10/12/2007
Issue: 8.09
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Hi Gang, and greetings from Hollywood!

Shalom, Gang! 

Remember when television was a pleasant escape from the daily grind of our own lives? Then we could, for a few hours, invite the Cleavers, the Nelsons, the Bradys and the Partridges into our living rooms and forget our troubles? It was a peaceful respite from reality, a chance to turn off the outside world and imagine ourselves in an alternate dimension where we could laugh at a family whose biggest catastrophe that week was Wallys zit on prom night. 

Well, those classy days are gone. Television has become the domain of the unpleasant underbelly of society. Contestants appear on game shows looking as if they just got done mowing the lawn, or taking the kids to soccer practice. Beauty has been replaced by the beast.

And yet, while we may bemoan this, ratings have never been higher. Even adjusting for the increase in population over the last four decades, more people are glued to their plasma screens now than ever before. We spend more hours watching television now than ever, even though we grouse incessantly about the low quality of the shows were watching.  

Almost thirty years ago, a man named Morton Downey Jr. brought a whole new genre of talk show to the small screen. The dignified format so carefully carved out by Jack Paar and Johnny Carson suddenly became the WWF without a ring. To watch Downeys show was a covert operation, which we discussed with fellow viewers in low voices, like high school kids talking about sneaking a look at dads dirty magazines. But we did watch, only to have our perverse satisfaction cut short when the show was cancelled. But it was too late. That innate need to watch human train wrecks had been awakened after lying dormant since the Emperor Constantine put the kibosh on the feeding of Goyem to the lions. 

Well, the worst that can be said of Morton Downey Jrs show is, it was twenty years ahead of its time. While we settled back in out couches and applauded George Bush Srs appeal for a kinder, gentler America, we tuned in to the heir apparent to the Downey kingdom; Jerry Springer. Again, we secretly delighted in watching the carnage wrought by bringing in the dregs of our society, and watching them battle, clothes being rent and digitally obscured bosoms exposed in an outpouring of rage and mayhem. More would follow, to be sure. Maurey Povich gives us high tech custody disputes and the Roy Beans of the cathode tube give us Judges Judy and Midian whose legal misconduct could get any legitimate judge thrown off the bench and into the slammer. 

The real question is why do we watch this drek? With hundreds of channels at our disposal, like Nick at Night and TVLand, why do we still tune in to watch these trailer park gladiators do battle? Its a rhetorical question, and I myself am guilty of cuddling with my significant other as we watch two Ozark Amazons duking it out over some skinny, crack addicted nebbish whos been cheating on one with the other. It was on one of these nights when the answer hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. We watch because these shows make us feel good about ourselves and our lives. Its a horrific glimpse into the chaotic lives of other people whom we consider beneath us in every way. Were above these people in all respects, or so we like to believe. Who among us would ever go on national television and air our dirty laundry, then behave like hyenas fighting over a carcass? And Good God, why is that two hundred pound, toothless beheymish wearing a tube top? Why are those two guys fighting over her? Is that the best they can do? 

The truth is, everyone needs a little ego boost every now and then, and shows like these provide it. When we compare our lives to those of these people, our self-esteem soars, and were overwhelmed by a smug feeling of superiority. We have more dignity, more class, more sense of style, and certainly more common sense than these pitiful wretches. We would never act like that; do such things, much less to the delight of thirty million people who tune in daily to watch. 

And yet, we are among the thirty million people. Now the question I ask myself is, what does that say about our society? Have we regressed to the old days in Rome? Or did we never leave that Cro-Magnon part of us behind? Despite our advances in technology, and the lofty airs we give ourselves as a civilization, maybe were not as evolved as wed like to think. 

I had a lot more to say on the subject, but today Jerry has supermodels whose lovers left them for midget contortionists! Gee, I sure dont want to miss that! 

Till next month, Gang!

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