Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pain and Suffering -- Eve

Okay, I’ll admit it. I totally watched an entire episode of Moment of Truth. So. Completely. Embarrassed. The mortification factor of this show is so off the charts, I’m puzzled by how it got picked up for prime time in the first place. More puzzling is how I was able to watch an entire episode and keep my dinner down. If you aren’t familiar with this monstrosity of a reality show, let me briefly sum up. Seemingly normal people sit in what looks like a normal chair on a stage, while their loved ones sit on the side and watch as a cheesy host dude fires yes or no questions at them. Wait, that’s not all. After the contestant answers yes or no to a question, a bizarre robot-lady voice announces to the crowd if their answer is true or false. So, I guess that chair they sit in is some sort of lie detector seat that can read…well, I’m not sure what the heck it reads. Easy, right?

Wrong!

The questions are sick and twisted and become more personal and uncomfortable as they go on. One waiter guy was asked if he ever overcharged patrons to receive a better tip. Yes, he had. An underwear model was asked if he had ever “stuffed his shorts for a photo shoot.” He said “No.” The robot-lady lie detector seat said otherwise. But it’s when the overly spray-tanned, oddly orange-hued host asked things like, “Do you secretly hate your mother-in-law?” while said mother-in-law sat six feet away with mouth opened wide, that I started to get seriously creeped out.

The same guy was asked, “Do you make racist jokes about your wife and her family behind their backs?” Answer: Yes. Ouch! Another guy was asked something like, “Are you hesitating to have children with your wife because you don’t love her anymore?” What?? This is a TV show? For entertainment purposes? When that last dude turned red, puffed out his cheeks, then looked toward the heavens for salvation, I knew that life as he knew it was over (so did his very angry looking wife!) and I was going to hurl.

I’ve been obsessing over what the merits of this show could possibly be, when last night it hit me. People love to watch other people suffer. What does every good story have going for it? Conflict. What do we do to our beloved characters? Chase them up trees and toss rocks at them. What does every main character in a novel or movie have to overcome? A problem. What do we writers do to a story to make it better? Ratchet up the pain factor. Up the stakes. Create a situation where all hope is lost.

But what is it about other peoples’ pain that is so appealing to us? Do we feel for them because we’ve been there, and we like the whole misery-loves-company thing? Or are we inspired by them conquering problems and winning the battle? Or is the answer more disturbing than that? Maybe humans are sick and twisted and just really get a kick out of watching people fall apart. Why else would images of poor Britney Spears be tossed at us hourly? Somebody must be entertained by this stuff. But why?

I’m not suggesting that everybody on the planet enjoys watching people suffer. I’m just raising the question for discussion. Wondering what all you readers out there think. Could a story be entertaining if nothing bad happened to the main character? Or does it just make for a really boring story?

- Eve

17 comments:

Katie said...

This is an interesting question Eve. And I am totally horrified by this show as well. I refuse to ever watch it.

I think we like to know that we are not alone. Everyone has their own issues that they secretly deal with, and so perhaps it's sickly comforting to know that others are dealing with stuff too. And maybe we like to think, "well, at least I don't have that awful problem..." So you can feel better and more in control of your own.

I don't know. I think you are right in thinking that we, as a society, have taken this weird voyeurism to a new level of grossness.

That said, have a great, healthy day! -ha!

Katie said...

Oh yeah! And I love stories where nothing bad happens (I think?) I need to think of a story.... maybe I'm lying.

Although, there is something to be said for some conflict and hurdles in a story. It makes the prize, or the victory that much sweeter.

Like when the two lovebirds with all the obstacles FINALLY get to kiss.

Joey said...

Its sad to see how far our desire for entertainment has degenerated. Its seems creativity has been on the decline in many forms of entertainment over the past decade.

I have never watched this show. Its my way of saying no thank you to bottom of the barrel tv. How else can we make our voice heard that we want more intelligent entertainment?

The price of originality continues to climb.

L said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
L said...

Wow. It's kind of scary really. I dared myself to view one episode of this show, and immediately following, suffered a bad case of that, 'I just lost an entire hour of my life that I can never get back' feeling...yuck.

That being said, I think it boils down to that good ol' 'car crash syndrome'. An accident on the street or highway will, without a doubt, draw the unrelenting attention of each and every passerby on foot or otherwise. Traffic slows, necks crane, fingers point and voices drop to near inaudible whispers as people of every shape and size imaginable stop to get a gander at the wreckage.

What is this exactly? Human nature? I really don't know, but something Katie said in the first posted response struck a chord: "as a society, have taken this weird voyeurism to a new level of grossness..."

And she's right. It is a new level, sub-level even, of grossness indeed.

As Snoopy would say: BLEAH!

