A Snake Masticating a Mongoose

I hold my two-month old child in my arms as I trudge down the stairs at 4:00 in the morning. I shove some Fruit Runts into my mouth to help extinguish the morning breath caused by eating Fruit Runts before going to bed the night before. The house is pitch black, so I grope my way through the family room for the necessities. I use a pillow to prop up my left elbow. I throw the aptly titled throw blanket on the right side of the couch. I have a difficult time, but I eventually find the remote control amongst the dozens of other remote controls strewn about the room. I pause for a moment to think of how it would be nice to have a remote control that could somehow activate and signal another remote control. I settle in to my pre-dawn throne where the only kingly attention I receive is through the deep-toned, sleeping groans of my infant son.

The room is suddenly illuminated as the television, after a series of mysterious clicks, begins to play its early morning symphony of infomercials. I turn to my playlist of pre-recorded shows. I thoroughly enjoy the benefits of the DVR which has allowed me to watch an amount of television that I had previously thought humanly impossible. I now watch movies that I had never really wanted to see in the first place. I reunite with experiences from my childhood, as with recorded episodes of classic American Gladiators, Punky Brewster, and the Love Connection. I watch and progressively become disillusioned with the new season’s offerings. Christian Slater, you are now my own worst enemy as well. But, what has been the greatest discovery on the newly augmented boob tube is my absolute fascination with reality TV.

The craze began roughly eight years ago when Survivor made its debut. I was in Canada at the time that the show premiered. I read about it in the TV Guide that was on someone’s coffee table. They explained the premise of the show to me and my first thought was whether or not they could actually do that on television. What about the safety of the people participating? You can’t have them fend for themselves! Dropping people in the middle of an island to see if they can somehow survive? Didn’t I see some Arnold Schwarzenegger movie about this once? Yet, man’s fascination with watching another man in peril was unquenchable. Soon, there followed other adventure shows like The Amazing Race and Manhunt- The Deadliest Game of All. Then, we wanted to see the more personal side of people we knew nothing about. Enter shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Big Brother, Big Brother vs. The Bachelorette, and other shows with and without B in the title. America’s fascination with itself was beginning anew.

Today, my wife and I enjoy several of this new breed of reality programming. Miranda has become a fan of the show “17 and Counting” which follows a certifiably insane couple that is determined to overpopulate the world with the fruit of their womb alone. Apparently, nothing makes you feel better about waking up with two screaming children then watching someone waking up with 17. I enjoy reality in the game show variety, such as Hurl! which follows six contestants as they strive to eat the most and puke the least. I stopped watching after viewing several episodes where, to my severe disappointment, no one vomited at all. I am beginning to understand the Roman mentality in enjoying a good match of Christian Survivor. Sometimes, the lion doesn’t eat the Christian—then what the hell did I pay these 50 denarii for? It is a fascination with the grotesque, something so shocking or obscure that we don’t want to watch, yet we can’t look away. A midget looking for true love amongst several beautiful regular-sized women and one other midget? That is the stupidest premise I have ever heard and I will be recording every episode.

This experience culminated with my watching, along with my barely sleeping newborn in the ungodly hours of the morning, an entertainment hybrid that could only exist in our day. It is called The Smoking Gun Presents the World’s Dumbest Partiers. Here we have a police and home footage clip show, portraying people sustaining debilitating injuries while grossly intoxicated, with various commentary by quote/unquote celebrities that you thought had overdosed a long time ago, and brought to you by a website that makes its money defaming the names of said celebrities. If only the celebrities were pitted against each other in some duel or sent on a hot-tubbing excursion (by America’s texted votes) with the culprits in the clips, we would have had the most perfect hour of television since Walter Cronkite cried after picking out the million-dollar briefcase.

For an hour, I watched as Danny Bonaduce, Todd Bridges, and Tonya Harding, told me just how dumb the man I just watched pouring a shot of flaming absinthe into his eye was. The general consensus was that, yes, he was dumb. For me, at four in the morning, I need these distasteful figures from my childhood (though they very well might have been appearing on the show by the court order of some creative judge in Missouri) to tell me just what is not smart and what is funny. Otherwise, how would we know? It seems that we as television watchers are all slightly out of touch with, what’s the word… reality.

It is now 4:15 in the morning and I finally get my son to take his pacifier and fall back asleep. I conclude my waxing philosophical by thinking that there must be some type of editorial I can write on the subject of reality television. I don’t know how I would write such an editorial. I turn off the clip show just as Tonya Harding, in a t-shirt that makes one wonder if she knew she was going to be on T.V., starts to laugh at an inebriated man not knowing his alphabet. I turn it over to watch Survivor instead. I do this not for the thrilling game of broken alliances and outwitting man and nature. I do this because, more than anything else on television, I enjoy the clips they place between the regular scenes. The scenes generally feature sniveling rats, a group of ants fatally stinging a much larger insect, or a snake masticating a mongoose. It is this that gives me comfort that, in our new form of literature, reality T.V., symbolism is as alive as ever. And as gross as it is, I can’t look away.