If it was meant to be a passing fancy, it shows no sign of abatement. In fact, "reality" television seems to be seeping out of every crack and crevice on the tube these days. Hollywood is satisfying audiences' desire for extravagant new setups that create the prerequisite audacious buzz.
Some of these shows sound worse than they really are. The A&E cable channel aired "God or the Girl," about the struggle of four young Catholic men as to whether they will join the priesthood. It sounded like the typically obnoxious Hollywood offering. It was expected that producers would throw loose women in young men's paths, tempting them out of a lifetime of religious service when new priests are too scarce. The reality of the show as it has unfolded is that it has been much more respectful: even some church officials welcomed the idea of giving the struggle over priestly vocations such a high profile. That's amazing, considering the executive producer also delivered Penn and Teller's sulfurously bigoted "B.S." show for Showtime.
Others are awful, because they are going to be awful. The New York Post reports Fox is preparing a show out of the porn industry titled "My Bare Lady," which "will take female performers from American adult films and cast them in a classic stage drama to be performed in London's West End." They call it a story of "redemption." Only Fox Entertainment can find redemption in garbage like this.
The current king of bad "reality" TV concepts has to be MTV, with dreadful shows like "Date My Mom," where a young man dates three mothers first to figure out which daughter he wants to date. But one real stinker of a show is called "My Super Sweet 16," in which extravagantly rich and bratty teenagers are awarded lavish 16th birthday parties from their embarrassingly servile parents, who ought to be too ashamed to show their faces on television, except shame for them is an entirely foreign concept.
It goes without saying that teenagers in general today are generally wealthier, heavier, lazier, and often times sleazier. MTV's "Sweet 16" preys on this sloth and delivers role models for it. After watching these punks gorge themselves on conspicuous consumption, children watching probably want to emulate them, while their parents, if they watch, would want to slap these brats into the next zip code.
MTV follows the spoiled teenagers around town as they plan their overweening celebrations costing as much as $200,000. They gloat over how their parties will display their greatness, obsess over who can come (and more importantly, who cannot), whine, cry, and fight with their parents, and traipse through fancy auto dealerships trolling for their first cars. The show's producer, Nina Diaz, explained to the New York Times that ego trips and extravagance are required. "We're looking for the parties to be over the top, and we're looking for originality," she explained.
The teen divas on the show aren't all female - one of them was the son of top soul-music producer L.A. Reid - but the girls seem to relish the pouty-brat role more So we're exposed to insufferable Marissa, who had her poodles dyed pink, and Daddy bought her not one car, but two. He fools her by getting her an SUV, and then in the end, he also gives her the blaze-red sports car she badly wanted. My zany Daddy!
But that was chump change. Priya, a 16-year-old Indian-American in Texas, planned to enter her party during an elaborate procession led by elephants. Priya received a Mercedes convertible and an assortment of diamond jewelry for her birthday. Her older sister Divya's graduation gift package included a Bentley, diamonds and two homes in India. "I was really surprised," said the sister, "because I was only expecting a Bentley and one house."
The show is so garish and over the top that you can feel that MTV's "reality" producers are manipulating the brattiness of the starring teenagers, but to some, the egomania just comes naturally. Sophie, a Florida teenager, received piles of hateful e-mail when she marched around announcing "the moral of this story is I'm always right." Sophie defended her mother's decision to spend $180,000 on her party to the New York Times thusly: "Unless they were crazy or hated their child, any parent who was financially able would do it."
MTV knows that this spectacle of self-indulgence will have viewers coming back each week for another dose of outrage. Every one of these shows ought to end with a serious spanking. Maybe for the parents as well as the teenagers. But MTV would only find a way to spin another reality yarn out of that, too.