For many people, the thought of a world without reality television is undesirable, if not altogether unbearable. For others, reality television is the scourge of our airwaves, and has accelerated the coarseness found everywhere in our society today. Before the ubiquity of computers and the Internet, there was reality television…gently and harmlessly working its way into our living rooms, and our very consciousness. Shows like The Real World were voyeuristic, sure, but perhaps they offered some insight into interpersonal communication and small group dynamics. Over the years, more and more shows were added, and they diversified – with premises revolving around cooking, dating, singing, dancing, etc. There was seemingly a show for everyone, and catered to a wealth of different interests. With something for everyone, reality television was clearly here to stay. Over time, it lost its newness, but never its popularity. You could hardly remember a time before such entertainment. It was in our well water. It was in our blood. But was it good for us?
There were both quality shows, and tasteless dreck, like any network programming. We kept on watching. The lines between the two often blurred, and it was easy to excuse away our guilty pleasures as pure harmless amusement. Over the years, the stakes seemed to get higher and we demanded more and more thrills. We weren’t satisfied unless we witnessed physical violence, screaming matches, tears, humiliation, or some sort of shaming event where the participant was severely embarrassed or cruelly scorned. Of course, we’d never admit to that, but that’s what we all wanted. Naturally, not all shows were like this, but as one might expect, those raucous and sensational shows began to dominate the landscape. Their crowded presence in the television market allowed these loud and shallow shows to subtly contaminate the well. Shows that were not inclined to such antics were suddenly less vigilant in their standards of decency. Some resisted, and paid the price in cancellations. Networks that once offered educational and cultural programming, became unscrupulous peddlers of lurid television, devoid of all nutritional value. Reality television spread like fire, and took over swaths of new and old cable networks. Despite the fact that a considerable portion of the population denounced reality television and found it had more of a deleterious effect on the public than a positive one, we still kept on watching. As much as we all denied it, clearly someone was watching. It was everywhere, and growing by the day.
Networks knew they had caught lightening in a bottle. They could assemble a skeleton crew of writers to sketch a scenario…a premise…and then hold some kind of mass audition….and then populate a house….island….kitchen….stage….etc. with ambitious amateurs, who were already hungry for their deserved 15 minutes of fame. By and large, they didn’t have to pay these amateurs, or at least, not very much. Their overhead was keeping up the production costs of the show. For all intents and purposes, there were no writers to pay, union actors to hire, royalties or rights to negotiate, and they had nearly no production design costs in the way of sets, costumes, special effects, etc. How could they not push reality television on the American public? Of course, it didn’t take that much convincing. We were hooked.
Of course, we all know we’re being manipulated at both ends of the bargain. You’d have to be real dim to not know that these little conflagrations of anger, sadness, rage and all those other marketable emotions are completely staged and scripted. Scenarios are arranged to maximize conflict and enmity. Well, duh. Conflict and obstacles are the foundation of world drama and script development. No one really wants to watch an hour of someone clipping toenails and brushing their teeth. Reality television producers quickly realized that the reason people go to theatre or watch scripted films and television, is that good writing is always tightly wound and simmering with tension and anticipation. Characters have objectives that clash, and we only see the most dramatic moments in these peoples’ lives. Drama is about seeing Willy Loman’s WORST day, not the day he mowed the lawn and nothing happened. Unfortunately, reality is not so interesting. But since they couldn’t script it, they have to boil all the drama into succinct sound bites that they can replay ad nauseam. They wanted it both ways.
The reality of reality television also relates to its parasitic relationship with Hollywood and the industry, in general. There’s no way to get a truly accurate idea of how much damage reality television has had on the Industry, because frankly, it has lined the pockets of some, while beggaring others. It has been Hollywood’s boon, while leaving others bust. It is common knowledge that its impact on regular working actors in Los Angeles and New York was devastating. Seemingly, over night, average people – untrained and with little to no experience – were taking jobs that would have been guest spots or series regular gigs in scripted television shows. Writers were put out of work. Designers looked elsewhere. Why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free?
The Bread and Circus had arrived.
