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Tag Archives: Robin Leach

Sideshow

freaks

It’s now been several generations since we considered a carnival sideshow an acceptable form of entertainment. Today photos or drawings from early 20th century circuses tend to evoke gasps. It’s jarring to consider that people who had an unconventional appearance were put on display and were considered entertainment. What societal limitations caused people to take to the circus tent? What kind of people would take pleasure in viewing a ‘freak show’? We will cover these and other questions in Intro To Reality Television: Evolution and Devolution.

After the Elephant Man heyday of the late 19th century and early 20th century, Americans got hold of themselves and backed away from such voyeurism and exhibitionism. Later, with the advent of political correctness we bowed our heads in shame and taught our children not to point. If we came across a midnight showing of Freaks (1932) we watched it in the dark, with a certain amount of guilt. And then we got our base groove back. Sometime during the Reagan boom years we found comfort in gawking at the rich. It’s okay to gawk and make spectacle of those (economically) better off, right? Robin Leach was the mid-1980s barker of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and we gawked. He paved the way for us to release our pent up desires. Soon the business of celebrity boomed, to feed our insatiable appetite for fodder. It was okay to gawk and poke fun at people who had what we did not. But like any indulgence, it lost its ability to satisfy. Soon it wasn’t enough to see a child actress implode in front of our eyes. After a dozen or so of those kids, it ceases to impress.

Media abhors a vacuum, and can spot a hole in the market from space. Cue the new wave of reality television. A modern audience would not be satisfied with viewing a stock still anomaly on a stage, we are happier to see these specimens in their ‘natural’ habitat. We want to see people with their; 6,8,12,18,20 children going about their daily lives. Viewing wealthy people’s staged homes is no longer enough. We need to see them in prompted dramas. We need to see them dressed in award ceremony gowns to attend barbecues. We want to see them squabbling and behaving like junior high school students. We care little that there is no real wealth (and often bankruptcy.) Who cares that a title has been purchased, the hair is synthetic and the faces could be used as flotation devices? What we love is the sideshow behavior. It matters not that the behavior is created for our viewing pleasure. Who really cares that a toddler’s beauty pageant (in a sad little rural motel) is the most boring event one could ever imagine? With enough manufactured histrionics and adept editing, it’s more fun than a cross-dressing General Tom Thumb. Having a messy house, clipping coupons, or choosing a dress, are a snore fest. But throw in a few “No she didn’ts” or a litany of psychobabble and you’ve got yourself a show. The more fragile a participant is, the better the show. Make them cry, make them sound certifiable, and we’ll grab our chips and put down the remote. Emotional instability not your thing? Fear not, we’ve got shows about little people, the conjoined, the fattest man, the fattest woman, and the tattooed. Sound familiar? P.T. Barnum would be so proud.

In preparation of our next session: Professions Made To Look Glamorous; please review Baking, Trucking, Fishing shows and the newest addition to the golden age of television: The Search Is on for the Best Hooker in America.

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As Seen on T.V.

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.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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