Reality television a.k.a. celebrity graveyard/cultural graveyard

I was idly reading some articles on Entertainment Weekly‘s Website and those annoying ads were whizzing around and I thought I saw a picture of Gloria Estefan. After doing some research, I found that Estefan will be a judge on a singing competition.

First thing I thought was, “How original! I wonder where she came up with the idea!”

Estefan – a huge pop star in the 80s, known for hits like “Conga,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” and that treacly A/C standard “Anything for You” – is the latest in a growing list of faded stars who turn to judging up-and-comers in hopes of resurrecting a faltering career. It worked for Paula Abdul, a former pop star who suddenly was relevant again because she hosted American Idol.

So, Estefan’s joining Joe Jonas (of the Jonas Brothers fame – look how quickly their stars have fallen), country singer John Rich and rapper Nelly (who I was surprised to see included, as I believed he was still famous). The gimmick of this show is that these celebs travel to six different cities, where four performers will be chosen from each – then the hopefuls will compete for a record contract with Atlantic Records.

I’m not really too sure how this is different than American Idol…But this reminded me of a short-lived reality show on VH1 called Born to Diva. In this show, a group of divas judged amateurs from their hometowns, before the competitors had to convene in Vegas to battle for the title of biggest diva! It was ridiculous. The diva list, by the way? Estefan (she really gets around, right? No she doesn’t…), Kelly Rowland, one of the ladies that Beyonce shed on her quest to be Diana Ross, and if this won’t get you to searchin’ on wikipedia – Lisa “All Around the World” Stansfield. Now, I have to admit, I couldn’t remember the name of the show, so I did some quick checking on the Internets to see the name and saw a news item from back in 2003 that announced the show and name-checked Stansfield, describing her as “forgotten British pop star.” Ouch, that’s gotta hurt…

Jonas, by the way, is no slouch when it comes to fame-grabbing, dignity-trading reality shows. He was a guest on something called The Choice. The Choice is what would happen if The Dating Game had a love child with another American Idol-rip off The Voice. In the show, “celebrities” are matched up with potential mates, but first must listen to their dates without being able to see their faces (they use those insane, twirling chairs, like the kind Christina Aguilera uses on The Voice). It gets really fucked up, because then teams are created where each celeb has now a trio of dates, and he/she gets to know them better, in speed dating (remember speed dating, btw? Every sitcom has used it once). And then in the finale, the celeb gets to choose who he/she is going on a date with. And which starry names, you ask, have appeared on this illustrious show? Maybe Madonna? Or George Clooney? Or perhaps Will Smith?

Nope: former TV Superman-turned-B-movie actor, Dean Cain; Rob Kardashian (I didn’t know there were male Kardashians); Jersey Shore alums Pauly D and Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino; American Idol champ Taylor Hicks; and former supermodel Tyson Beckford. And guess what? These were the most famous names – along with these guys were some lower-run athletes and Olympians.

And not to be outdone by the sheer suckiness of it all, there’s another reality show that’s getting some publicity from Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Desmond Tutu. Yup, you read that correctly – Archbishop Tutu has entered the fray by penning a letter with other peace activists to get a particularly shitty show called Stars Earn Stripes off the air. In a well-written and timely letter (considering with all that’s going on in the world), Tutu decried the show that trivialized war and war prepping, turning it into a fun competition. The activists are calling for the show to be pulled, but I don’t think they’ll have to worry too much.

Why, you ask. Well exhibit A, the lineup: Todd Palin, yup that Todd Palin; former pop star and reality show vet Nick Lachey; boxer Laila Ali; Dean Cain (yes, again); somebody called Dolvett Quince who became famous for losing weight (what a country!); skier Picabo Street; and Eve Torres, who is a professional wrestler for the WWE. I know, immediately what springs to mind is that old quote about MGM, “more stars than there are in the heavens.”

So, in Stars Earn Stripes, celebrities get paired up with real-live soldiers, and perform tasks and exercised based on training used in the military. The only good thing about this show is that any money won will go to veterans charities – a truly important, noble cause, that deserves better than having a dummy like Todd Palin pretend to be a soldier.

And not be outdone by her dad, Palin’s daughter, Bristol is also making sure that she’s keeping up with her parents in ensuring that the name “Palin” will forever remain a punchline, by starring in an all-star season of Dancing with the Stars. Firstly, I take issue with the idea that the show’s an “all-star” show because, well, that’s just false advertisement.

As if someone stuck around, outside the unemployment office in Beverly Hills with a sandwich board, some glittery names were added to this season – the show’s 15th, by the way…think about it: Lisa Kudrow’s brilliantly biting The Comeback lasted one season; Dancing with the Stars is on its 15th season…

Anyways, former Cheers hottie Kirstie Alley and former Baywatch hottie Pam Anderson are the big names – and I’ll concede they’re still famous…But the others are a hodgepodge of no-name athletes, former pop stars, soap actors. And Bristol Palin.

So what does this all mean?

Well, I go back to the brilliant Jennifer Saunders. In Absolutely Fabulous, Saunders’ monstrous alter ego, Edina Monsoon, works as a PR flak. In “Cleanin'” the premier of the 5th series in 2003, Edina is meeting with her client, former Spice Girl, Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton. Trying to find some work for her, all she has are reality shows with the word “celebrity” in them.

And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The cheap currency of celebrity, and its very limited shelf-life. Often the performers who participate in these shows do so because the public caught on, and their meager talents have become exposed. Great example: Paula Abdul – when young, athletic and very pretty, she was able to fool us into thinking she was a singer – in light of her actual vocal talents, that was an act of deceit on par with a Ponzi scheme. But as a judge on American Idol, she gets to morph into something new: a TV personality. No longer relying on skills she doesn’t have, she can now parade around in pretty dresses and regurgitate meaningless platitudes that are meant to uplift.

If I sound snarky, it’s because I resent reality television. Why? Because it’s displaced and replaced scripted television, thereby making our culture dumber. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we were a nation of Einsteins and Curies before the rise of reality TV, but let’s be honest, as uneducated, illiterate, unread and incurious as we are, do we need more tools to further the stupid in our culture? I don’t think so.

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Filed under Celeb, Comedy, commentary, Television

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