I've been watching too much reality TV. Well, maybe you have too. And I just had a dream the other night that, as a public philosopher, I was hosting a new show. Then, I realized that if it was a hit, I could have a huge new empire of reality TV shows on my hands. Here's what I mean.
My first dream show is an inevitable twist, from my point of view, on the standard HGTV real estate series:
Million Dollar Open House... With a Philosopher: This show offers the ultimate opportunity to think through a major New York City real estate purchase. I'll co-host open house extravaganzas at Manhattan's finest apartments. The other host, a licensed real estate broker, can talk to potential buyers about square footage, neighborhood amenities, and price. I'll help them reflect on image, convenience, wealth, and the importance of location in America -- all connected, of course, with meaning of life issues. The philosopher is in.
And, if this is a success, there are other, even more exciting possibilities. I can see the pitch line-up now:
Dinner With a Philosopher: Something for The Food Network, reminding us that great meals aren't ultimately just about food, but provide the ideal contexts for amazing conversations with friends and family. Think: My Dinner With Andre, but with more laughs and more people. Or: Jon Favreau's Dinner for Five, but with more pondering. And of course, remember the wine: In Vino Veritas.
Top Sage: A group of young philosophers are rounded up and taken to a famous philosophy department, posed thorny problems, and forced to whip up short lectures and dish out new ideas under severely ridiculous time constraints. Sometimes, their hands are tied with limited resources. "You have one hour and have to do this using only classic pragmatism." Or: "Draw only from ingredients in Wittgenstein's thought." They go, "Oh, no!" on camera. A team of experts ridicules or praises them. At the end, we discover who has what it takes to be Top Sage. And of course, it's announced by Padma Lakshmi and Tom Collichhio, both wearing, "I Think Therefore I Am" T-shirts.
The Brain: For a major network. Like The Voice, only with no songs.
Semantic Survivor: Plato's Cave Version: A group of highly driven personalities are taken to a remote cave, divided into two rival tribes, and forced to compete in a series of increasingly impossible semantic arguments, where they seek to separate reality from illusion. Each week one member of the tribe is refuted out of the cave. The tribe has spoken. Q.E.D.
Philosophy on the Beach: The Tom Morris Show: Featuring me, Tom Morris, and executive produced by me, Tom Morris... and Oprah Winfrey (for the money part). This is perfect for Oprah's network. The way I see it, O can have me over to her place in Hawaii and we can philosophize on the beach. Hey, somebody's gotta do it. Whatever it takes for ratings.
Repo With a Philosopher: Something for TruTV. Yeah, TruTV. I ride with a repo man and engage the stunned targets of his employment with lively discussions on the concepts of ownership and debt, the vicissitudes of loss, and the transience of all things physical, while he hooks up the Mercedes.
S.W.A.T. -- Philosophy (Special Wisdom, Analysis, Talk): This is for TLC, if they don't go for Honey Boo Boo -- Thinker. I ride with L.A.'s finest as the ultimate hostage negotiator. Sample: "Gimme the phone. Can you hear me? OK. Don't you realize that we're ALL hostages... to fate? All of us! So this particular act of hostage taking is fundamentally REDUNDANT, given our existential condition! Utterly superfluous! Do you hear me? Therefore, lay down your weapon now, or be prepared to justify its ownership in the face of formidable arguments to the contrary."
The Biggest Thinker: For a major network. Big brains weigh in with heavy thoughts once a week. A panel of judges puts them on a seriously restricted diet: No historical references, no obscure technical terms, no name-dropping, and we watch how the discussions shrink.
The Real Philosophers of Boston: The cameras follow five well-groomed Boston area academics from elite institutions, all of whom are obvious narcissists, augmented by a supporting cast of young graduate school bimbos or himbos (an emphasis on himbos if pitched to Bravo). World-class cattiness ensues.
Bachelor of Philosophy: Again, major network fodder. Single, eligible young philosophy major meets a bevy of brainy beauties in a major bookstore, intent on an intellectual hookup, despite his employment options. Steamy discussions ensue. Maybe the winner gets a girl and a job, both otherwise highly unlikely prospects for philosophy majors.