But lest you think I have nothing but superior contempt and loathing for reality television, I also concede that it does have its virtues. For one, the very genre may not even exist if it hadn’t been for the glut of awful and anemic sitcoms that littered network television in the eighties and all through the nineties. People were fatigued by the predictable and formulaic plots and one-dimensional stock characters. The medium was exhausted and offered little variety. Shows like Seinfeld broke the mold a little, and blossomed, whereas other stale stinkers fell away. Americans were hungry for something more real. Something more genuine. They also wanted to see people that looked like themselves. Eventually, some people not only wanted to watch people that looked like them, but watch them do foolish and dangerous things, all while secretly feeling better about themselves and their poor decisions. As shameful and dark as it is to admit, there’s a visceral satisfaction – however small – that we all take in the pain of others. Not that we actually want another person to be hurt or killed, but they are our proxy after all. They suffer, so as we don’t have to. In scripted drama, that’s simply an actor fictitiously representing that pain. In reality television, it’s a real person, in real pain. And somehow we forgot the difference.
Despite the deluge of small-minded, xenophobic, racist, exploitive, sexist, offensive, querulous, and sensational reality television, there have also been a number of quality programs that have enriched the lives of millions. Shows like American Restoration, 1900 House, Mythbusters, SciGirls, Cake Boss, The Amazing Race, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown are educational and entertaining. Many people would argue that at the end of a long day, the last thing they want is to be educated, and the first thing they want is to be mindlessly entertained. And amused by the outrageous antics of people that may look like them, but are thankfully not them. Reality television opens peoples’ living rooms up to the world, and can take them hiking through the outback, sitting on a broke down porch in rural Georgia, dashing around a noisy and fragrant NYC kitchen, or sitting by a pool in Beverly Hills. This was no longer Sam Malone’s crowded bar or Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe’s living room. This was the world. And it was not theirs. At the end of the day, what’s the harm in a little escapism?
The effects of prolonged exposure to a steady diet of reality television may be as elusive to measure as the effects of video games on adolescent minds. There can be no doubt that we have become a coarser and less polite society. We are far less likely to offer the common courtesies to each other, that our parents and grandparents would have taken for granted. It’s been a long time since movies like Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Psycho, or even Jaws actually frightened and sickened moviegoers at the cinema. Today, we have become so desensitized to violence, that we are hardly disturbed at the sight of graphic depictions. Even AMC’s popular hit, The Walking Dead routinely depicts brutal gruesome acts of violence on regular cable television, which in the past would have only been relegated to Rated-R films. Our ratings standards have slowly been relaxed, as our tastes and attitudes towards sex and violence have evolved over time. This has been a long and steady evolution, and there’s no one culprit, if that’s even the word to describe a society’s mutual consent to move away from its conservative Puritan roots. Perhaps video games have played a part…or the movies we see…or the rancor of our political system. It might be the natural byproduct of a nation at peace and relatively prosperous for a number of years. It might be reality television. In all likelihood, it’s all of those things, but much more.
Reality television isn’t innately good or evil. There is nothing more natural than the desire to film the people and events around you. That’s the very essence of the uniquely American home video. Reality television in itself is a highly versatile medium, with a lot of potential to both educate and entertain. The two DO NOT need to be mutually exclusive, although sadly they most often are. Shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Jersey Shore, Toddlers & Tiaras, Temptation Island, Duck Dynasty, The Real Housewives of…, and Celebrity Rehab are toxic, and really have no redeemable qualities. We have become so starved for ‘the real’ that we have created a dominant and immovable genre of abuse and misuse. It’s judges cruelly lay into fragile artistic egos; it’s quack doctors have no scruples in toying with the emotions and triggers of their celebrity patients; roommates refuse to share space and would rather confront each other in violent shrieking tirades; chefs berate their underlings in angry, expletive-laden tirades for every minor error in the kitchen; uneducated greedy mothers exploit the talents of their children for profit and gain, while they themselves are exploited by a network with the same objective; overweight contestants are taunted and ridiculed, while they work hard for the money, as much as the coveted ‘sexy bod’; selfish, bored and spoiled housewives have nothing better to do than backstab and undermine their ‘frenemies’ – a word that was coined in the 1950s, but never truly found its ring until this generation. These are the people we choose to spend our nights and weekends with, and over time, they too have truly become our frenemies.
