I noticed that this really isn’t one category, but at least four. There are the shows where washed-up celebrities embarrass themselves for ordinary people (Celebrity Apprentice, Celebrity Rehab), the shows where ordinary people embarrass themselves for washed up celebrities (So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent), shows that put groups of people into wildly contrived situations (Survivor, Big Brother) and shows that take you behind the scenes of some sort of specialized endeavor (American Logger, Dirty Jobs).
I also noticed that the word “reality” is an ill-fitting moniker for this genre of programming. How many of us, during the normal course of a normal day eat grub worms, do a quick-step with a professional dancer, jump into a rotating bowl of shaving cream, or take a zip-line through and equatorial rain forest? How many of us will ever do these things?
I have long thought that “reality” ought only to be used for programs that take us into the regular course of a normal endeavor - the “Animal Cops” series on Animal Planet, for instance. But then, doesn’t the very introduction of the camera change the dynamic of everything? Even if the Green Channel put on a show called “American Composters” (maybe they already do, I don’t watch the Green Channel) the very act of filming someone dumping their lawn clippings and banana peels takes doing such out of the realm of reality. Who has a film crew following them around when they dump the bagger onto the compost heap?
“Reality TV” is an oxymoron. TV isn’t real – even TV news (perhaps especially TV news). You want reality, read the Bible.
You want to know what it is like to try to manage sibling rivalry (Jacob and Esau), or what it is like to be a new widow with an aging mother-in-law to care for (Ruth), or how you handle being a pregnant teen (Mary, mother of Jesus), or what it is like to feel cold and alone in jail (Paul), or how to handle a mother who isn’t good with your career choice (Jesus), or surviving the aftermath of an adulterous relationship (David), or what it is like to lose everything you’ve built in your life (Job)? Read the Bible.
The Bible is real. It is about real people, who speak the way real people speak, and react the way real people react – away from the cameras. These real people struggle, strive, and often succeed in being obedient to God against terrible opposition. Mostly, the Bible is about God, who is real, cares, and who intercedes.
You want fantasy? Watch TV.
You want reality? Read the Bible.
And of the two, which is necessary for our survival?
Which is worthy of our time?