Here’s some news that shouldn’t be news: Everything you see on TV is fake, staged, scripted, acted, produced, engineered, and/or edited. Everything. That’s because it’s all there for your entertainment. It’s made to distract you from reality, not expose you to it. There’s no such thing as “candid” or “real” in TV land. You want real? Go to Walmart. Those people are real. Raw. Uncut. Uncensored. Unbathed, even. You want candid? Go to the DMV. Those folks are candid. They just exist. They’re sitting there. They aren’t trying to amuse you. They’re people. People aren’t naturally amusing most of the time. Monkeys are amusing, not people. That’s why a real “reality TV show” would be a gigantic flop. Here’s the first episode: A guy sits on his couch and watches something on Netflix. Then he makes a few phone calls. Finally, in the climax of the episode, he microwaves some macaroni and cheese but — dramatic plot twist! — he realizes he doesn’t have any clean forks. He resolves this complication by washing a fork or, if the guy is me, he uses a spatula or something because he’s too lazy to clean a fork. The end.
Real. Unscripted. Boring. Canceled.
Of course, reality can be fascinating, too. Look up at the sky at night. You’re staring back through the past at other worlds, some of them long gone. That light, the light that’s bouncing off your retinas, traveled trillions of miles to meet you. You’re looking at the visual remnants of cosmic phenomena you can’t possibly understand or fathom. That’s real and that’s incredible. But it can’t fit on your TV screen, nor do you need it to. Everyone’s got a sky in their neighborhood, last time I checked.
People can also be fascinating at times. But that happens in spurts, interspersed throughout long lulls of routine and boredom. That’s life. Which is why it always makes me laugh when something is aired on TV and, later, people become quite disenfranchised when they learn that it was “fake.” Today it’s that viral video from the Tonight Show. It’s a video of a young couple coaxed into an impromptu karaoke session at a gas pump in California. Turns out, according to crack investigators on the Internet, the whole thing was likely staged. Yeah. Of course. But it entertained you, didn’t it? Well, then it did its job. Fine.
Not to make too much of this, but there is a deeper problem caused by our eagerness to find “reality” on TV, rather than locating it in actual reality: It stops us, or at least distracts us, from the really important spiritual and intellectual task of finding the beauty in the banalities of existence. It’s there, but you have to dig for it. And you won’t do that if you just say “screw it” and turn on the TV.