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.