The idea of Western Society, or any society with similarly western proclivities (Japan, I’m looking at you), without Reality Television in its entertainment canon is impossible to imagine. I remember the first time I saw a modern version of “reality” programming, the first season of “The Real World” on MTV. I thought it was unwatchable, and I was certain that the show and its format were destined for failure; but I had much to learn about the world, and myself. My initial reaction to the show was jealousy. Jealousy that someone had figured out how to make a T.V. show doing what I used to do, on the rocky beaches of Manchester Washington, way back in the days before I had learned that the center of the known universe was something other than myself. I used to walk down to the beach, find a Styrofoam cup lying on the ground, put two small crabs inside, and watch the fireworks ensue. This is embarrassing to admit, although, on the bright side, it was an early expression of my recycle/re-use ethos. It was also a rare occasion when an actual fight occurred. On that point I suppose I missed the heart of the issue; what MTV was doing was a little more scientific. I had no back-story on the crabs with which I could emotionally manipulate them, and thus guarantee a fight. Ahhh a formula. People hate when you reveal the underlying formula behind any given example of “reality” entertainment. (Yeah, probably entertainment needed quotes around it, but I’m trying hard not to sound condescending, a noble task at which I am destined for failure, but 300 words in I’m afraid to trash this thing and admit the whole idea was a mistake…now button up your parka; we’re going back outside and it is a cold hard bitch out there.) But like I said, people don’t want to know the formula. I first learned this when I found myself in a near fist-fight after having the audacity to suggest that the fine folks of the “WWF” (now WWE) were being less than forth-coming with the facts surrounding their wrestling matches. There-in lays the clot. Why are we so invested in the concept of reality? (And no, I don’t mean “you” or “me”, but “we” in a “they” sort of way. Phew, that was close…)
Winston Churchill once said, “Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few are those who see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon.” But then again Churchill was a bit short-sighted, and sometimes had the intellectual proclivities of a man who looks the wrong way before crossing the street. This isn’t a personal attack on Churchill’s ignorance, but an indictment of all who possess the kind of confidence that makes it tough to learn anything new; all is as it’s always been…the mind of the conservative. He left out the fourth option: some see all three.
Noam Chomsky calls it “manufactured consent”, my friend Matt calls it, “a fragile piece of comfortable fiction”, but regardless of what we call it, it is our reality, and there’s the problem with being told that anything that seems real at first shine is, in fact, not. We live in a society that is for all intents and purposes “free”. Free, that is, until one starts to ask questions about why we are spending obscene amounts of money and human resources on a war in a foreign desert (a democratic display of force if ever there was one; I remember when I voted to pick a fight with Hussein), or why Wall-Street was bailed out of their financial woes, rather than held accountable for ours, or why there are no true choices among the viable candidates for political office at the national level. It is at that point that the term “free” starts to lose its luster, as they say. This is not to say that we are being manipulated by a single puppet master, or some conspiratorial cabal, just that some of the back-stories are being manipulated. By whom, you might ask. I don’t know. It is not important really. The more appropriate question is: why are we so prone to believe things are true, even in the face of contrary evidence? There really isn’t any need to over-complicate the idea with conspiracy theories, especially when the true issue lies in our hearts and our restless need to be told the things that we believe are true. There wasn’t a massive conspiracy to perpetuate the claim that our country was started as an experiment in religious freedom, just one historian and a majority of people who found that comfortable fiction more heroic than the dirty honest truth that the country was founded on economic exploitation. Even in the face of over-whelming evidence, suggesting this idea will land you in the same predicament I found myself in back in the ‘eighties when I hinted that Dusty Rhodes might’ve been more actor than athlete.
I think this is why we are so reticent to admit that any one of our pieces of “comfortable fiction” isn’t reality, because if we admit it for one, eventually the whole sweater comes undone. My conclusions that lie here-in are not meant to be the ravings of a stark mad lunatic content with nothing more than pissing in the punch-bowl. Rather, they are just a small reality check; we all fight about things, issues we call them, that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. My hope is that we fight only for truth…rare, rare truth.