Lummy said...

i think katie's right. when everything works out, it feels deserved.

and i agree with everything else she said too.

yeah for unoriginality.

as for stories: they can’t be real without conflict. but we (the readers) don’t want real. we read for the fairy tales. every story needs to be more fantastical than our lives, or else there's no appeal. but the problem is that we can’t connect to something we don’t experience in some form. so the trick is to create problems that the audience can feel and still give the character a way to beat our common issue in a way that we can’t.

um. i lost myself halfway through that.

only vignettes can have no conflict. you can't stretch a book , or even a short story, into something readable without conflict.

now, my brain can't process a word i just typed, so you'll just have deal with the incoherentness.

cheerio!

Katie said...

I must say....I feel SO COOL that I actually said stuff that resonated! (did I spell that right?) Yay me!

And Lummy, you made perfect sense. I liked the thought that in books, sometimes the characters get to do things or achieve things that we can't seem to do or achieve in our real life. It gives us hope.

Good post Eve.

L said...

Yay! Good post!

In regards to what Lummy said, I also think that sometimes everything DOESN'T work out and maybe things that happen AREN'T deserved...such is life and such is storytelling at times, you know?

But regardless of that, if the writing is good, if it moves you, if the conflict (whatever it may be, because I do agree that you need some shape/form of conflict in a story to make it a story) resonates with you in some way...then it's as if you've gone on a journey...

...maybe there are things/people you recognize on that journey, and maybe there are things/people you don't, but still, it sticks with you...

...and yeah, I agree with Katie. There's hope in that somehow.

Lummy said...

whoa, no. i never make sense. :]

it does. it makes us believe that something can be different, we just haven't found it yet. that's why i read. after a good book, i always feel all happy afterwards for a pretty long time. when a character you love triumphs over some seemingly impossible problem (even though we might have faced something like it sometime or another) it feels like you've won a battle too.

y'know, i bet that's why conflict exists in stories.

Disco Mermaids said...

I think we need to have a Disco Mermaid Moment of Truth! Whatdya say, guys!? We could all state our REAL age (along with our real hair color).

-Robin
(37, dishwater brown)

Yee-Lum said...

yee-lum (also known to the vroman's galley group as lummy):

aged (get ready)-- DRUMROLL!--

thirteen. yup.

and hair color? typical asian-y color. or black, if you want to be specific.

Sarah Darer Littman said...

I refuse to watch that program on principle. Just seeing the ads for it makes my blood boil.

It's a disgusting, despicable concept for a program, and it says a lot of very sad things about American society that the show is doing well.

And now, I'll tell you how I *really* feel... ;-)

a. fortis said...

Oh, jeez, this only confirms my worst fears and assumptions about the show...and fires up my determination never to watch it, ever. I'm really starting to think that reality TV is a sign of impending apocalypse (or at least a sign of the decline of civilization). Eew, eew, eew. I think there's an unfortunate amount of schadenfreude in our society and, going along with that, a failure to actually connect with other people...very sad.

Okay, now I need a cup of coffee. Happy, happy coffee.

Sarah (age: 30. hair: dark-ish brown. no exciting moments of truth for me...)

~sarah said...

On the flip side, the way they get the "lie or no lie" determination is that they do the lie detector test BEFORE the show airs. Yep. All those contestants answer those questions before they ever get on the stage. And yet they still go. This show isn't just about other people's suffering, it's about greed, doing anything for money or fame. People are strange, strange beings...

Yee-Lum said...

somehow, that's even sadder than this whole misery business.

there's a song called misery business. huh.

Disco Mermaids said...

Wow! I've been gone for a week, and somehow I've missed quite a discussion!

I didn't realize that the MOT contestants were lie-detector tested before the show aired. That's just sick and wrong. So, they know they will be humiliated, yet they do it anyway. Wrong!

Yes, Katie, we "have taken this weird voyeurism to a new level of grossness" indeed.

And, I had NO idea that Yee-Lum was 13! You are way more mature and insightful than I can ever hope to be.

Eve

Yee-Lum said...

I've just realized that you all capitalize properly. I think I'll join you.

To Eve: Why, thank you. I'm honored to be complimented by a published author, and a Disco Mermaid, no less. -bows- =]

Right. Back to the exceedingly interesting discussion. Well, finding out that they're lie-detectored before the show... that's just disgusting. Really, truly disgusting. I find it very sad that we as a culture (excluding the present company, of course) have sunk to such depths that we'll take money to humiliate ourselves... in front of millions of people. Millions of people who laugh at you when you're forced to reveal private aspects of your life to provide so-called entertainment.

And oh, guess what I found:

"Again, I'll emphasize that I have nothing wrong with the idea of humiliating people and ruining families for our entertainment. My problem is it's a bad show."
--Telewatcher.com

That's just horrible. Putting a need for an hour of "entertainment" before the personal relationships of others?

This, my friends, is solid proof that Western civilization is destined for the same fate as Rome.

Say your goodbyes to sanity, quick.

I've noticed that I have a distinct tendency to be long-winded. Apologies.