The sheer act of being exposed to a morally bankrupt, selfish, dissolute, and malicious person does not necessarily mean you are going to be corrupted yourself. No more than a teenage boy exposed to a violent video game repeatedly is going to turn around and commit a heinous violent crime. HOWEVER, there is something to be said for an exclusive steady diet of nothing but garbage television. Just as there’s no harm in eating the occasional cupcake. But when you start to eat only cupcakes, then you have a real problem. Shakespeare is full of treacherous and duplicitous self-confessed villains, and many of them are written in complex ways, so you can empathize and even identify with them. They are often funny and smart, and have other appealing traits, that make them likable. This invokes a mixed feeling of dread in the viewer, since there is a certain understandable regret or shame in rooting for a monster depicting such horrific acts in front of you. We see this in our best episodic scripted television today. Tony Soprano and Walter White would hardly be worth watching if they were two-dimensional villains, without the humanity we crave in our heroes–villains or not. However, these characters are also surrounded by characters that are resolutely good and positive influences. In fact, the majority of those around them are likely “good”–a fact probably true of our own world and lives. Scripted television and theatre allows that ‘evil character’ to jostle against the goodness of those around them, and we are privy to the logic that goes into their poisonous decisions. And we see their doubts and the inherent goodness try to sway the scoundrel away from his predetermined course. Most importantly, we see the consequences of those actions, and there is often some kind of justice and/or redemption meted out in the end. And you may say, but wait, real life does not always give us tidy just endings, and villains aren’t always punished. But they are. Whether it’s their freedom denied, their loss of loved ones, crippling poverty, or the heavy burden of regret, they are punished–even if not to the satisfaction of their victims. Dramatic writing can expertly craft moments of justice and reward, and allows us to glimpse the impact on everyone involved. Reality television often pits one unsympathetic villain against another, and revels in the carnage that follows. There often are no redeemable people, and the fights, toxic behavior and poor decisions are not contextualized or commented on in any meaningful way, Bad behavior is not punished, but actually rewarded. Deception, lying, and cheating end up proving to be effective tools and qualities, and people cultivate these traits in an effort to win. Nearly every reality show on television has some aspect of winning and competition, even the more domestic ones.
All too often, reality television turns its camera on the moment of crisis, when the action is at its highest, and reason has long been abandoned. These moments are bloodsport, and offer us very little in return. The innovative use of the ‘confessional’ in reality television allows the subjects to talk frankly to a camera and confess their deepest secrets, animosities, motivations, etc. This seems to be the functional equivalent of the monologue or soliloquy in theatre, film, and television. The problem is that the clips are heavily edited, and all but the most lurid and provocative is excised from the tape. We are often left with a confessional that was strong-armed out of the subjects almost immediately after altercations, with no time to calm down and reason through their thoughts. Confessions end up being filled with curses and threats, and promises of future violence. Although there are certainly times when these moments betray remorse, allow for reason, and foster reconciliation, the vast majority are angry rants of rage and the inevitable plotting of revenge. We are robbed of the chance to witness those quiet moments of introspection that we all have–even those of us most shallow and least self-aware. It is human nature to dwell on our actions and interactions, regardless of whether we approve or disapprove. In reality television, we see all of the fire, but none of the air that breathes it life and the brush that feeds its flames. People came to see stuff burn.
Reality television is an expertly crafted illusion, and we are all held fast in its spell. Even those of us that understand it’s not reality, and who view it for the fun and silliness of it, are still unsuspecting victims of its heat. When we view such cruelty, abuse, and ridicule on regular scripted television, we are always still aware that we’re watching actors portray fictional scenarios. We may be moved or angered, but we’re never entirely lost in the fantasy. And perhaps that’s not a bad thing. It allows us to empathize and emotionally invest in a character or storyline, but never lose our objectivity completely. We are witness to a crime, but not necessarily its victim. In reality television, the lines are blurred, because we instinctively know that we are not watching actors perform lines from a script, but are faintly aware that we are still being manipulated, and that scenarios don’t typically happen so succinctly and conveniently. The words coming out of their mouths may not be scripted, but they do seem to be guided and styled by those who know the truth that reality is not so interesting, and much more prosaic than we would like. Just as improv comedians and Commedia dell’arte actors have archetypal characters and familiar loose plot structures/scenarios/tropes they can draw on even without scripted dialogue, the participants in reality television quickly learn to exploit their own speech and expressions for sound bites and catchphrases on the show. Reoccurring conflicts and hostile scenarios generate their own scripts, as the characters’ sound bites meet, and each fill an archetypal role in the family/business/competition. Furthermore, in regards to its claims at truth, reality television is a perfect example of the well known scientific theory of Observer Effect, in which an object is irrefutably changed by the very presence of those observing it–however unobtrusive they may be. Reality television stars know they’re singing for their supper, and if they want that camera to continue to follow them, they had better perform. This inevitably leads to nastier fights, more violent brawls, higher risk taking, exaggerated emotion, and other high-octane antics. Just as the producers are orchestrating internal conflict and editing scenes to maximize enmity, the stars themselves are investing greater and greater amounts of anger and energy into fights, lovemaking, and even tearful scenes of reconciliation. The subject is inalterably changed by the camera that captures them, and our unscripted television show suddenly inherits a team of amateur writers in the stars they choose to cast. Needless to say, nobody’s taking home an Emmy in scriptwriting.