Seminar Impossible: A Robert Irvine type visits undergraduate and graduate seminars that are struggling, and turns them around in two class sessions. His top-notch crew of seminar designers gives the classroom an amazing makeover, and after repeatedly insulting both the syllabus and the pathetic methods of pedagogy on display, he shows the professor how to spice up the sessions. There will be a website where we can check on how the seminar did in student course evaluations, and whether it's ever offered again.
Fear Factor -- Philosophy: This one's almost too obvious. Contestants are taken to the smallest section in a major bookstore, back near the restrooms, and are forced to read aloud and explain unintelligible passages in major and minor philosophers. "Oh, No! The Kant! God, No! Not Again!"
Keeping Up With the Kierkegaardians: For the E! network. Several dark-haired Danes philosophize with professional athletes, rappers, and rich boys with no discernible source of income, surrounded by all the trappings of great wealth, in L.A. and Miami. Many sessions take place in the backseats of new Bentleys.
Project Professorial Runway: I'll co-host this one with Heidi Klum. And I want the old panel of judges -- Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, and some other celebrity each week. For over 2,000 years, philosophers have been identified with one garment, the toga. Not exactly flattering couture for most of us. The only accepted alternative has been the tweed jacket. A group of hot young designers will be tasked to create a new look for thinkers. Tim Gunn will spur them on, despite endless drama. ("That design makes you look like Aquinas!") "Make it happen!"
Divine Design on a Dime: For A&E or The History Channel. A young intellectual fashion-savvy philosopher considers theological thought structures inspired by the interior design of our entire universe. The goal is to empower the viewer: "You can use the public library, contemplate the starry skies, consider the moral law within, and think these thoughts on your own, for no more than a dime!" (There's a parking meter outside the public library.)
What Not to Think: Like the famous show What Not to Wear, but we'll be doing makeovers on middle-aged people's attitudes, beliefs, and values. "OK, that thought is SO '80s! And frumpy! You should be embarrassed! We need to get it out of the closet of your mind FOREVER." At the end will be a "reveal" where the family of our makeover recipient gets to see his or her new worldview on display. Family reactions sell the show. "Mom! Your reasoning is SO incredible! You sound 10 years younger!" And "I could never imagine my wife would think like this!"
Million Dollar Library: I visit homes where the owners have spared no expense in building ornate personal libraries emphasizing philosophy. We'll feature lavish rooms filled with the best bound books and adorned with swag and... hot tubs, and whenever possible, connected to indoor pools or bowling alleys. This will be a fascinating look at Retro Book Lux in a day when most home libraries consist of nothing more than an iPad or a lonely Nook lying on a table.
And, of course, if any of these shows work, and especially if they all do -- in which case I'll be richer than Croesus and Regis put together -- then there's one more. I know: I can't do everything. There's only one Ryan Seacrest. But still, consider:
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Philosopher? This is for NBC (alas, for the moment, No Body Cares), to help with ratings. Out of an audience of "ordinary people" (i.e. not philosophy students or professors), clueless contestants will be picked, put in a Throne of Thought, and asked unanswerable questions. They will have three lifeline phone calls available, to equally unenlightened friends, or to a few specially selected engineering majors (just for laughs). Perplexity results, and for everyone involved, not just for the TV critics and culture commentators -- unlike the rest of reality TV.
So, Andy Cohen, if you're out there wondering what in the world is next for the broadening realm of reality television, I offer you a shot at co-producing any of these exciting real-world dramedies. And I'm happy to be the on-air host for any of them. "But," my friends all say, "What about the public humiliation factor?" I reply, "For me, it's nothing new. In our current culture, I call myself a philosopher."
Full Disclosure: I have to admit that I'm not just suggesting all this as a massive act of national altruism. There's a lot in it for me, too, as you might have noticed already. I mean, in addition to all the clip-on microphones, free pancake makeup, and magazine covers that will surely get me reservations for the first time ever in all the hot restaurants, I can almost taste the major, massive golden book deal at the end of this rainbow. And of course, the new line of Metaphysical Margaritas by Morris that will be enjoyed nationwide by Internet intelligentsia and culture mavens as I expand my new empire all over America. And, with all that, I may be able to get my own perch in the back seat of a very contemplative Bentley.
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