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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reality Shows Bite

I think I stopped watching television in a big way when reality shows began to pop up on every channel. I know that a lot of people love them. I don't. So my discourse here isn't going to appeal to any of you who watch them religiously. And why would I know anything about them if I don't watch them? I should explain the configuration of my home.

At night when I am finished teaching and come upstairs to the livingroom, I like to pull out my laptop and read or write. If I am to spend anytime at all with my husband, I have to sit in the livingroom with him as he is watching a 50-inch television that takes up a whole corner of the room. He watches a lot of reality TV, along with other dramatic series, and as a result I do as well. It's out of the corner of my eye, but the TV is so dominant that sometimes I get sucked into a scene or two, until I get bored or disgusted and put my earphones on and listen to Steely Dan. 

There are two reasons I don't like reality shows. Okay, maybe three. The first reason is because they have become insidious; once anything on television becomes a hit, every other network and station and writing team tries to duplicate it. Nobody is original. It's the "cookie cutter" effect. The same thing happens in pop music; songs, recording techniques and even singing styles are all copied or mimicked over and over, until pretty much every song sounds the same.

There was a time not so long ago in Nashville, for instance, that the same bunch of session players were playing on pretty much every country record that was being released! This makes it virtually impossible for those writers and producers (and I am married to one) who are trying to come up with fresh, new ideas, to get their work on television. I can tell you for a fact that networks will reject a television show proposal because it DOESN'T have a reality aspect to it. Can you beat that?

The second reason I don't like reality shows is because they exploit people. Now of course, these people or contestants, or whatever they are, sign up for these things and put their Joe Henry to all kinds of release papers so that producers can do whatever they want with what they shoot, so, in a sense, they know what they are getting into. Then why not put them in extreme situations and point the camera in their faces just to see how they react?

In some cases, it's almost embarrassing to see the worst come out in these participants as they are thrown into all kinds of odd, awkward and exploitative predicaments. How about pitting them against each other so we can see who's really nasty and who's the wimp? It's cheap and dishonest, kind of like a National Enquirer on TV. I wonder how many of these participants, once they see the final production, are surprised at how the editors and producers have created all kinds of situations that didn't actually happen. Which brings me to the third reason I don't like these shows.

They aren't real. They are manipulated in every conceivable way for dramatic effect, so that the audience will be compelled to keep watching. I think most people know this as they are watching...but I'm assuming that many don't. When you listen to a conversation about the latest episode of some such reality series, people sound like they've been completely sucked in by the events, and yet the events are often faked. On the other hand, I've heard people talk about soap opera's as if the characters and events were real. Holy crap.

But now we come to "Jon and Kate Plus 8". I've seen bits and pieces of this show and participated in conversations about it, but the most recent events have really perturbed me. There are 8 small children on that show being followed around by a production team recording every moment of their little lives. That would be a strange enough environment to grow up in, but what has made it worse recently is that a lot of very personal stuff is coming to light about their parents which is probably making for even more tension in that house than usual. I won't go into the details, you can find that out for yourself. That is, if you haven't already heard! It's everywhere right now; in newspapers, on television news programs and talk shows and the internet. You can't miss it.

Just this morning I saw a snippet of a conversation between a morning news anchor and a psychologist discussing the effects of these events on those little kids. How parents would agree to have their child's every moment documented on television in the first place is beyond me, but I guess it's expensive to take care of such a large family so I'm sure the paycheque helps. However, recently it has become about these very personal issues; this family could literally fall apart before the television audiences' eyes. Do we really want to see that? It just feels so wrong to me. How they could choose to continue in light of these events, I don't know.

But now we have another aspect to this whole nasty business. The ratings are going through the roof. Everybody loves watching a train wreck. And if the parents are even thinking of walking away from it all, you can bet there will be all kinds of heavy weights, producers, TV execs et al, begging them to continue. After all, it's about the ratings. So the irony of it all is that reality, true reality, has smacked this little family in the face. And we get to watch. Isn't that great?? Maybe a few of us will get the idea and do the right thing. Stop watching. I don't know what's going to happen to those eight little kids, but I don't think it's my right to know.

Reality shows bite.

IJ

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Anger Management - An Oxymoron

I was about 20 years old and living on my own in the West End in Vancouver, BC. One night, while returning home from a movie with a friend, we decided to take a short cut and walk down a quieter street. As we laughed and sauntered along, a group of guys were coming up the hill toward us. I wasn't paying much attention, but as they passed by us I felt a powerful yank, almost pulling my arm off. It took me a second to realize what had happened.

