking about important things, at least in public with strangers. Instead of potentially offending someone and risking conflict, it became safer just to hole up with a group of people that you already know agree with you. The problem with this is that both sides become more extreme in their views, more convinced that they must be right, and less able to deal with the other side when they eventually do meet.

I have been watching a lot of television from the 80's recently and reflecting how different this world is from the one that I grew up in. It amazes me how much more violent television was, at least in a personal way. People were always punching each other in the nose and having fistfights! Nowadays, television is much more likely to show impersonal violence, with groups of people hiding behind pillars and shooting at each other without even being able to see each other. I think this is a good metaphor for the changes in our society. Instead of coming out into the open and dealing with each other as individuals, we stay in hiding with our groups and take cheap potshots at each other that are unlikely to do any real damage, but also unlikely to solve anything.

I have only scratched the surface of this topic and probably will come back to revisit it over the next few weeks. I want to think about what it really means to be brave and what it really means to be kind and gentle.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Even more ice cream

Ok, the plot thickens. While at Kroger, I looked at several different flavors of Edy's frozen yogurt, and only the mango kind had propylene glycol. Does this mean I'm going to have to read the label every time with them? Oh, joy!

What Kroger has had on sale the last few weeks is Breyer's, and I've been trying out their new all-natural lowfat line. I've tried both strawberry cheesecake and coffee fudge brownie, and both are excellent. I think I haven't met a flavor of Breyer's all-natural that I haven't liked, and even when I think I don't like a certain flavor of ice cream (for instance, coffee), their flavors are so pure that I can't help but be won over. The coffee tastes like frozen coffee with cream, and the strawberry cheesecake tastes like real strawberries and real cream cheese. (Plus, they've resisted the tempation to put in silly crust pieces, which seem like a good idea but are often the downfall of an otherwise fine cheesecake ice cream.)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Edy is trying to poison me!

The good part about being off your feed for a few days is that when you start eating again, you can taste everything as it really is. Sometimes this is a blessing. (That cream of mushroom soup I had yesterday at Baker Center was divine!) But sometimes it's a rude awakening. When I returned to my vaunted Edy's Mango Yogurt, the first thing I noticed was that it tasted strongly of freezer, but I suppose that's my own fault. But I also noticed a chemical taste underneath everything that I hadn't discerned before. Checking the ingredients, I discovered that one of them is propylene glycol! I'm sorry, but I don't want antifreeze in my ice cream, and so maybe I have to say goodbye to Edy once again.