Today’s (primetime) television listing includes such small screen gems as; Fatal Honeymoons, Survivor: South Pacific (Bali Hai?), Dance Moms, Real Housewives (insert gated community), Sons of Guns: Oh my G-d a Canon, Confessions: Animal Hoarding, True Life: I Have Acne. These are just a small sample of what is available to the discerning television viewing audience of our fair region. But wait, do not rush to cancel cable, there is also a tiny Isis delivered glimmer of hope in today’s listing: Kate Plus 8: The Finale.
Cheekiness aside, I actually find this programming abomination somewhat comforting. For one thing there is the utter truth in advertising that exists in these shows and ones like: The Dumbest Stuff. No one is trying to pose as something they simply are not. That is always deliciously refreshing. Do I think Edward R Murrow would quit smoking if he knew that network news shows now cover; Celebrity Secrets: A Model Life, sure. But I am also so bold as to suggest that Mr. Murrow would discover the joys of public broadcasting and the BBC.
Aside from the utter lack of pretense of inexpensively produced “reality” shows they provide a valuable litmus for our culture. To my mind there is no difference between seizure inducing television, fast/junk food, and licensed designer products. As a nation, we have a Big Gulp appetite for cheap crud. Why is this (old news) encouraging? Because if we can connect the dots, we can begin to make better choices about how to address social issues.
Consumer debt, like obesity, is spreading like the plague. Some portion of our nation’s massive consumer debt is due to buying too much. (Stunning economic analysis, I know.) For decades, we have been on hyper-drive extolling the virtues of being Rich and Famous (oh what Robin Leach has wrought!) We can not feign surprise that a celebrity obsessed culture now exists. In the 1990s, we saw the ascent of television shows, songs, and magazines, whose general raison d’etre was to pitch (formerly obscure) brands as “must haves.” Did anyone ever need to know what a Blahnik was, or be hypnotized into believing it had intrinsic value? Not surprisingly, once the consumer appetite was created, the knock-offs could not be far behind. I am actually a proponent of (legal) knock-offs (i.e., H&M,Topshop.) Usually, not such a fan of disposable clothing, I find these shops help to quench a thirst for photo spread apparel. There is a (more relevant) secondary function of these shops as well. In theory, if faced with the mass-market ubiquity resulting from say, Missoni for Target, a consumer epiphany can not be far behind. “Is the “famous” “designer” (insert item) actually better than another (insert item,)” the consumer then asks him/herself. Make no mistake, there are huge disparities in craftsmanship, materials, styling in fashion, but there is no relationship between those factors and the size of the team of publicists hired by a designer. Once that realization occurs, the uber-marketed brand is simply not as desirable. So the proliferation of cheap knock-offs, could in fact work to curb excessive consumer debt. I suggest Public Service Announcements (PSA) which show who the people really are that are buying these items. This would not be that different than the substitution of the burly Malboro Man, with the guy attached to the oxygen tank.
While we’re on the subject, how about the same PSA marketing campaign for junk/fast food? Not unlike the restrictions put on liquor and cigarette advertising, how about rules of engagement for food-like products? There are the easy black-out restrictions (i.e., no advertising sugar laced or processed food to children: ever.) But then there are the more creative (and flat out enjoyable) approaches. How about anyone shown serving, being served, or ingesting sugar laces/processed food, looked like they actually eat it? Or for every advertisement for sugar laced/processed food, equal space (and resources) must be given to visually accurate depictions of people; on dialysis, oxygen dependent, or mobility impaired. Severe? Absolutely, but this is war. We’ve spent decades convincing the public that cheap crud is appealing. It’s time use the same approach and ingenuity for the good of society.