It's funny how the mind works...my first thought was that someone had accidently bumped into me pretty hard. But my purse was gone, and these guys were running up the hill with it. I don't know how long I stood there, but it seemed only a second before the first surges of rage began coursing through my veins, and against my friend's wishes I started tearing up the hill after the smarmy thieves.

I was mad. Really mad. It was a long hill and I was getting pretty winded, but after a couple of minutes and without looking back, the thieving punks actually slowed down and started walking, assuming they had accomplished their mission without incident. One of them must have heard me huffing and puffing up the hill, and turned around to see me on my angry charge. And what did they do? They started running again. Cowards!

Before I knew it, they had disappeared around a corner and by the time I reached it, they were gone. I didn't know what to do with the adrenaline in my system so I started crying as my friend finally caught up to me. Eventually, I got back to my apartment (luckily, I had kept my keys in my pocket) and I called the police.

I never did get the purse back, but I changed my walking habits and bought a smaller purse that I could keep under my coat where no one could grab it. The interesting thing that occurred to me after the fact was that when I was running up that hill, I had no idea what I would have done had I caught up to them. In fact, they might have beaten the crap out of me, or worse. All I could think about was how mad I felt, violated really, and how I was going to teach them a lesson or two! 

That's how stupid anger can make you. There have been other, less dramatic, incidents in my life when anger took over and stupidity set in. I once ran out of the house and stomped down a dark street near my home after a guy who had thrown an egg at my daughter's bedroom window. I stomped really loudly so he could hear me coming after him. What exactly that accomplished, I don't know! But he started walking faster and then finally disappeared into the night and somehow I felt a sense of triumph.

I'm 5'4" on a good day. If you met me, you'd think of me as a pretty friendly, smiling, easy-going person, but I've always had a bit of a temper. I never scared my daughters much when they were smaller...as soon as I'd get mad, they'd start giggling. I guess I look pretty silly when I'm mad. But I've seen and felt the effects of anger from others and I know it's a serious business.

Rage makes you dumb, it makes you say and do dumb things and it rarely accomplishes what you want it to. Rage is about getting or maintaining power. But there is no such thing as power over someone else, not really. Anger is something we try to use as a weapon, but which ends up hurting only ourselves. We want to "teach a lesson", but anger only teaches others to be angry and nobody really learns anything.

Road rage is becoming more common. There's a sense of anonymity when you're behind the wheel, so you yell and drive more aggressively because you really don't fear the guy in the other car. That's stupid too. Anonymous postings on the internet have become a way for people to spew their ignorant rage. You can be anybody or nobody and say anything you want because you're not really looking at anyone in the face...it's a completely self-absorbed action, when you think of it. 

Sometimes you hear of people being made to take anger management courses when they are unable to control their rages and get into some real trouble. Though the term "anger management" seems like an oxymoron to me, these sessions seem to help some people. The truth of it is that we're going to feel angry sometimes.

In my observations there are two kinds of angry...the quick, reactionary kind, and the slow, brooding kind. In my case, since I have a quick temper, I've learned to give myself a beat or a breath before I do anything. That one second of hesitation is usually enough for me not to over-react to something that's usually just petty anyway. I know there are a lot of people who don't think they have that second, but it's there, and it can save you a lot of heartache if you use it. I don't always succeed, but most of the time I do.

After that moment passes, I pay attention to what is going through my mind. A lot of the time, I'm case building. "He always does that, why doesn't she just...why only last week, they...". That kind of silly stuff. If I'm not paying attention, that second of hesitation will turn into a brooding session, so I have to go that one step further and watch my mind go through it's drama thing. As I'm watching it, the anger subsides because I'm not IN it. Does that make sense? And then it passes...which is what anger is meant to do.

Then there's the fuming anger...the kind that's triggered by one incident, but is fueled by days, weeks, and maybe even years of emotional affliction behind it. I know two people especially who experience this kind of anger on a continual basis. Both hold it in and brood for a very long time, but eventually it all comes out in one disproportionately large explosion.

The solution to this kind of anger is very similar...you have to watch your mind, step outside yourself and carefully defuse the bomb. But in the case of a brooder, they have to backtrack over a long time and dismantle their artillery, not and quick and easy thing to do. But neither is it impossible. I can't say that if I was walking down a street today and somebody grabbed my purse, that I wouldn't go charging after them again. But as I was charging, that little thought would probably come up this time: what happens when I catch them? And that would likely stop me in my tracks.

