American entertainment at its classiest

Edward Leonard

Yep, you heard right. Sarah Palin is, once again, in the limelight. This time she’s chosen, like so many has-been celebrities, reality television to stay in the public eye. — “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” it’s a great idea.

But she’s not the first. She’ll be joining the elite ranks of reality TV stars, up there with such noteworthy names as Rod Blagojevich, Donald Trump and Ozzy Osbourne.

Since around 2000, when “Survivor” and “Big Brother” came onto the scene with explosive popularity, we, as a culture, have been obsessed with these shows. Most of these shows follow a rigid formula: A group of people — none of who has an IQ much more than 60 — yell at each other for 40 minutes before attempting some inane and probably dangerous activity like eating live scorpions or swinging from a rope through a waterfall into a giant rock wall.

The “winner” of this competition, being the person who either ate the most scorpions or made the largest dent in the wall, will either get immunity from elimination or a free trip to the hospital to treat severe food poisoning and broken bones. The contestants then yell some more as they vote in a reverse-popularity contest for whom they want to leave the island. Roll credits. Exciting, no?

Then there are those shows that completely do away with the competition and simply follow the “stars” around through their day-to-day lives — this will be the type of show the former Alaska governor will be starring in. The family, most likely containing a celebrity from the 1980s, will be followed around. For the purpose of this example, we will use David Bowie.

As the show opens we see scenes of David Bowie doing his normal pop star thing, preparing for his next big concert. After perhaps five minutes of this his phone rings, and he interrupts everything to answer it.

It turns out that this phone call was life-changing news: his daughter, about 10 years old, is engaged! The worried father must now fly back to Manhattan to talk her out of this foolhardy and childish decision.

When he gets there, he sits down with his family to chat about it. He will find that his wife is actually for the engagement, and the remainder of the show will be the two of them arguing over whether or not their 10-year-old daughter should be wed in the next week.

By the end of the show, of course, little Alexandria will end up breaking it off with her 26-year-old boyfriend, and all will, once again, be at peace in the Bowie household. Oh, and all of this is unscripted.

As a nation we have gobbled this up and made it our bread and butter. Shows such as “American Idol,” “The Apprentice” and “Tool Academy” are continually getting ratings as good as, and sometimes better than, those shows with outdated things like scripts or clever writing.

Why is this? Is it some sort of Schadenfreude that drives our passion for watching people in conflict of the most ridiculous sort? Perhaps. I like to think so, as the other option is that we, as a culture, are wont to encourage idiocy.

However, one good thing could come from all this. With luck, we can vote Palin off the continent.