THE BLOG
03/15/2009 11:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Scripted "Reality" and Shills

Ever since a recent bout of the flu kept me in bed for a couple of days, leaving me with little to do except sleep or watch television, I have been embarrassed to admit that I am now able to participate in discussions about certain TV programs inaccurately defined as "reality" TV. I now know what the "Millionaire Matchmaker" looks like and I do wonder where she gets the hubris to think she can make magic happen between two people. Conversely, I am amazed that any groom-to-be is still willing to take vows after the way his bride-to-be treats him on "Bridezilla." And the "Real Housewives'" self-absorption disgusts me. But there are two shows with similar themes that are much more disturbing since they involve impressionable little girls and desperate mothers wanting to live vicariously through them. Of course, I'm talking about "Little Miss Perfect" and "Tiaras and Toddlers."

To a degree, I can see how these programs are fascinating, especially if one were studying sociology. Viewing the train wrecks known as "reality" TV has the capability of making us feel superior that at least we are not that dysfunctional because there is obviously a segment of viewers who believe what they are seeing has not been tweaked or scripted in any way. But what does it say about us as a people that we find these shows--where small children are glammed up to look like Gypsy Rose Lee and paraded on stage to be evaluated--entertaining?

Okay, so these programs aren't as shocking as when the Romans got their blood-thirsty entertainment by going to the Coliseum and watching gruesome ways to kill someone. Still, it does seem that we as a society have a hunger to watch the bizarre and I cannot help but wonder if it's in our genes. Of course, it is the extreme that sells these shows; otherwise, no one would watch them. But we often tend to mimic what we see, especially if we are desperate to be noticed. Maybe that's what happened at the open casting call on Saturday in Manhattan for "America's Next Top Model." Apparently, fights broke out and some people went to the hospital while others were arrested. It does seem that we are forfeiting dignity and kindness while rewarding the narcissistic, greedy, or bitter sector of society by giving them their own show, but as long as people watch it, it's only going to get worse. Meanwhile, it is making those who are in front of the camera nothing more than a shill and as long as they are mature enough to make that distinction, then I suppose there's nothing wrong with it. However, when the shill is a young child thrown into a situation that is far from reality, whether I'm stuck in bed ill or not, it's the sort of entertainment that makes me far too uncomfortable to watch.