August 23, 2013

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Reality can be so real—or sometimes not

Cynthia DewesDon’t you just love reality TV shows? I mean, they’re just so—well—real!

In some of them, we endure the reality of surviving in a remote and potentially dangerous location. This might be a desert island or a jungle or somewhere like that. It’s usually hot and sweaty, and the participants are all wearing as little as possible, at the same time looking rather fetching.

These people deal with big snakes and other enemies, but the worst opponents they face are often the other survivors on the show. The “tribes” to which they belong may or may not be helpful because the motivations of the members don’t always include the common good. Talk about survival.

Consideration of the common good is also an important ingredient of another reality show about competing in a “great race” around the world. Couples, related by blood, marriage or shared interests, follow clues and gain points as they continue the journey. Every so often, a couple is eliminated, and the tension mounts.

While the reality of being sent on a worldwide quest to solve inconsequential puzzles is dubious, this show is more entertaining than some because of its settings. It’s possible to enjoy it simply as a kind of travelogue, a vicarious visit to other lands and cultures.

There are varieties of dating shows involving bachelors, supposed marriage choices and other subjects designed to be kind of sexy. The people involved are all good-looking, rich or both, and the surroundings and clothing are chic and romantic.

On the opposite end of reality, we have what I call the “good old boy” shows. They’re becoming wildly popular and numerous, now including “Tickle” and “Duck Dynasty,” which is really a big commercial for duck hunting calls. They usually feature guys with long, scraggly beards.

One of the latest of these offerings is set in a place which is closer to home for us Hoosiers. In fact, it’s in Owen County, Indiana, and is called “Porter Ridge” after the central character. It concerns a junkyard out in the boondocks staffed by a collection of locals with nicknames like “Dirty” somebody.

One neighbor is called the “bear man” because—guess what—he owns several bears. He uses one of them to sniff out truffles in his Indiana woods. Truffles in Indiana! Bears who can sniff out truffles? Who knew? The bear man sells the truffles for a hefty price, which is the only income we’ve seen produced so far on this show.

Now, for most of us, reality means something quite different than these examples. Sometimes it’s just ordinary schlepping through life—the job, the family, the kids, the neighborhood. It can be pleasant and satisfying, or boring and unfulfilling.

For others, reality is harsher. It can include chronic illness, poverty or abuse. It may mean an entire lifetime of helplessness, not to mention hopelessness. It may result from natural disaster or criminal behavior.

So, what do we make of such unrealistic “reality” shows? Well, I think they actually serve a purpose beyond mindless entertainment, if you can call it entertainment. That is, they give us a glimpse of how others live or let us fantasize about living a totally different reality.

They can show us possibilities, or allow us to feel superior for a change, or give us insights we might not have otherwise. They can help us realize the variety of God’s wondrous creation and be grateful for God’s loving protection. Now, that’s what’s real. †

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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