Nightmare on Reality Street
When Survivor first aired eight years ago, I would not have guessed that nearly every channel, even on satellite, would air some kind of reality show. I understand the fascination of watching “real people” in unusual situations. How will they handle themselves? Who has the drive and endurance to triumph in the face of overwhelming challenges?
But are we going too far? Are we developing a sick appetite for watching people suffer verbal and emotional abuse? And up close and personal too – in front of millions of people! Didn’t the Romans use the Coliseum for something like this? Dig out Stephen King’s “The Running Man” or “The Long Walk”, both written under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. Now turn on your TV and look for similarities. What if Dog really did just shoot instead of capture?
As a kid, I grew up watching the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child. Not a lot of conflict. Then the Iron Chef made its debut in the early 90’s, offering a real time look at how cooking is done under pressure, but still involving professionals. But as “real” reality has caught on, a whole new set of reality cooking shows have appeared over the past three years. For example Top Chef, and Hell’s Kitchen, and new this season, The Next Food Network Star.
It’s all about the money. And that money is coming from people like you and me, who continue to tune in and watch shows that purportedly give one person the chance of a lifetime, while allowing us to witness the torture and humiliation of an entire lineup of contestants.
Take Gordon Ramsay, for example. He has an older series, filmed primarily in the UK by the BBC, called Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. In this series, Gordon travels to struggling restaurants and spends a week helping them get their acts together. Gordon is an in-your-face kind of guy, who uses lots of four letter words, but he is clearly empathetic and caring in these episodes as he gives tough feedback to lazy owners, egocentric chefs, and broken wait staffs.
Fast forward a few years to Gordon’s second series, called simply Kitchen Nightmares, filmed in the US. He’s not so nice anymore and seems to spend as much time calling people names as he spends giving them useful guidance.
Now, put on your seat belt, get out your sick sack and prepare for some really rotten behavior. Turn on Hell’s Kitchen! While this show has some really entertaining moments, just imagine treating your kids the way Gordon treats the contestants on this show. I guess Chef Ramsay figured out how to make a buck somewhere along the way, but I really miss the way he used to care
And maybe we shouldn’t tune in quite so often.