Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Just the same old low

   


     By now you’ve heard of CBS’s new hit reality show, The Briefcase.
     The one that dangles $100,000 in front of struggling families and gives them the dilemma of keeping the money to salve the grinding gears of their own difficult lives, or give some, or all, of the money away to another family also in dire straights.
      Last week's debut episode (it airs Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Channel 2) cops out by introducing a second family, also in need, also given $100,000, and the families, after argument, tears and a bit of stress vomiting, end up giving the 100 grand to each other for the requisite happy ending, a reminder that these so-called “reality” shows are carefully stage-managed, and reflect actual reality in the same way that “The Blair Witch Project” is a real documentary.
     The program, set to run for a trial six episodes, met a wail of universally negative reviews, standard with the arrival of almost any reality TV show. As always, critics think “a new low” has been reached. “The Briefcase plumbs new depths,” writes Leonard Pitts Jr. in the Miami Herald. “The Briefcase,” adds Todd VanDerWerff, on Vox, “scrapes the bottom of the barrel so thoroughly that it breaks through the barrel then starts scraping the bottom of the one beneath.”
    First, this isn’t a new low, but the same old low. After watching the opening installation of The Briefcase, I called up a clip of Queen for a Day, the black-and-white era TV show, where housewives shared their tales of woe in return for some kind of relief. At the end of the episode I watched, the audience chooses among four women. First, Mrs. Jewel Ellis, in fake pearls. “Mrs. Ellis and her husband have had some bad luck, and she would like to make some money for them. She would like a washing machine to take in washing,” explains host Jack Bailey, who then reminds us that Mrs. Carol Williams wants “educational aids” for her brain damaged son; Mrs. Clarice Singer has a paralyzed brother and wants a medical bed “for he must spend his life on his stomach” and Mrs. Beverly Dolan, hands clasped, has five children under the age of 3 and want their chilly Oregon home properly heated.
    Queen for a Day makes The Briefcase seem like Masterpiece Theatre, and while VanDer-Werff does mention it, he then seems to forget the 100 similar shows in between the two as he castigates this new cultural excrescence.
     “The Briefcase literally forces the American lower class to compete with itself for table scraps bestowed on it by wealthy people who work in television.”
     Which makes TV different than retailing...how? How is banking, with its 0.35 percent per year “High Yield Money Market Funds” any different? There’s an irony in the media lashing out at network TV for manifesting a phenomenon that’s all around us.
     Which brings us to the second uncomfortable truth: Were The Briefcase not dramatizing the troubles facing these families grasping onto the bottom rung before insolvency and poverty, who would? The choice isn’t The Briefcase or some thoughtful examination of the hollowing out of America’s middle class. The choice is The Briefcase or The Bachelor. Pulling the heartstrings regarding the impoverished is a cheap trick, but it works in The Briefcase just as it worked for Dickens. Reality TV is garbage, but it’s also popular, because gazing upon the unfortunate is an entertainment that people savor, and one that goes back to the Story of Job. Queen for a Day milked ratings out of the pitiable downtrodden on radio and TV for nearly 20 years. Odd that some critics seem to think CBS invented it with The Briefcase.


23 comments:

  1. I was a little kid, but as I remember, Queen had a "heartline" telephone that would sometimes ring toward the end of the show and and as if by magic, a business would call and give something to one of the people who didn't win.

    If Carlin were still alive, I'm sure "reality TV" would be in his oxymoron routine.

    Doug D.

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  2. Yet another reminder of why I don't watch "reality" TV 😖

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  3. No wonder I watch mostly PBS or TCM.

