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?
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?