My co-workers are, on average, twenty years old. The past thirteen months I have been exposed to their world including current slang and popular videos. Most of these viral videos are amateur footage of accidents, bad accidents involving skateboards and cars. My co-workers are in near hysterics as metal twists and bodies fall. As they laugh, I can’t help but think that person is badly hurt–they may even be dead. This is the present and future of what graces our screens. My co-workers’ generation will shape what is deemed entertainment in our culture, something I call tragi-Tainment.
Reality television is around twenty-five years old. Some may say that it began with shows like This is Your Life or Candid Camera, but for me year zero was the first season of MTV’s The Real World.*. Here we witnessed non-famous people presented with the opportunity to become famous, at least for a few months. They gained this fleeting fame not for being an artist or a politician or a life saving chemist, but just by being a normal person.** Why do we watch these shows? Is it to see ordinary people transcend the day to day rut? Or, is it to give us hope that one day people will know our names and acknowledge our existence? I have no idea, but it fascinates me.
Countless “reality shows” have come up since The Real World: Island survivors. A member of Public Enemy looking for love. Wealthy bachelors looking for someone to marry. Orangy tan Jersey Shore youth–a long list. I checked out a few of the shows but barely lasted more than a couple of episodes.*** A new century dawned. I began noticing all the mass shootings beginning with Columbine. These two things that fascinated me began sort of intertwining: Violence. Fame. Entertainment. tragi-Tainment was born–in my mind, at least.
That led me to write a short story that would eventually become a book: Golden Bullet. The basic idea is that people get fed up with mass murderers becoming famous for killing the innocent. A number of shows start spotlighting the victims of these crimes, letting them tell their own stories and how getting shot changed their lives. An on-line group is formed by people who take note of this and come up with a novel way to get on such shows: Engineer a workplace shooting by pushing a co-worker until they break. Get a non-lethal gunshot wound (or Golden Bullet). Get on the talk shows and enjoy a taste of fame.
I cannot be flippant about tragi-Tainment. Honestly, I lament the way I see entertainment going just as I am pained by the day to day butchery of the English language. That’s me–I am a relic and I know it. The world moves on and with it language, art, and culture glide along in its shadow. Golden Bullet is my prediction of what entertainment will look like in a few years. Will I be right or completely off mark? Who knows. Excellent shows are still being made. Despite “reboots” and franchises there is originality and beauty in the world of entertainment. Mostly, I choose to focus on that.
*I actually applied to be on the show as it was being filmed in San Francisco.
**Yes, most contestants do–and are encouraged by the Producers to–adapt personas, but the point is still made.
*** I lasted fifteen minutes of one episode of The Jersey Shore. Shamefully, I actually got into Flavor of Love; it was like a train wreak with fake breasts and large clocks.