Reality television is a myth we all cheerfully buy into, but are equally injured by its duplicitous nature. At the end of the day, we know Walter White is a character played by the talented Bryan Cranston. He hasn’t actually killed all those people, but we can still take comfort in the justice he earned and the cautionary lessons we take from it. It is wildly entertaining, but also instructive and enlightening. Walt was us–the everyman–who felt small and unappreciated, and ultimately, had nothing to live for. His empire was his own masculinity and a desperate need to feel big again. We saw his devastating journey, and even when we were appalled and disapproving, we still understood who he was and why he did it all. In reality television, we are robbed of context, and only see the carnage, without any of the true complexity that makes us human. Shallow, vicious, and contentious people are selected for their marketable volatility. They are not cast for their thoughtfulness or ability to effectively communicate with those around them. It is bloodsport. It is a cockfight. Reality television fulfills our deepest primal and reptilian urges, while depriving our brains of anything nutritious. The genre is a myth because it tricks us into thinking that we are watching real people go about their lives, but then we also know that these lives are tightly manicured and edited story lines with ‘real people’ vying for our attention, and manipulating reality to suit the needs of the story and themselves. And yet, even though we know it’s unscripted, over-produced and directed meaningless drama on camera, it is still REAL, for the very fact that real people are getting hurt–physically, psychologically, and emotionally. We always knew that Walter White was really Bryan Cranston wearing fake blood. But it’s different when we feel invested in a reality television show in a way we would a drama, because we’re still taking small delight in the injury of its stars. We are witnessing actual pain in a real human being, but somehow processing it in a scripted-fictional psycho-structure. If nothing else, reality television–among other factors–has disrupted what we knew as reality, and left us in a place where it’s now harder to distinguish between fact and fiction, and what we should invest our empathy in. Our fictional hero wears the makeup, our reality television star wears the real bruises, but it may be us who comes away with the most damage.
Many who talk about the “dumbing down” of America, attribute it in some small part to reality television and its deleterious effects on minds. I think even its staunchest defenders would agree that the majority of it is puerile mindless entertainment, and nothing more. Naturally, they would still contend that it is harmless, and certainly no more destructive than violent fictional programs are. But there is something different. While it’s impossible to know whether reality television is a causative factor or merely a symptom, it certainly seems to have spilled over into our lives. There are many of us who only watch this kind of television. Others are casual viewers. I myself watch a few shows from time to time, and enjoy them. However, I do feel that it is slowly contaminating our culture in ways that may not be readily apparent. And I don’t mean that in some Judao-Christian moral crusade kind of way. My tastes run dark and macabre, and I enjoy twisted tales of humanity. However, my fictional proclivities are at odds with the reality of a genre seemingly built on voyeuristic ridicule and confrontation. Many of the shows are vicious competitions between amateur hopefuls, just like you and me, who are thrust into the spotlight. The level of discourse is often needlessly cruel and critical, and participants are almost always subject to unreasonable scrutiny and ridicule, particularly regarding their bodies and appearance. Undoubtedly, reality television is not alone in its negative portrayals of body image and superficial value judgements, but it is a very flagrant offender–if for no other reason than the fact that it is so crass and wields its criticism so honestly. There is no artistry in the harsh words of judges, doctors, lawyers, and other arbiters of this world, for they are wounding for ratings, not betterment. We know we are watching ‘reality,’ and slowly, that reality becomes ours. We are somehow unable to fully extricate ourselves from the worlds we find ourselves in. Their crass language becomes ours, their standards of acceptable behavior may find its way into our impenetrable moral code. Humans are instinctively mimetic–we imitate our parents almost from birth. Our lives are rich patterns of the tricks we learned long ago, and the imitations we pick up nearly every day. We are incalculably tied to our televisions, and every image and sound we process make their way through the unchartered pathways of