Thursday, March 25, 2010

We Shoot Game Shows, Don't We?

Last week I was in a meeting in which the ratings for the new game show, Minute to Win It was given a lot of attention.  We all want to know how it's doing.

You must have seen the TV ads for it. No?  Here then:

There is something creepy about this show. Maybe it's the futuristic set that reminds me of Logan's Run or Rollerball. Maybe it's the dark anti-lighting and the beams of light that move through the set like ray guns.

Maybe it's the desperation built up by the voiceover and cliched Sci Fi graphics combined with the extremely limited increment of time in which a life could be changed forever. Or not.

People love a contest and these people are playing for $1 million.  That's a lot of money to most people.  Maybe even to millionaires it's a lot of money.  It's enough to change a life.

We watch them scramble for it for the sake of our entertainment.

We like to say we live in a meritocracy; a place where the skilled are rewarded for their excellence.   But as in much of life, in this show, the possibility of success is stacked against the contestants.

Shh . . . don't tell anyone but during the recitation of the ratings for Minute to Win It, all I could think of was They Shoot Horses, Don't They? a film about a group of desperate people exploited for the amusement of onlookers in a dance marathon.

Back during the Great Depression, they had dance marathons.  For the promise of a cash prize, people danced until they dropped.  Sometimes they even dropped dead.

While I was thinking of the movie and the dance marathons, it occurred to me that game shows and reality television may one day be the only path to earning money remaining in America. Farm land has been eaten by housing tracts that now sit foreclosed upon. Manufacturing is gone.  Even customer service is out sourced.  What have we left but our competitive spirit and our couch potato love of seeing others struggle and compete?

Are we a bread and circus nation, except without the part about the bread?  All circus; no bread.

I used to like game shows.  But now the stakes are so high and the lighting so ominous and in an age of so much desperation, it seems cruel to offer up so much with so little chance at winning.  Did the $64,000 Question seem this cruel?

Me, I'll just keep playing Super Lotto as my path to riches plan of choice.


Julia @ Hooked on Houses said...

I have to agree--that show doesn't look the least bit appealing to me. There IS something creepy about it. Is anyone watching it?

I like your thoughts on game shows and how we might all be earning a living from reality TV someday. It doesn't seem that far-fetched right now!

brismod said...

I think the path to riches you've chosen is at least more dignified. No one looks good with game show lighting, especially if you have to keep two feathers afloat for one minute with your breath!!!

Jayne said...

I agree, that show looks creepy and it brings a level of desperation to game shows that turns me off. I won't watch it.

Why S? said...

Julia - fewer people watched it in its second week than in its first week. I think, as with any of the new game shows, there's in interest in the premier episode, out of curiosity, but then each episode begins to look like all the rest. I think these things have a very short lifespan. But then, Deal or No Deal is still on and I've never understood that show at all.

Brismod, I hope my path is not only more dignified, but also more lucrative. Fingers crossed, fingers crossed, fingers crossed . . .

Why S? said...

Hi Jayne! Thanks for confirming it's not just me who finds the tone creepy. I think there's a place for these things. It's just the execution that twists the whole thing in an dark and ugly direction.

Anonymous said...

Reality shows and some game shows are not about the contestant's need to make money. it is about our society's need for fame and our fifteen minutes on TV. not everything is about the economy. True time are tough, but the way people will embarrass themselves on a national stage is far deeper than their pocketbook.

Why S? said...

Dear Anonymous (do I know you?): I absolutely agree that we live in a society with an inordinate need for fame and our 15 minutes. This is one of my favorite themes and exploring the topic could be a whole blog in itself. We crave social validation, even if it requires public humiliation. This fixation on validation by others feeds not only reality TV but also Twitter, YouTube and pretty much all other social networking sites. Maybe even blogging as well?

However, my post did not approach the topic from the motivation of the contestants. I was more interested in the production and the viewers. TV shows don’t get produced because a bunch of people want to humiliate themselves on television. TV shows get produced because a bunch of people want to watch other people humiliate themselves on television, thereby creating an audience for advertisers to sell us stuff we don’t really need.

My point is that the challenge of the competition isn’t enough. The stakes have to be raised incredibly high and if a huge amount of money, family drama and an unrealistic time limit isn’t enough, let’s throw in some dramatic lighting and creepy graphics to artificially heighten the tension. So why are so many of us willing to watch this?

You’re right that not everything is about The Economy. But reality TV seems to be the only industry that we’re getting more and more of and I’m just wondering what we’re all becoming as a result of it. That’s all. Just wondering.