When I worked for the Independent, I went “undercover” (not really but it sounds cooler) to audition for the “Real World,” MTV’s lovely display of humanity, and write a little expose article. They were coming through Santa Barbara and we wanted to see what the process was like.

To summarize: Absolutely carazy. I didn’t realize how desperate people were to be on TV, until they start telling you about how they’ve just spent 19 hours on a bus to audition, that they’ve already auditioned for this season in NYC and Chicago, or talking about their self-diagnosed narcolepsy. Or the girl who said Jesus was her best friend and she talked out loud to him, in bed, whenever her boyfriend tried to pressure her into going farther than she wanted.

The guy who went before me in the group interviews introduced himself as someone who identified as 23, divorced, gay, HIV positive, and in the military. (insert crickets chirping, the sound of Rachel’s sweat glands activating, and desperately trying to think of something more interesting to say than “I talk in my sleep?”)

That was close to 7 years ago that I did that, and reality TV has gotten even crazier. I don’t remember any reality shows when I was growing up…we watched sitcoms, cartoons, the same Disney movies over and over again. I have Star Wars memorized from that time. We didn’t spend our nights watching other people live their wrecks of lives. I think we spent more time living our own lives. But maybe that’s romanticizing my childhood.

I watched “The Bachelor” with my roomies last night. When the show first came on, I watched it every week with my college roomies and we felt completely betrayed by Bob’s choice. I swore never to watch it again, and I break that all the time, watch part of a season, am disappointed by the ending, and swear to never watch it again. But Brad sure makes this heart swoon.

Some of the girls seem genuine, some are bat-ish crazy. There are reality shows that are much more of a trainwreck of people’s lives, (Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of Anywhere, Teen Mom, Hoarders, Survivor, Bridalplasty, etc.) that have people competing for things that should come naturally (love) or given access to too much of anything (money, alcohol, and in the case of the Shore, hair gel and tanning beds) and heavily feature meltdowns in bathrooms, the “bleep” button, use of a “blur” feature on boobies more than once a season, betrayal, verbal abuse, etc. Its dirty. And I hate to think what kind of impression of Americans they give to the outside world.

And yet, if you get started, its so hard to turn away. Its like a car accident. When it comes to reality tv, all of America is rubber-necking. You feel like you  have to keep watching just to find out what could they possibly do next on these shows. At this rate, what will we be watching years from now? What will my kids be watching? I’m just going to send them outside to play with plants and aminals and build forts.

There is nothing real about thinking that we can fall in love with a perfect stranger in a few weeks, going on these crazy dates (that the producers seem to be picking by figuring out what each girl is most afraid of in her life), living in a hot tub with champagne when you’re thirsty. And yet now that seems to be the ideal for women my age…fall in love AND be on tv?! PERFECT! Sign me up!

Why do we watch these shows? I admit sometimes they make me feel better about myself…compared to say, Snooki, or Kate Gosselin, or my favorites, New York or Tila Tequila (poor, poor, downward spirals of humanity) my life is cake, and my mistakes aren’t broadcast for the world to see and comment on (thank you, Jesus). But have we lost the art of a finely crafted sitcom?

Until the next “Friends” comes out…I think I’ll stick with my Dr. Quinn DVDs and Disney movies for the most part. Love you, Joe Lando.

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