The man with his finger on the racing pulse of reality TV thinks it's only a matter of time before someone in the genre goes "too far."
Did I just write "before" reality TV goes too far?
Of course, you have to understand that every time our culture goes too far, we have to come up with a new, more "out there" definition of "too far." For the first decade or two of the Television Age, "hell" and "damn" were "too far." And you couldn't say the word "pregnant." It was "family way," darn it!
And Rob and Laura Petrie slept in separate beds.
THESE DAYS, says Today's blog The Clicker, "too far" pretty much is a reality-TV snuff movie. "Too far" is Americans sitting slack-jawed on their couches, shoving their faces full of chips and delighting in a "magnificent violent act."
I SUPPOSE -- whether or not we actually get to see "snuff TV" -- the mere fact that there is such a thing as the New York Reality TV School is yet another sign that we are the new barbarians. That we stand to push the exhibitionist genre beyond, in its worst permutations, mere casual cruelty and idiocy and into bloodlust and criminal intent, all for our entertainment, is a sign that we may be monsters.
"People will watch to see if we can find signs of 'did we see that coming?'" said Robert Galinsky, founder of the New York Reality TV School. "'Was I a good enough detective to see the signs that Russell Armstrong was going to take his own life?' 'Did I tap into my inner David Caruso and detect that Kim was faking her wedding?'"
Reality is all about the here, and the now -- if it’s done, it's over. So they have to keep pushing the envelope. And with both "Housewives" and "Kourtney & Kim" we’ve been invited to watch the evolution of two of the worst things that can happen to couples -- sudden death and divorce. It's hard to imagine that other reality shows won’t find some way to give us more somewhere down the line.
Galinsky figures we haven’t even gotten close to ultimate reality TV: "The line we cross is when we see something ultra-violent -- domestic violence or the like -- live," he said. "Reality TV still has a filter, yet a questionable one, and we haven’t crossed the threshold yet, but we'll see it soon in the form of a murder, suicide or some other magnificent violent act that will make its way onto the screen."
Waiting for that "magnificent" violence to erupt may be some viewers' idea of a good time. But what we have now, the slow crawl to the inevitable ending we know is coming, doesn’t really feel much like entertainment any more. It’s evolved into something else, something we may not have a word for yet.