Crappy Television: An Extension of Ourselves?

Did your mother ever tell you that watching television would rot your brain? It may have seemed like a pretty ridiculous notion back in the good old days of “Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons,” “The Real World” (when it was good) and “Ren & Stimpy,” when the trashiest show you could watch was “Melrose Place.” But television has been living up to its “boob tube” moniker in recent years, and yet we still watch the crap; so, is this crap really the fault of those running the shows, or does it simply reflect our crappy culture?

The good old days were not even that long ago. When “Jackass” first came out about five years back, MTV had a disclaimer before every show warning viewers not to submit their own tapes of acting like a fool, because the station wouldn’t even take them out of the package. Now, TV shows like “Web Junk 20” and “Viral Videos” actually encourage viewers to send in videos of people hurting themselves for the purpose of entertainment, including a video of a drunken college kid hitting himself in the head with a detached rain gutter and another where a kid throws a pair of scissors at his obnoxious roommate.

Unfortunately, television execs aren’t the only people encouraging amoral, tasteless behavior — simply turn on MTV and watch one of the 10 episodes of “Parental Control” played daily. In this act of genius, parents pick two potential suitors for their son or daughter in an attempt to rid themselves of the current significant other. Granted, none of these relationships are marriages, but that in no way justifies parents condoning infidelity. While much of this supposed “reality” show is clearly scripted, there are some truly fucked-up moments in which the participants reveal their inner slut in front of not only their boyfriend or girlfriend, but also their parents.

Perhaps this desire to be on television acting like a dumb bitch (guy or girl) is spurred by our society’s fascination with celebrities and their various relationships. When Brad Pitt is commended for his humanitarian efforts after cheating on Jen, and Paris Hilton gets national attention every time she finds a new penis, what is our impressionable youth to think? Obsession with celebrities has gotten out of control, and shows like “Celebrity Eye Candy” and “Stranded With a Star” reveal how truly absurd this phenomenon has become. The former dedicates entire segments to montages of celebrities following a certain theme, be it facial hair or talking on a cell phone, while the latter provides us with a roundtable of C-list celebrities tackling the tough questions, which go something like this: Who would you rather be stranded on an island with, Clay Aiken or Marilyn Manson? The priceless moments on this show occur when the so-called celebs actually argue passionately over the questions, like when John Salley chose K-Fed over Justin Timberlake (sigh). When did entertainment turn into a sixth-grade slumber party?

There is obviously some educational television out there, with the National Geographic Channel being one of the more consistently strong cable networks. Unfortunately, Time Warner recently snatched that channel away from its faithful viewers, sending sophisticated stoners like myself searching for new ways to couch-learn. The History Channel has apparently caught on to the fact that people began referring to it as the Hitler Channel, and has now begun showing footage from other horrendous wars. Could Pol Pot’s genocide be next? We should be so lucky. The Learning Channel and Weather Channel get into the fun as well, seemingly hell-bent on terrifying rather than enlightening the viewer. With shows like “It Could Happen Tomorrow” and “Mega-Disasters,” viewers are confronted with the possibility that Yellowstone may be a mega-volcano, a meteor could end civilization as we know it and a hurricane could hit New York City. While I can’t bring myself to change the channel when scenes of widespread devastation are shown, most of these shows fall into the “ignorance is bliss” category rather than the “good to know” one.

It isn’t hard to sit back as an armchair critic and pick out what’s wrong with television, but it has become unacceptably difficult to find something good to watch. The best television requires the viewer to pay an extra $10 a month for HBO. Showtime also has some great shows — specifically “Huff” and “Weeds” — but only the 17 Americans who actually subscribe to Showtime are aware of that. So what’s my point? I guess I’m just annoyed that though television’s tact, class and ethics have hit an all-time low, I still watch anyway. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really get us anywhere, but if you are watching television, you aren’t really getting anywhere anyway, now are you?