February 7, 2003

Reality Bites

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Perhaps you’ve sensed it. Walking in to the library on a Monday night, you wonder at its deathlike emptiness. Sitting in class, you hear the tremors of name-dropping, mentions of Zora and Mojo across the lecture hall. It’s more than a notion; you get the sense you’re being left out. It’s no pertinent student cause, no elusive secret society. The newest ill-begotten spawn of the reality TV infatuation has millions in its claws. Sure, many called it the sign of a downward spiraling culture with no hope of redemption, or maybe the end of civilization as we know it. Either way, Cornellian minds that may call themselves discerning are not immune to its power. It’s tacky, it’s shameful, you could even object on principle alone. And for some reason, you can’t stop watching — a fate to which my roommates and I have fallen without exception.

The Incident

Once, all was still and peaceful. My apartment of five roommates was harmonious — supportive advice rang down the hall in a joyful chorus of camaraderie and genuine respect. What has altered the innocence of this Babysitter’s Club dream? Reality television.

The incident occurred at 8:57 on a Wednesday night. On one side: four roommates with illicit visions of The Bachelorette love poetry dancing through their heads. The other: mid-way through an HBO movie with alleged content. The forces massed, words were spoken, and in the icy, resentful silence that followed, my roommate would not relinquish the remote control. The blow had been dealt. With the fires of Hell in our eyes, or at least with the unfathomable tension of Trista’s weekly rose ceremonies, we ran across Collegetown to a friend’s apartment.

A fateful story of trial and adversary, and all due to reality TV. But perhaps this is testimony to its strange, seductive power. A roommate ostracized, a growing rift of resentment and controversy reaching Grand Canyon proportions. This warrants a deeper look.

Joe Millionaire

Good old average Joe. The premise alone may be enough for entertainment: Joe makes $19,000 a year, but the women competing for him think he’s inherited $50 million. Fox sets them up in a French chateau and America gets to see how superficial people can be.

As many have pointed out, Joe is, well, a little slow and as my roommates point out, “Joe isn’t hot.” What does the show have going for it? Catty, self-obsessed women who spend most of their time preening. Still, Joe could find true love. Last week’s sacrifice, Mojo, offered her heart through a puzzle. Put together, it was a picture of herself with the words “I choose you.” Others, like Sarah, are more open with their affection, losing the cameras for an amorous (slurp, gulp, moan) stroll with Joe.

The show’s editors throw in tongue-in-cheek moments, thankfully somewhat self-aware of their own gaudiness. And yet, we watch without caring, assuming the women are in it only for the TV television. Fox hit on a winning combination — gold-digging and fame-digging. At our house, we’re Zora fans, tried and true. She’s the only one who would get out of a hot tub when surrounded by three half-naked women competing for the same guy while being filmed, which really, is the only true test of a person’s character.

The Bachelorette

Trista is a deep person. She wants a family, commitment, and true love — as long as it’s in Los Angeles (she wants a quiet life). Competing to share this with her are a slew of available men, who face elimination each week, accompanied by dramatic music and tears. The boys try their best to woo her, singing songs, writing poetry and