I have been asked to sermonize about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. I don't know.It’s writing an official summary for The Simple Life. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance. And let’s not mention the struggle to set the VCR for the right channel and time slot.
We must weekly (daily in syndication) decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we're told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems. Every one of us has a sense of the world, and we all know that this sense is in part given to us by what other people and society tell us; in part generated by our emotional state, which we project outward; and in part by our genuine perceptions of reality; but mostly by sensory input from our televisions. In short, our struggle to determine what is true is the struggle to decide which of our perceptions are genuine, and which are false because they are handed down or sold to us, or generated by our own hopes and fears.
As an example of this challenge, I want to talk today about RealityTVism, in particular The Simple Life and its fourth coming. And in order not to be misunderstood, I want it perfectly clear that I believe it is incumbent on us to conduct our lives in a way that takes into account all the consequences of our actions, including the consequences to other people, and the consequences to small southern towns and immature Richie Richettes. At first look, The Simple Life appears to juxtapose two clashing cultures.
Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is RealityTVism. RealityTVism seems to be the religion of choice for media savvy western connoisseurs. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that RealityTVism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths. And The Simple Life is the latest sect in this new age of -isms.
There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature -- Altus, Arkansas, pop. 617, the Yin of modern middle-American Amishness. Then add some tempting tangy Yang -- some flashy urban rich interlopers on a lark. There's a fall from grace into a state of self-centered vain self-absorption, revelry and hijinks as a result of living off Daddy's trust funds eating from the tree of knowledge -- as Paris and Nicole know they don't have to work a single minute of their lives. And as a result of their and our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all -– the God Neilson shall speak of renewal and cancellation, the quick and the dead. We are all television sinners, doomed to die as giggling couch potatoes, unless we seek salvation, which is now called irreverency. Irreverency and vicarious fantasy are salvation in the church of RealityTVism, just as enjoying people in exotic locales is its communion -- that guilt-free wafer of photons and the sweet bubbly drink of sound that the right people with the right beliefs imbibe.
Let Reverend Fox show us the way with Brothers Bunim-Murray. Disregard B-M behind the curtain, pulling the levers of rape investigation obstruction and spinning the wheels of international flight from justice. Indeed, is B-M just the alterego of MB, who started this RealityTVism cult a few years ago with enthralling fire and smoke displays?
Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday, and repentant salvation -- these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs, supposedly. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. For we find them inherent in the structure of The Simple Life -- with both the Altusians and the Dynastic Duo Stars. I certainly don't want to talk anybody out of these beliefs, as I don't want to talk anybody out of a belief that a NASTAR taxicab spaceship is drafting behind the next comet, waiting to slingshot out of turn three. (Curious coincidence? The last set of spacefarers and B-M's Reality Rape House were both in San Diego.) But the reason I don't want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can't talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith. Or perhaps merely plain silly mindless entertainment.
And so it is, absurdly, with RealityTVism. Increasingly it seems facts aren't necessary, because the tenets of RealityTVism are all about belief. Are these "real" scenes, scripted skits, or just inept improv? Innocent accommodating volunteer townfolk or bribed straight men? Continuity and logic or amusing manipuledited incoherencies in a sitcom format? Natural interactions or campy hamming? Natural hair color? Don’t ask, have faith in the one true Real. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation and the laughtrack, or on the side of doom and cynicism. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them. But the Tao-like beauty of RealityTVism is that one can hedge one's bets and be on both sides at once! After all, there is no downside to prayer.
So, without any further extraordinary intellectually elitist verbosity, let us take our remotes and open our studious eyes to the book of The Simple Life 4:1-30.
In the beginning, Paris and Nicole are hitchhiking and showing leg on the highway out of town. “Get us out of here!” their skimpy clothing shouts. Another illegal act on their part, apparently. Should I start a flout the law/convention meter?
Nearly two weeks since they descended on Altus, there’s not a one there that doesn’t have an opinion about them. Man: “I’ve enjoyed them, they're pretty girls.” One Opie -- “Paris and Nicole, yeah they’re pretty” -- looks like he’s ready to go to lovers leap with them. Woman: “They dress like street walkers, hookers.” Barbershop talk from Mrs. Clipper: “I wish they’d show more respect for our town. They are visitors here." There seems to be a gender gap abrewing.
Couch confessional: Paris says, “Most of the people here don't like us.” Nicole adds, “We're not going to give up, and we're going to give it our best shot." Paris is very savior faire and insoucciant, while Nicole is a trooper with soul, and a mouth to match.