our mind and leave hypothetical engrams in their wake. In a show like Breaking Bad, the script might skillfully lead its audience to places where it can draw conclusions and take away something meaningful, whereas a show like Temptation Island simply orchestrates predatory scenarios of unethical enticement and encourages reckless infidelity. Where one depicts wreckage, but ultimately leaves fertile soil, the other reaps carnage and leaves nothing but scorched earth behind. With a few exceptions, even the better reality television shows are crude and instantly gratifying, without any of the work. Entertainment does not have to be mindless, and depicting cruelty does not have to be cruel. I am no prude or Puritan. I thoroughly enjoy violent, and even profane art and culture. But what I do abhor is thuggish and uncivilized crudity in a form that sometimes passes itself off as art, but is ill bred and incapable of rising to that level of imagination. I resent any loud and unsubtle bully hijacking a society’s imagination, and convincing us all we are eating a well-balanced meal, rather than a bagful of sugar. I object to the idea that entertainment cannot be more than one thing. Writers throughout the ages have crafted violent, suspenseful, heart-wrenching, thrilling works of fiction that also happened to be clever, poetic, nuanced, deep, instructive, uplifting, profound, and much more. If Shakespeare could entrance and excite the illiterate commoner in the pit, while simultaneously stir and delight the royalty in the boxed seats, than any capable writer, director, and producer can do the same. It doesn’t take the Bard’s genius to create art that is both pleasing and edifying, but it does take an imagination and a desire to invest in people, not fleece them.
Despite my strident objections to 95% of all reality television, I also recognize that it may have inadvertently given us a gift back–The ‘Golden Renaissance of Television.’ I may be going out on a proverbial limb here, but I think it’s reasonable to point out that the growth and explosion of reality television on the American psyche happened not long before the rebirth of great American storytelling – particularly in hour-long cable network television dramas. Although there had been some early contenders – The Shield, Hill Street Blues, etc, it was really the forward-thinking programmers at HBO who got the ball rolling. Most people consider The Sopranos to be the benchmark and official starting point of this golden age we seem to be happily in. From there, other shows followed, like Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, Deadwood, The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The West Wing, Downton Abbey, House of Cards, Sherlock, Luther, Homeland, and Orange is the New Black. Now, it seems you can’t flip a channel without coming across a really well-written, engaging, well-plotted, acted, designed, and directed show–on any number of networks. There’s still far too much reality television out there, but at least we have our own lightening in a bottle, and can see our way home again. Each of those shows offer comedy, drama, action, romance, rich character development, and tightly woven plot lines filled with all the twists and turns you could ask for. Even the most violent and sensational still offer up thought and reflection, and leave you better than when you went in. Was necessity the mother of invention here, and were writers forced to think outside the box in order to survive and tell stories again? Wouldn’t it be rich if reality television were responsible for an explosion of creativity that would ultimately take some its own programs off the air? I’d like to think that it’s no coincidence that as our minds were flooded with more and more nonsense, there was an uprising of artists, who decided that they had had enough and boldly created audacious and innovative television, that recaptured the imaginations of at least some of the American public.
I do not condemn all reality television and its very existence. The desire to pick up a camera and film our neighbors and ourselves is the essence of art and its fascination with preserving our image. There are wonderful shows that educate, and others that showcase the talents of singers and dancers, and other artists. However, I take exception when any one medium dominates another, and seems so transparently fueled by money and ratings, often at the expense of those it portrays. The few reality shows that are fantastic all have a few things in common: they are not exploitive of their subjects; they are instructive in some way; their objective is to bring out the best in their stars and allow the world to see their talents, rather than their worst traits; and they all understand that if the people and stories are exceptional to begin with, the show will most likely be a highly entertaining and informative hit.
