When I was at MTV, I worked for the people who helped produce The Jersey Shore and other “reality” programming. In my first weeks there, I watched a Jersey Shore clip in which a person (character) called The Situation purposely rams his head into the wall while having a temper tantrum. While parts of these shows are admittedly “managed” a bit to make them more dramatic, it was clear to me that this gruesome incident was real.
This was around the time MTV “discovered” gifs, and a gif of the gentleman continually slamming his head into the wall was made.
It is my belief that we—Americans at any rate, but also perhaps those around the world—are currently living in a metaphorical macrocosmic version of that Situation gif.
How did anyone not anticipate that after all this time existing in a Reality TV-obsessed pop-culture and media, we would not eventually have a “Reality Presidency?”
And like any good Reality TV show, there will eventually be that point where shit turns dark really fast, where people (including the producers themselves) begin to question whether or not even conceiving this show was a good idea.
One of the central tropes of the Reality Show is that of the person out of their element. While this could be represented by a bunch of people forced to survive on a tropical island, the trope most often plays out as the “ordinary” citizen who suddenly becomes a celebrity. Gif-able hijinks inevitably ensue.
In the case of America the Reality Show, this role is currently being played by Donald Trump and his immediate entourage.
And so we have Trump repeatedly threatening the CIA, making the stocks of military industrial complex corporations plunge, and insisting that he can rewrite the Cold War narrative. Stop me if you have heard this all before. All we need is a suggestion that we dump the Federal Reserve and an announcement that he’s going to re-open the 9/11 investigations.
All of the aforementioned—not the literally thousands of editorials calling him the Antichrist, not all the ethics investigations the battered-but-unbowed Democrats can muster, not all the impassioned protests that possibly can be planned for Inauguration Day and beyond—is what is finally going to do Trump in.
What is finally going to do Trump in is the fact that the GOP base are ultimately not on his side, are indeed using him to achieve their own goals—the way the people (characters) in these Reality Shows are used by the networks to make ad revenue. In neither situation (if you will excuse the pun) is the best interest of the people (characters) involved put front-and-center.
After the Situation incident, I had told my husband that while I liked working at MTV, if any of these people (characters) got killed or seriously maimed while making these shows, I did not feel I could continue working there.
And while the Jersey Shore crew continued to have their many misadventures, nobody suffered such a fate as the series went on. But a few years later, the star of another Reality Show, Buckwild, did perish—of carbon monoxide poisoning stuck in a mud pit in his own vehicle.
I didn’t quit MTV after the Buckwild thing, and I don’t blame them for that happened to that person (character). But I do feel that being this “fish out of water” sudden celebrity was ultimately not the most healthy thing for the deceased, or the majority of his castmates. And the event was sort of an “omen” for me that my days at the company were numbered.
How will America, The Reality Show end? With a hot mess that will set the gossips and pundits wagging their tongues for years? With a grotesque series of “set pieces” rivaling the ending of The Godfather?
Or will it simply limp along in the ratings, its core audience aging out and its relevance fading away—only to be replaced by a new zeitgeist, a new hotness?
Where do we go after Reality?