Plus the fact that I'm 52 and I can't run like that anymore. Crap. Those suckers are going to get away!! IJ

Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way - that is not easy. ~ Aristotle (384-322 BC) - Greek philosopher 

If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. ~ Chinese Proverb 

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. ~ Buddha
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Sunday, May 3, 2009

It's Just The Flu!

When CNN sent Dr. Sanjay Gupta to Mexico this past week with a surgical mask on his face, and began showing maps of the spread of this mysterious Swine Flu over the globe, I knew something was out of whack. What struck me was not the spread of the disease, but the treatment of the story as if we were being invaded by creatures from another planet.

It got worse from there, of course. Planes were diverted or grounded because someone felt sick, schools were shut down, anyone who had recently been to Mexico was practically sent into isolation. Some kids are missing their high school graduation ceremony because they were in Mexico, not because they are sick. Is this not just a little bit over the top?

As of the publication date of this blog, the numbers of people who have fallen ill WORLD WIDE are less than 1,000, but for some reason the news organizations keep using words like "jumping" or "spiking" every time a few more are added. Let's put this into perspective: there are more than 6 billion people in the world and over 700 of them are sick. Let's be generous...let's say 800 people. Okay, 6 billion to 800... It's the HYSTERIA that has gotten out of control, not the Swine Flu. 

Hospital emergency wards are now experiencing this hysteria in the worst way; those who are seriously and legitimately ill are having to wait much longer than usual because every person with a bad stomach is running into the emergency ward screaming "Swine Flu!!! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.......!!!"

And here's the worst of the worst: someone has actually created a Swine Flu app for the iPhone. Yep, it's true. Now you can map the spread of the disease via iPhone or even Google maps. 

Oh. My. God.

Now let's get a little information from some more legitimate sources. First, the World Health Organization. I am copying info directly from their website.

First, let's address the travel restrictions that have been flying around (sorry for the pun): "WHO is not recommending travel restrictions related to the outbreak of the Influenza A(H1N1) virus. Limiting travel and imposing travel restrictions would have very little effect on stopping the virus from spreading, but would be highly disruptive to the global community. "

I can see that you might be nervous about going to Mexico. So don't. But there was even talk at some point about closing the borders between the US and Mexico. Come on, people, you can't stop the air from crossing borders! Quick, get on your masks! Have you seen them? Everybody's got one after seeing Sanjay Gupta! I saw a street interview with a person in Toronto who says he counted ten people wearing masks as he was making his way down a busy street.

From the Montreal Gazette: "The Public Health Agency of Canada is not recommending that healthy people wear masks as they go about their daily lives in the community.'There is no evidence to suggest that wearing masks will prevent the spread of infection in the general population.' "

It's called the Swine Flu, so don't eat pork! From the Montreal Gazette: "Given that it's called the swine flu virus, can one become infected from eating pork? No. Unlike listeriosis, swine flu is not a food-borne illness." From W.H.O.: "Is it safe to eat pork and pork products? Yes. influenza A(H1N1) has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork (pig meat) or other products derived from pigs." The W.H.O. has finally stopped calling it Swine Flu.

So I had to laugh when I saw a story that a couple of pigs had gotten the flu from a farmer in Alberta. Can you imagine the gossip flying around the pig community? Stay away from people or you'll get human flu!

The W.H.O. could be accused of creating alarm when it raised the "alert level" from 4 to 5. How high it goes, I can't figure out. Maybe 5 is the highest and we should all just pack it in. It reminds me somewhat of the alert levels in the U.S. after 9/11...from yellow to orange, to red. Panic a little bit more than you did yesterday, but not as much as you should tomorrow. What is the point of alert levels, other than to scare the shit out of everyone? Sorry.

More from the W.H.O.: "On the positive side, the world is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history. Preparedness measures undertaken because of the threat from H5N1 avian influenza were an investment, and we are now benefitting from this investment. For the first time in history, we can track the evolution of a pandemic in real-time." Yeah, on your iPhone, for instance.

Maybe we're just tired of hearing about how crappy the economy is. But honest to pete, people, it's just the flu.

IJ 

PS - by the way, as of May 17th, 2009, there are over 8,000 people WORLDWIDE who have contracted the H5N1 virus...however, according to the CDC: "Each flu season is unique, but it is estimated that, on average, approximately 5% to 20% of U.S. residents get the flu, and more than 200,000 persons are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year. About 36,000 Americans die on average per year from the complications of flu." Does that put it in better perspective??