Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk
Encase your legs with nylons
Bestride your hills with pylons
O age without a soul.
So wrote John Betjeman nearly 60 years ago, and things have gone downhill ever since.
I don’t know of anyone who wears nylons any more, though there are pylons round two sides of our house (why doesn’t the lightning hit them rather than taking aim at our ADSL router?)
But to understand the soul of our age, we have to look at reality TV.
I haven’t seen Here Comes Honey Boo Boo but that is the one that the New York Times chose to illustrate a recent article on the topic. Reality Shows Reached for Extremes in 2012 – NYTimes.com.
The first “Reality TV” show that I was aware of was Big Brother, which aired in South Africa about 11-12 years ago. It was attended by a great deal of prepublicity, and I found the whole concept rebarbative. It seemed to be based entirely on exploitation and manipulation. It was also utterly unreal — putting a bunch of people in a very artificial environment. It aired every day on TV, and was on the Web for 24 hours a day. We watched it about once a fortnight, when they voted people out of the house. The general public also got to vote, and in the end they voted for the most inpleasant character on the show, which said a great deal about the South African public and its taste. Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk.
The New York times article, Critic’s Notebook: TV — Where Too Far Is Never Far Enough, mentions a book that satirises the whole “Reality” TV trend:
“Our big dilemma going into the end of the season is whether we may actually be pushing the envelope too far,” says the protagonist of “The King of Pain,” one of 2012’s most enjoyable novels for anyone who is a fan of reality television or simply likes monitoring the continuing train wreck that its more tawdry regions have become.
The character, Rick Salter, is talking about a wildly successful reality competition show he created in which contestants undergo various kinds of torture: they’re deprived of food one week, branded the next week, and so on. The show becomes a national phenomenon, finding the perverse side of the public taste, until things spin out of control.
The article doesn’t mention that other satire on Reality TV, The Hunger Games, which extrapolates the current taste for Reality TV into the future, where too far is still not far enough. Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk.
There is another variety of Reality TV that I watch occasionally, which is (or seems to be) filmed on location, rather than having a special location set up, like the Big Brother house. Examples are Ice Road Truckers and Death Road Truckers. I watched a few of episodes of the latter, which seemed to be full of stock shots, incompetently juxtaposed. One was a shot taken from the top of the truck, looking down, showing the wheels on the edge of a sheer precipice, and then there was an establishing shot, taken from across a valley, with such a precipice nowhere in sight, and then a cab’s-eye-view, also with the precipice nowhere in sight. These were repeated in several different episodes, and after the second repetition, all sense of “reality” dissipated.
There was another one — I forget the title now — where the protagonist was parachuted alone into a wilderness and survived by eating insects and things like that. I watched a few snatches of that, but became more and more conscious of its unreality rather than reality, because I was always aware of the presence of the camera crew. The survival tips were sometimes interesting, and could have come out of a book I have somewhere called Don’t die in the bundu. The pretence that it was real somehow didn’t work.
I did once see real Reality TV, as opposed to the fake reality that I have been describing. That was the rescue of some miners in Chile who had been trapped underground a couple of years ago. Or perhaps that too was faked for TV — how would one know? Well one way of knowing is that if it was real (ie fake) Reality TV, the audience would have voted for which miners got to be rescued, and which would be left to die of starvation underground.
Am I the only one bothered by this trend?
Am I just a crusty old curmudgeon complaining about the youth of today being so much worse than our generation?
Our generation believed in things like “flower power” and had slogans like “make love not war”.
We saw things like manipulation and exploitation and the Schadenfreude that seem to motivate Reality TV audiences as somehow undesirable. But some of the “flower power” generation grew up. One of them was Bill Clinton, the bomber of Belgrade.
The same is true of every generation. Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk.
My heart is full of unwashed socks, my soul is full of gunk.