Amateur Antics

Posted 12.27.06

I have to confess. I love "Dancing with the Stars," and have followed every season, recording the programs if I was unable to watch the live performances.

But this show is the exception to my feelings about reality programming. I can see the appeal of "The Amazing Race" but most programs in this genre seem designed to embarrass the participants while the producers use willing dupes to save the salaries of actual actors.

Amateurs have always appeared on television, and many of our greatest stars were discovered this way, often on talent shows or as guests on talk shows.

Unfortunately, the advent of computers, camcorders, and now digital cameras, everybody thinks they can make movies or get on TV.

The earliest (and still one of the worst) of these is America's Funniest Home Videos, in which people with more ego than brains put themselves, their children, and their pets into embarrassing and often dangerous situations just to get their clips on the program.

Now there's a new twist. Any jerk can show up on You-Tube, any teen who thinks he or she is not vulnerable to predators can post a photo on MySpace, and individuals who think they have something to say have started blogs.

Much of this is innocent fun, and I don't want to spoil anyone's entertainment. If you choose to think that Survivor isn't fully scripted, blocked, and costumed by professionals, go ahead and enjoy yourself.

Some of it, however, is far from harmless.

According to a recent report, YouTube hosts more than 100 million videos, with 65,000 new videos uploaded daily. These are completely uncensored and often record humiliating incidents without those being captured on video giving their consent.

Blogs, too, are uncensored and often ill-informed. Although many are written by professional journalists, there is no editorial judgement which might curtail the writer's radical opinions or insist that facts be backed up by objective research.

When Rush Limbaugh accuses Michael Fox of "acting," other broadcast media protest and Limbaugh apologizes. But who is monitoring and criticizing the blogs?

A blog, after all, is much like a diary. You can say whatever you like, and post personal information and opinions you may regret later. Unfortunately, once it's out there in cyberspace, you have no way to take it back.

And now there's the warning that using an RSS reader to access blogs could expose your computer to viruses.

Another interesting phenomenon is Wickipedia. This "free" resource is often used by students instead of more traditional dictionaries and encyclopedias. What many users don't realize is that the information on Wickipedia is not edited for accuracy. Anybody can post anything on the site, and although others often go into the listings to make corrections, who is ensuring that what you read is true?

So enjoy any kind of entertainment you wish, but don't be fooled into thinking that what you're watching/reading/viewing online is "reality." An old saying I have posted on my desk says it best: "All business is show business."

Barbara Floria Graham is the author of the 20th anniversary edition of Five Fast Steps to Better Writing and Mewsings/Musings. Her website: www.SimonTeakettle.com

Copyright © 2006 Barbara Floria Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/12.06