by Melissa Minners
Since the early days of television, Americans have been in love with slapstick, a type of comedy in which characters use exaggerated violence on each other to elicit laughter. Comedy teams like Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, and The Three Stooges profited greatly from this love of the genre. As television turns more and more to reality shows, a disturbing trend has emerged. Instead of laughing about the practiced stuntman-like antics of comedy teams, audiences are now laughing at the real-life misfortunes of ordinary people.
Beginning with a series of shows that rose to popularity in the ‘80s, audiences were treated to the antics of ordinary people who, in the course of their ordinary lives, filmed their misfortunate events. Viewers laughed heartily as children missed party piñatas and slammed on-lookers with poles, would-be fix-it-men fell from ladders, dirt bikers, skiers and skateboarders alike crashed into things and more. No thought was given as to whether these individuals sustained lasting injuries, just that the mishaps looked funny and elicited peals of laughter from viewing audiences.
In later years, with reality shows becoming all the rage, a new and disturbing type of television program emerged. One in which practical jokes and crazy, dangerous stunts were marketed as entertainment. On any given episode, viewers could see men stapling their private parts to their legs, people in barrels rolling down steep, rocky hills, and more. These television shows have become so popular that the movie industry has jumped on board. Witness the popularity of the TV show, Jackass, which now has two major motion pictures under its hilt.
Also disturbing are the underground videos becoming available on the internet in which unsuspecting individuals are attacked and beaten or chased. These incidents are planned by would-be filmmakers and thugs, recorded, compiled and sold nationwide. The fact that I have heard about these videos from several co-workers and friends points to their growing popularity.
To me, it also points to a scary trend in our society in which people take pleasure from viewing other people’s pain. When did it become acceptable to change from carefully contrived stunts to harmful and dangerous realities caught on film? When did home videos of mishaps become orchestrated and often times criminal acts perpetrated on film for the almighty dollar? What does this say about our sense of entertainment? What can we expect in the future? One can only speculate.
I think that an episode of the now defunct sci-fi television series, Sliders, depicts this future the best. In the episode, called Rules of the Game, a reality game show emerges in which contestants compete against androids and amongst themselves. They use live ammo and engage in fights to the death in an effort to reach the finish line and emerge victorious with an incredibly large payoff. Never mind the deaths and destruction so long as audiences remain entertained. It’s a scary look at what the entertainment industry could become in future years.