Saturday, July 17, 2010

You've got to have friends

As Published in the Woodford County Journal July 8, 2010
Frankly Speaking
You’ve got to have friends
By Arlene Franks

“A Friend won’t defend a husband who buys his wife an electric skillet for her birthday.” ~Erma Bombeck
So, let’s talk about reality TV. In an earlier “Frankly Speaking,” I wrote about crime shows, how addictive they are and harmful to our individual and collective sense of hope. This time, I want to make a case for how reality TV (which more accurately should be called surreality TV) tends to distort our perception of relationships.

Reality shows aren’t as addictive to me as crime shows. I weed most of them out categorically. I have rules, you know:

~no celebriality.

~nothing tacky, sleazy or salacious.

~no spoiled brats (see celebriality, above).

~no violent, mean, back-stabbing or scary reality.

~no ‘vote ‘em off the island’ (or outta the house) shows.

~no ‘get me a date’ (or a partner for the rest of my life) shows.

~no kiddie pageants (See spoiled brats, above).

That pretty-much pares it down to shows based on skill, like “Top Chef,” “Project Runway” and “The Amazing Race,” and even they get close to the edge sometimes.

Now, there have been times when I’ve broken my own rules and became engrossed in a show from my ‘no watch’ list. For instance, a couple of years ago, I somehow got caught up in one of those ‘find me a date’ shows. It fit squarely into several categories—sleazy, mean, vote ‘em off, pseudo celebriality, etc.

I’m embarrassed to say I watched every appalling episode, each more disgusting than the last. (shudder) I sat there week after week, asking myself, “Why am I watching this?” I excused it in my mind as being material for my continual study of human nature. (Yeah, well, it was the best I could come up with.)

This year, I used the same rationale for getting caught up in “The Real Housewives of New York.” What hooked me in was a conflict between two of the women that eventually affected the whole tribe of wealthy and privileged women the show follows to each party; shopping trip; and self-promoting, exhibitionist event around NYC.

It was a silly, petty argument that turned into a major messy brawl. Most of the women were taking sides, while one woman valiantly tried to bridge the rift until the pressure got to her and she exploded all over the place. It wasn’t pretty.

But what was even uglier was the way these women—purported to be friends—treated one another. Degrading one another in public, making snide comments behind the other’s back, laughing in triumph each time they won in their ‘gotcha’ game—they were vicious. And, in my humble opinion, that’s not friendship.

I grew up with TV as a constant backdrop to my life. I know how influential it can be to kids just forming their world views. Reality TV strengthens the stereotypes that feed our bigotry and make our lives smaller.

In the ‘reality’ world:

~women are catty—they bicker and treat one another shabbily.

~men are Neanderthals—rude, crude and lewd—who get into trouble whenever they’re together.

~marriage is based on looks, lies, and wealth—infidelity is ramped.

~families are completely hopeless, with idiot parents who live vicariously through their children who are wild, entitled and ungrateful.

~friendships are superficial, interchangeable, and disposable—if one doesn’t fit throw it away and try another one on for size.

Isn’t that a pretty bleak and even dangerous view of the world? It certainly runs counter to my own experience. I have found most people in my world to be kind, compassionate, and giving. Most folks have a sense of humor, taking themselves lightly and their life’s call seriously.

Friends, I’ve found, bear one another’s burdens. While you’re laid up, they plow your fields and take care of your family. They bring you flowers from their gardens, food from their kitchens and books and music from their personal collections…along with prayers from their hearts.

I’ve been in the hospital on several occasions lately, and each time, my friends have sat with me, making jokes and exchanging small talk while we waited for the doctors to come back with test results. They’ve acted as advocates for me, telling the medical team things I’d forgotten about my history, asking questions I hadn’t thought of, calling family and friends on my behalf.

They’ve visited with my cat to make sure she is fed and doesn’t get lonely. While there, they even cleaned the place up! Now that’s friendship.

Friends treat you with respect—they wouldn’t say behind your back what they shouldn’t say when you’re face to face. They know when to be on your side and when to tactfully tell you you’re wrong. And you know they’re right.

As friends we make impromptu ‘play dates’ with one another; care for one another’s spirits; allow the other to be truly unique, truly genuine. We give one another a voice. We cry together, laugh together, and sit in silence together.

That, to me, is what true friendship is. Not the fluff and junk of television. Of course, we all know this to be true—don’t we? I hope so. I hope we recognize reality TV for what it is—ratings-grabbing, shock-producing, hate-mongering, muck-raking TV…not to mention mind-numbing.

But, alas, reality shows are cheap to make, and they continue to be oh, so popular. Ratings sell, you know. Conversely, logic would dictate that if we stop watching them, they’ll likely go away.

With that in mind, I recommit myself to questioning why I watch, to keep adding to my ‘no watch’ list and to trying harder to adhere to it. And perhaps you can join me in making this pledge:

“I sincerely pledge to help decrease the popularity of reality shows by not following them, discussing them, betting on them, imitating them or supporting them in any way.”

Maybe one day, the era of reality TV will be over and real life can once again thrive.