Prime Time Television Continues its Moral Lapse
February 3, 2000
by Dennis T. Avery
February 2, 2000
NEW YORK - Several years ago Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in a movie called "The Running Man." He played a contestant on a futuristic television program that awarded prizes for surviving deprivation and torture.
It is a film at once gruesome and prescient. Who would have thought Hollywood's perverse imagination would be transmogrified into an actual television program?
"The Running Man" is not an actual program, but its first cousin will be airing soon. And if it is a success, it will have many facsimiles. Welcome, TV audiences, to "Survivor," a game show that relies on greed, life, death and sadomasochism for its appeal.
The basic premise of this CBS show, which will debut this summer, is that a group of people will be stranded on a remote island without amenities and left to fend for themselves.
Every few days they will be asked to boot out one person who offends or is disagreeable until only one remains, presumably the nicest, toughest or most devious, the exemplar of Darwinian selection. The prize is $ 1 million.
Through psychological testing, the network has chosen 16 people to make up the first group sent to an uninhabited island in the South China Sea, where they will attempt to survive for 40 days.
Not to be outdone, other networks are in a bidding war for the rights to a Dutch game show called "Big Brother." In this so-called entertainment vehicle, nine strangers are confined to a house packed with 24 cameras and many microphones, even in the bathroom.
"Big Brother" is a phenomenal success in Holland, where more than 70 percent of prime-time viewers tune in to see what is happening to the captive strangers.
At stake for the contestants is a $ 120,000 prize. Think "The Truman Show" with knowing participants. The executive producer, Paul Romer, is ecstatic over the show's success, noting "This type of show appeals to a certain sense of voyeurism in all of us, like listening in on a nearby conversation or walking past a house and glancing in the window."
Alas, he may be right. Appealing to the basest human instincts, television is combining "The Running Man" and "The Truman Show" into a composite vehicle that violates privacy, tastefulness, respect and compassion.
Here is the foreshadowing of television in the future, a visual phantasmagoria of the lurid and gruesome brought into the home by sponsors who have lost a sense of decency and producers whose moral compass has lost its poles.
Apparently the only standard that counts is ratings, while the effect of these nightmarish programs is overlooked. So what if kids are more brutish? Who cares if respect is a word tossed into the dustbin of history? After all, note these television program producers, "It's only a television program."
Yet the same people who make this innocent claim clamor for advertising dollars employed to influence people's attitudes.
The industry reeks of hypocrisy. I hope these shows fall on their respective faces. But I'm not so sure this will be the case.
So far down the slope of moral degeneracy has society gone that the most lurid thoughts the imagination can conjure are candidates for a television program.
Who knows what one might view when strangers are stranded on a desert island? For producers, the more degrading, repulsive and shocking the better.
Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" has arrived and with it the real-life "feelies" that titillate and disgust but keep the audience glued to the television set.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.