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jenny jones and the temple of doom
cuisinart for the collective mind
by jeff miller (@jmillerboston)
pop culture

Reality TV has become an unavoidable omnipresence; a mind-sucking Silly-Straw bent on tapping into the basest levels of human curiosity.

The networks and cable companies have invested themselves totally - Temptation Island is a perfect example of this. The show sits in a Prime Time slot where, not that long ago, The Cosby Show or Family Ties would have been. Now, I'm not suggesting that all television should be about family values and what is essentially an unrealistic view of life in the good ol' US of A, but you have to wonder a little - what's happening to the collective mind of our society?

What I mean to say is, how bored are we, really? It's common in our society for unhappy people to surround themselves with equally miserable or even worse-off people than themselves. It's sort of comforting when somebody else's life seems to be even more confused and out-of-whack than your own, right? Have the television audiences of today become so bored with the big box in the living room that we can only fulfill ourselves by gawking and opining about the struggles of lower-income, dysfunctional families on Jenny Jones? Sure seems that way.

What's even more amazing is the reality behind the Reality TV. Take a look at the advertisers who pay for afternoon television space. Watch two hours of Maury and Jenny, then add up the number of get rich quick scams, personal injury lawyers, and fast food advertisements you see.

I know what you're thinking - just how much time have you spent watching this crap, oh wise one?

It's not like I actually enjoy watching this stuff - it's Cultural Observation. I'm a researcher. yeah - that's the ticket.

For example, have you ever thought about the fact that Jenny and Maury target the lower-income and welfare families, and that Survivor and Big Brother target upper-middle class families and single professionals? Just watch the commercials, man - that's all you gotta do to be an insightful sonofagun like me. You watch Maury, you get ads for Whoppers and accident insurance. Watch Survivor, it's VW's and online trading.

I wonder, how many people spend their afternoons watching Jerry Springer giving makeovers to Wild Teen Girls, then grab dinner at Burger King, only to return home to watch The Real World, Survivor, and Temptation Island?

This is what our granparents and parents warned us about - watch too much TV and it rots you brain.

Millions of us are tuning in to these mindless dramas - I'm beginning to think that's it's just the simplicity of it all. Look at pop music - it's always the most simple rhymes and melodies that sell the most records. This is why the airwaves are filled with children singing nursery rhymes to Hip Hop beats.

Maybe sitting back and passively observing these basic human struggles somehow satisfies an ancient, internal need that we carry with us to understand the human condition. And maybe these shows are just simple and stupid enough to enlighten Middle America. It's possible that in the end, Relaity TV will have served a greater purpose than just selling mystery meat and German cars. Over the course of many years, millions of people could start actually thinking more about themselves and the people around them. Maybe some folks have to start with My Sexy Step-Mom is Out of Control before they can deal with Why am I Here?.

It's also possible that the success of so-called Reality Television is just an indication of how fat and comfortable we've become. Sit back, relax, and let's just forget about anything heavy, right?

Gimme the remote, mmmkay?

What's that? Stephen Hawkings Universe? Please. That guy's so weird looking and all.

Pass the dip, I think two chicks on the island are about to get - it - ON!


Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.

more about jeff miller


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adam kraemer
2.12.01 @ 12:11p

Hmmm...couldn't we point out that people have always been intrigued by the true lives of others? We just suddenly have a medium in which we can watch them on a daily or weekly basis.

Oh, and I think that the advertizers know who's watching what shows when. I'm sure the producers of Jenny Jones would be just as happy to get money from IBM as they would Burger King. It's the ad people themselves who know a show's demographic, right?

jeffrey walker
2.12.01 @ 4:00p

Honestly, it is just easy for the networks to do. No script writers or actors to pay -- That was the whole reason for The Real World in the first place; MTV wanted a soap opera and couldn't afford it. So they just filmed real people. It's an easy way to fill up air time, AND it just so happens that people watch.

jeff miller
2.12.01 @ 4:12p

well, sure, people have always been intrigued by the 'true' lives of others. I just wonder if there's a healthy balance between observing and actually living. i read books, I watch movies, i watch TV - I even watch the very shows I'm criticizing. I'm facinated, like most mammals, by bright shiny objects. And Cheating Lesbian Grandmothers. i also set high standards of productivity and creativity for myself. My concerns are for the people who live and die by popular media. Don't get me wrong - I don't think that the television industry is responsible for filling our minds with lofty content. People are responsible for how they choose to spend their time, and what they choose to buy into. I just find the whole thing so damn interesting. Especially when I can tell that I'm being targeted - it makes me feel so....special.

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