We now have incontrovertible proof that civilization as we know it is pretty much doomed: Exhibit A, the proliferation of reality TV and the millions who watch it.
Call them “pawn spawns.” The success of cable shows such as “Pawn Stars” and “Swamp People” and “Deadliest Catch” has caused a flood of look-alikes featuring the goings-on of toothless freaks who rassle wild animals or amass small fortunes trading seemingly worthless goods or engage in wholly non-believable feuds over nothing at all.
“Swamp People,” starring a slew of hygienically challenged folks in Cajun Lousiana who hunt alligators and say things like “shoot ’em Bufort, shoot ’em dammmit, shoot ’em” proved so appealing to viewers — 3.9 million last Thursday — that imitators were inevitable. So-called “hick chic” shows like “Moonshiners” and “Mountain Men of Alaska” feature homesteaders facing challenges from the harsh landscape that could take their lives at any moment (wait a minute, how can that be, what with a TV crew documenting every move they make? Like they’re gonna let these people get eaten by a bear while they adjust their lenses? I don’t think so).
I should, but I do not remember which housewives came first, the Real Housewives of New Jersey … of Orange County … of Atlanta … of New York … of Beverly Hills.
Patience, all you folks in western Schenectady County! “The Real Housewives of Duanesburg” cannot be that far off! And Snooki, don’t even get me going!
“Pawn Stars,” of course, is the gold standard for this cable fare, inspiring a bunch of like-minded shows to challenge the intellect, like “Cajun Pawn Stars,” “Auction Kings” and a new ABC show called “Ball Boys,” with a cast of characters virtually identical to, but not as talented as, that of “Pawn Stars” (if that even is possible). “Ball Boys” is about a Baltimore strip-mall sports memorabilia shop with an employee lineup that, not unlike “Pawn Stars,” includes the wise old man and the lovable idiot, matching Chumlee. However, the conflicts on “Ball Boys” (“you paid how much for that Honus Wagner bobblehead?”) are decidedly less convincing than are Chumlee’s.
And you can blame “Storage Wars” — if you believe what you see on that show, you need full-time supervision — for a little beauty that calls itself “Barter Kings.” “Storage” is about several folks in Southern California who — sight just barely seen — bid on the contents of abandoned storage lockers. They get to gaze at the contents from the door, but that’s it. Son of a gun if the rear of those lockers doesn’t almost always harbor some amazingly valuable thing, like a Waterford crystal shoehorn worth, oh, I don’t know, $3,200, an amount that almost always exceeds the bid for the locker.
“Barter Kings” stretches credulity thinner than cheap Atlantic City taffy. The premise and cast of this little program: Several teams of barterers who are able to parlay half a dozen trades into something of great consequence and value. It would not be unusual, for instance, for one of the teams to start with, let’s say, a half-eaten grilled cheese sandwich and, after five trades, they’ve got it: a $77,000 Cadillac Escalade!
We still have the standbys like “Hoarders,” featuring mentally disabled people who have no need for regular trash collection, and “American Pickers,” who will buy any junk, if only it has “patina,” as they say. My thought: Combine hoarders and pickers and you’ve got a hit on your hands without leaving the house.
But alas, there is turmoil in reality TV-land. Just last week, the executive producer of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” said he believed that many reality shows are rigged, faked, contrived, phonied-up, you pick the vicious adjective. The shock of it had me not eating for, oh, I dunno, maybe 15 to 20 minutes! And mind you, it was not that long ago that “The Hollywood Reporter” told us that reality TV was killing off a “renaissance” of scripted programming on cable. In other words, why go to the expense and bother of hiring actors and writers when you can hook up with an Oklahoma podiatrist to produce 13 episodes of “The Real Toenail Clippers of Tulsa” for a fraction of the cost?
And here is a very beautiful thing about all of this, kiddos. You know that the next time you go to vote, up or down, on a school budget, all of these reality TV viewers, millions and millions of them, get exactly the same vote as you do. Ain’t America a wonderful place?