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|Reality Shows - Page 2|
Also sitting among us are a few patients (those with less serious ailments, I guess), one holding a heavily bandaged right arm high above his head, another ceaselessly repositioning an oversized ice bag on her thigh. The disheveled crowd resembles those beaten and pummeled faces you see huddled in Red Cross shelters, refugees uprooted by hurricanes and floods—flotsam and jetsam unexpectedly washed up on a distant shore.
Apparently, no public space may any longer or at any time lack access to audiovisual entertainment in one form or another because, right there, affixed to the wall before me, is a large flat-screen television. One-thirty in the morning and the TV is on, though, with a slight bow to the venue, the volume is on "mute." Even here, thank God, our constitutional right to be entertained 24/7 is being honored and upheld. Whether alone or in pairs, however, everyone who isn't nodding off for a few moments' sleep either stares absently into the distance or focuses silently on the space on the floor directly in front of their shoes. Not a single one of the dozen of us in the room is watching the TV.
Except for me.
I'm watching the TV.
What's on is a reality show, London, Bachelor Calling. (Or did my droopy eyes misread Bachelor, London Calling?) Twenty or so 20-something women are all somehow living together in a humongous mansion, each competing for the affections of a 30-something guy who has the clean-cut generic good looks of the romantic lead on a soap opera. Transfixed, I watch as Mr. Bachelor, perched on a couch, holds hands and engages in what must be a very meaningful conversation with a miniskirted competitor leaning provocatively in his direction from an adjacent armchair. ("Ashley, 23, Des Moines, Church Marketing," a helpful title card identifying her reads.) As their dialogue continues, Mr. Bachelor manages to remain completely unaware of what a series of close-ups intermittently reveals: the massaging of his inner thigh by another competitor's insistent hand. That hand, we learn, when the camera eventually pulls back for us to see, belongs to "Tayisha, 22, Santa Monica, Hot Dog Vendor," who, miniskirted as well, also leans provocatively in his direction as she sits beside him on the couch.
I sit and stare, open-mouthed, as if rubbernecking at the scene of a car crash.
The more brazenly Ashley and Tayisha struggle for fame, glory, and Mr. B's attention, the more my sense of outraged self-righteousness grows, exceeded only by my inability to tear my eyes away from the screen for any sustained period of time. When it comes to what is perhaps the lowest common denominator of televised programming—scenes of sexual flirtatiousness by young, attractive, scantily dressed women—there's no doubt I'm easily hooked. No doubt at all. But there's something more than sexual titillation that makes this garishness so irresistible: it's the cynicism underlying the vulgarity that's engaging me and enraging me at the same time. T & A's attempt to exploit the situation by exploiting Mr. B, even as they seem utterly delighted to be exploited by him, by the show, by the audience, which in turn, is being exploited by the producers, is as confounding and infuriating as the composure of the emergency room staff. Instinctively, I want to share my incredulity with someone, but I see once more that nobody but me is watching. For the rest of the room, the empty air and the grayish-blue carpet beneath our feet exert a far more powerful attraction than whatever could be happening on TV.
This thing unfolding on the wall in front of me, I remind myself, is a "reality" show. Whenever I can manage to, I break the hypnotic trance it induces, peel my eyes away from the screen, and think, "This?!?!? Reality?!?!! This hyper-color-saturated, perfectly coiffed and made-up alternative universe whose hallmark is the stubborn refusal to let in even the slightest hint of the harsh and painful facts of everyday life? Reality!?? No, sireebob. Nope. No way! But," I think, taking in my surroundings, "this right over here—what's sitting in front of and behind and to the left and the right of you? This is reality. Your zombied-out companions waiting along with you here in this room? They are reality. The loudspeakered voice you occasionally hear asking Dr. Sedgwick to Ôplease call 8-4-7-6'? That's reality, too. The moans wafting in from the room next door? Reality. The nurse- and doctor- and patient-filled emergency room itself? The very room where your friend may be dying? The ambiguous tidbits of news (Ôshe's stable,' Ôwe're still waiting for the results,' Ôthey still don't know') brought in by the sad and exhausted keeping vigil in there? The sad and exhausted who, having delivered their non-informative information, gaze at the TV screen as they return to their emergency room posts and see absolutely nothing? Reality. Reality. Reality. Reality.