Watching reality television from time to time is not going to rot your brain. However, it also isn’t the safe and fun vacation it purports to be. Parents especially should take an active interest in what their kids are watching. As it’s evolved (or de-evolved, as the case may be), reality television has actually become a rather perilous place, where reality is blurred and we are inundated with negative stereotypes, caustic language, irrational anger, violence of all kinds, molestation, incest, ignorance, sexism, racism, bullying, ridicule, and brutal criticism and discouragement.
I find it inexcusable when networks and fans of a certain reality show act shocked and disappointed to learn about the deplorable comments and actions of the show’s stars off-screen, especially when it is consistent with their behavior on the show. In December 2013, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson went on an “anti-gay” bigoted tirade in GQ Magazine, after which his network A&E condemned the comments and said they don’t reflect their own values, and that they were shocked and dismayed. They decided to impose an indefinite suspension. This reaction was disingenuous, since the network had heard remarks like this from Robertson and his family before, and they knew exactly what they were getting when they signed them in the first place. That’s WHY they signed them. They’re controversial, and they’re the highest rated program on the network. The show has broken several ratings records on A&E and cable television as a whole. The fourth season premiere drew 11.8 million viewers; the most-watched nonfiction cable series in history. Fans also acted shocked and horrified at Robertson’s remarks, and although some abandoned the show, most went right back and continued watching.
There is a disconnect-hypocrisy found in the minds of many hardcore reality television viewers. Many, if not most, consider themselves morally superior to the people in the shows they watch, and even derive a sense of haughty pleasure at being better than the people they watch for amusement. They may consider themselves good, just, fair, moral, open-minded, and compassionate people, but then turn around and watch child abusers, cheaters, racists, sexists, homophobes, and other deplorable characters on their shows. Remember, this isn’t fiction they are watching, with actors just doing their job. These are actual “lowlifes.” As such, there is something morally reprehensible about someone deriving pleasure from another person’s misery, and feeling a sense of superiority over them. Furthermore, by watching these programs, people are indirectly stamping their approval on this objectionable and dangerous behavior, and rewarding poor parenting, deception, bigotry, and more with lucrative television deals. When these stars receive high ratings and endorsement deals, we are endorsing their bad behavior and encouraging them to continue.
Not long ago, it was learned that the mother of Honey Boo Boo had chosen to get back together with her boyfriend, a convicted child molester, despite the danger to her daughters. Somehow, Americans were shocked and surprised. They were disappointed in this uneducated woman, who they considered ignorant “white trash,”grossly obese, and a bad parent. How could they be shocked, when she was already the target of their scorn and ridicule? We knew this man, and what he was like, and we knew the woman who chose him. How could anyone be surprised at such news? Now we learn that one of the ten boys on 19 Kids and Counting molested four of the nine girls back in 2003-4. The show follows a deeply religious couple and their 19 children, their childrens’ spouses, and their grandchildren. All of the children are homeschooled, and access to entertainment, such as movies and television, is limited. The values presented on the show have been associated with the Quiverfull movement, which has been described as promoting strict family conformity, male hierarchies, and subservient roles for women. The clearly repressed atmosphere undoubtedly played a role in this incestuous molestation. The whole situation is a real shame, but not one that should have been a shock to anyone. Most of these reality shows are a breeding ground for conflict, rape, abuse, violence, bigotry, intolerance, promiscuity, and worse. It infects our minds, our words, and our actions.
On the one hand, if you’re there to watch reality television because the behavior looks like your own, then it only reinforces your bad behavior and effectively puts a stamp of approval on your dysfunctional traits. If you’re there to observe people that aren’t like you and perhaps to feel superior to them, you are still somehow condoning their behavior by the very fact that you are a happy witness to such incivility. And can you really claim the moral high ground, when you take pleasure in other peoples’ misery? Even as we think we walk away unscathed, we carry words and actions with us, and cannot unsee what we’ve seen. We may not use their words exactly, or react as hotly and as violently as those we’ve seen, but we’ve somehow still condoned that behavior, and may have internalized all the violence and poor decision making. Just as we are the unwitting victims of what we all witnessed on September 11, and can never see the world the same way again, we are also products of our television, and of a genre that plays cruelly with only some of us, but may make victims of us all.