A: When the pendulum swings too far in one direction in our culture, self-correcting mechanisms kick in and push it the other way. We predict this will happen to the abrupt swing to the right begun by the Bush presidency. It happened with the stock market, it keeps happening to the economy under both Bush and Obama, and it happened to the Dot.Coms. In the case of TV, things have gone in many directions at once. Because of its diversity, TV is able to embrace many paradigm shifts at once, as well as simple shifts in public appetites. The first Star Trek series was the milestone that showed that sci-fi is not too special-interest for TV. The 1970 lifting of the ban on sexually explicit free expression reflected an America that was sick of hypocrisy and sick of obsolete, foolish, Bible-thumping ideas that sex is nasty, that sexiness is evil, that women that are sexy are bad, that masturbation is unhealthy and evil, that nudity is bad, and that all sexual feelings must be repressed . . . . ad nauseam.
The current crop of reality shows will continue to explore territory where no man has gone before, as James T. Kirk might say. There have been quiz show shake-outs and there have already been reality show shake-outs. This is as it should be. Many shows are watched at first out of curiosity but dumped out of boredom or disgust.
Go back to the chart we supplied earlier. Our walking or booty dancing clips as a group is the left column while shows like The Simple Life are the right column. Who are we to criticise their reality show experiment? Spoiled rich young ladies with porn star reputations on the Internet go to a tiny rural burg and gross out everyone with their degenerate big city Hollywood values. Why not? On the other hand: They curse like sailors but it’s beeped and they show a few of their body parts which get blurred out. The 8 p.m. family hour seems like a strange time for dirty words that good parents know they need to shield from their kids. (The bleeping hides nothing—most children these days know what got bleeped out; you can easily tell.)
The show rightly satirizes degenerate values and makes the rural folk—once the backbone of the American experience—look like angels by comparison. It makes its point. And yet when the ladies are called "white hot" even though they're unattractive, crude, vulgar, immoral, lazy, dishonest, deceptive and slutty, we look at Paris’s skinny model body and ask ourselves: "Are they kidding? This skinny thing with the sex appeal of a banana—mostly because she's shaped like one—is ‘white hot’???!!!" We’d hate to think that the viewers actually buy any of such absurd portrayals! But the most worrisome part of all this is that the "white hot" description implies that this unfortunate, degenerate, smooth-skinned (her only redeeming feature) buffoon is being held up as a role model—God forbid!
It isn't as though a show satirizing morally bankrupt young people cannot work well. Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head was a masterpiece, usually quite entertaining, sometimes pants-wettingly funny, and a few times incredibly artistic. His Trouble Urinating episode was not just extremely funny, it was also touching, heart-warming, and so poignant that we rate its overall artistry as a cartoon at the highest possible level—right up there with the best artistic creations of Renoir. Both artists captured something beautiful that’s too artistic for words. You just have to BE with it. Young people making crude, halting attempts to deal with adolescence was handled well by both Shakespeare and Mike Judge—the first is classic literature; the second is classic animated comedy artistry. South Park’s (by Trey Parker and Matt Stone) Eric Cartman has similarly defined the pinnacle of funny yet poignant comedic art for a cartoon like greats Woody Allen and Peter Sellers did for non-cartoon movie comedies.
So why did The Simple Life fail where these other artists succeeded? Because what Eric Cartman and Beavis and Butt-Head can do while we laugh delightedly is simply ugly when a couple of airhead bimbos do it for "real." If Tom and Jerry hit each other over the head with mallets and flatten each other to coin shaped entities, or the Roadrunner flattens Wiley Coyote with a boulder, it’s funny. If we see real people treating each other that way, it’s only funny if it’s The Three Stooges and it’s just pretend violence from guys supposedly so dumb they couldn’t find their own asses if you drew them a map. There's an implied syllogism here: These guys do dumb things; these guys do (slapstick) violence; therefore violence is dumb, which was especially poignant in the WWII era in which the Stooges movies came out. If Paris and Nichole had been directed by Woody Allen to be hopelessly morals-challenged and spoiled in a comedy, he’d have used artistic subtleties, touches, and nuances that made us laugh, and he’d have included poignancy and relevance—in short, he’d have made it work as comedic art. Disgusting displays of moral degeneracy such as The Simple Life aren't any more humorous than watching a bunch of drunken thugs urinating on a homeless person curled up in a sleeping bag in an alley.
Most people are religious, whether or not they attend church, or they are simply humanists like Steve Allen, Eric Fromm, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, some of our country’s founders, millions of Americans, and Amber Tamblyn and her family. Either group tends to believe in the human spirit and the goodness it contains, or at least is trying to contain even in the midst of adversity. Most people are striving for most of the values in our chart’s left column and are trying to avoid the right column values. Perhaps a show like The Simple Life helps these people avoid them when they get disgusted with the way degenerate values feel when vicariously experienced. If so, more power to them. But the announcer using that "white hot" term still disturbs us a lot. It was a mistake. It will add even more conformity pressures to the mountain of them already facing our young—pressures to be like Paris and Nichole. Poking fun at these poor, lost souls is one thing. But holding them up as examples to emulate by describing them as hot is simply irresponsible.