Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jon And Kate Plus 8: Switch the Channel

I am trying to imagine what it would be like for a child to be in a fish bowl like the children of Jon and Kate. How spontaneous can a childhood or a marriage be when you are playing for an audience? When I am in a supermarket with my children, it is impossible not to be affected by the knowledge that there are strangers who can hear us. On more than one occasion I have said something to one of my kids to get a laugh out of an "audience". My greatest success doing this was when one of my boys was begging for everything he set eyes on. I had left my cell phone at home. In desperation I picked up a green plantain which looks like and is related to a banana. Holding the plantain to my ear I pretended to be calling my wife.

Hello. I'm here at the supermarket. Jacob is driving me bananas! Then I handed the plantain to my son and told him to talk to his mother. I got some good laughs out of that one.. Even though we were in a public place, my son told me it was embarrassing to have strangers looking at us and laughing. Out of respect to him, I try to avoid "playing for an audience."

Today in the supermarket I was reading the headlines about Jon and Kate. All of the paparazzi and "confidential sources" were ripping away whatever shreds of privacy Jon and Kate might have. I do not like hearing about people's troubles unless I can do something to help. I go to extraordinary lengths to avoid neighbourhood gossip. I will discuss Jamaican elections, the price of copper or Croatian music. If I really want to squelch gossip, I will relate the latest gossip about how Hitler was gay or even tell a dirty joke. Raising kids is tough. Married life has its ups and downs. Even if the neighbours do overhear us sometimes, I like my privacy and try to give it to others.

For a long time the lives of public figures have overshadowed their entertainment personalities. The National Enquirer, The Globe and other supermarket tabloids have traded on the private lives of celebrities. On more than a few occasions I have seen celebrity gossip start in the tabloids and percolate into the mainstream papers. Over the years I have seen a high percentage of celebrity gossip in the tabloids come out in the mainstream press. The tabloids often have evidence that they never print. They also have lawyers ready to fight lawsuits. They take a gamble that even if they do get stung with a story that is false that the stars will not bother fighting it for fear of attracting more attention.

Woody Allen, Madonna and Angelina Jolie among others are all engaged in entertaining the public. Unlike Jon and Kate, they did not sign off the legal right to privacy. I am grateful to those I turn to for entertainment. I want them to be rested and calm when they are approaching their artistic pursuits. If they want to give an interview to People Magazine I may well read it. I am interested in the relationship between personal experience and art. But I do not want to play with the feelings of live human beings to satisfy my idle curiosity.

Reality TV is only the latest step in the process of turning the private lives of stars into entertainment fodder. Instead of learning useful information about the world, we project the desire to gossip onto a huge collective stage.

I feel that true creativity involves creating dramatic fiction for public entertainment. When people talk about Law and Order or 90210, they are able to talk about their own feelings in an indirect way. When someone talks about the latest soap opera, they are harmlessly dissipating the desire to gossip, by talking about fictitious people. We need to return to sitcoms and dramas rather than sacrificing the lives and privacy of real human beings. Actual occurrences in people's lives do not impart to us any particular wisdom. A well written television script can however bring out truths and realities of our daily existence.

The Twilight Zone, All In The Family and Mork and Mindy are three of my all time favourite TV shows. Each of them was a mirror of society, of our attitudes, quirks and iner nature. The Twilight Zone often had a parable like quality to it. All in the Family was caricature. And Robin Williams used an interesting device of an alien viewing our existence with a certain detachment.

Reality TV is only the final step in our voyeuristic attitude towards those who entertain us. We should return to the old practice of employing script writers and professional actors to create a world we can safely discussed.

When I picked up the plantain and pretended to call my wife, my son Jacob was embarrassed at the laughter of strangers. He wanted nothing more than to blend into the crowd. Out of respect to his sensitivities, I changed his name in this article. I can not imagine the embarrassment of Scott and Kate's children when their private moments are splashed on national television. Their parents are legally entitled to sign off their privacy. But signing off their children's privacy is just plain wrong.

America's Funniest Home videos is a voluntary surrender of privacy that is momentary. I have no problem with it . Extreme Makeover Home Edition is one of the best reality TV shows out there. It takes a mission of mercy and draws in the audience. It promotes altruism and compassion. We need more reality TV like that. It reinforces my faith in human decency that there is a market for such a program.

People have an understandable curiousity about what life is like in a family with sextuplets. It would be far better if the Gosselin family met with professional script writers and tailored a script to the family to be performed in a studio and not in their private home. This way there could be a psychological separation between performance and reality. The children should be given the choice of playing themselves or having professional actors play them.

I wish the Gosselin family well. I want them to enjoy their stardom in a way that does not burn them out. I hope they sit down with a script writer and create a drama based on their lives. Perhaps it could become a prototype for a kinder gentler reality TV in our future. It pains me to watch a show that would be incredibly draining for most people to make. Out of repect to the Gosselins, I will not be watching their show. But if they work with a script writer in a studio rather than their own home, I will gladly become a devoted fan Sphere: Related Content

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