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  4. Nitpicks: I still see a distinction: at least Queen for a Day didn't put the agonizing decisions in the hands of the suffering and then, apparently (I haven't watched the show), hold them up for public scorn if they act "selfishly" and keep the money. And banks aren't the same as VanDerWerff's quote: they may be the equivalent of the "wealthy people who work in television" but they aren't forcing anyone to compete to get those rates. In fact, in contrast to "high yield money market funds," recently there has been some real competition by banks for lower income customers: look how much better a deal Walmart's refillable debit card is compared to what was on the market a couple of years ago. [PS there's a great proposal out there to let the USPS offer banking services, which could help keep more post offices open and give lower income people banking services without, or with greatly lowered, fees] I think the better "big bank" equivalent of those reality shows are those commercials currently running where the college graduation speaker mocks the grads about their bleak future. The ads end by saying half of college grads don't have jobs. So is the bank spending money to create jobs? Naw, they're offering job searching help - so now these modern day Hunger Games grads will be better armed in the arena and can vanquish the grad sitting next to them!

    Best reality show ever wasn't even real: The Joe Schmo Show (all seasons are great).

    Regardless, yes, we need more "thoughtful examination of the hollowing out of America’s middle class." Thus, another request for NS to revisit "warehouse workers and barista, I suppose."

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    1. Very good, ANA, at least you are disagreeing without being rude.

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  5. I see you are an apologist for the banks, A-N-A. I think I know what your line of work must be.

    The middle class is indeed being hallowed out and it will get worse if we get a Repugnant in office in '16.

    Still, I don't like Billary.

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    1. Doubt the banks are too fond of that USPS proposal. But no, while not blameless I don't think the banks are the biggest villians of the Great Recession or the Great Reset.

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  6. When I was a kid & we drove past that church sign on Clark St. in Edgewater, my dad always said: Jesus saves, at what bank?

    As for Queen For A Day, I remember when it was in Chicago for a week & they filled up the Uptown Theater with over 4000 women watching that maudlin mess.
    The show's host, Jack Bailey always reminded me of a sleazy used car salesman.

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    1. From the web, stated to be in the public domain:

      Jesus and Satan have a discussion as to who is the better programmer. This goes on for a few hours until they come to an agreement to hold a contest, with God as the judge. They sit themselves at their computers and begin. They type furiously, lines of code streaming up the screen, for several hours straight. Seconds before the end of the competition, a bolt of lightning strikes, taking out the electricity. Moments later, the power is restored, and God announces that the contest is over.

      He asks Satan to show what he has come up with. Satan is visibly upset, and cries, "I have nothing. I lost it all when the power went out."

      "Very well, then," says God, "let us see if Jesus fared any better."

      Jesus enters a command, and the screen comes to life in vivid display, the voices of an angelic choir pour forth from the speakers. Satan is astonished.

      He stutters, "B-b-but how? I lost everything, yet Jesus' program is intact. How did he do it?"

      God smiled all-knowingly, "Jesus saves."

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    2. Some years ago an English friend sent a sports page headline about a soccer (football to the rest of the world) match involving a local team whose fortunes had been recently improved by the addition of players who had become stars in Madrid.. It read: "JESUS SAVES. GOMEZ SCORES ON THE REBOUND."

      Tom Evans

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  7. That's a good one, Anon not Anon and Tom.

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  8. Jesus saves.
    But Moses invests.

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    1. Of course, there's this: Matthew 25:14–30.

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    2. Ah yes, the bags of gold parable. ( I had to go look it up first.) Various religions use the greed excuse cover quote. Not saying investment is wrong but the parable doesn't cover the AIG fiasco some years back where many lost savings investments/ pension or the stunts big banks pull on consumers or the city of Chicago. Same goes for Madoff.

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  9. It's true, it's not a new low, just the same low. Yet when Queen for a Day was airing, the "Tiffany Network was courageously broadcasting Edward R Murrow's takedown of Joe McCarthy. Do today's O'Reillys and Brian Williamses compare?

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    1. Wow, you really are up there, Gary. I've read of Murrow in History books. Thanks for the reminder.

      A pox on O'Reilly and Faux News. Brian is just a narcissist on his network. Glad he's gone.

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  10. Either fame junkies or people with no sense of pride.
    Who wants to watch these people humiliate themselves?
    There is so much bullshit in the world; why spend your time watching these miserable bastards when you could be wallowing in your own misery? If you need to see "reality" tv in order to feel better about yourself................
    I just can't.
    As miserable or joyous as life can be, I'd rather experience it myself than do it vicariously through the tube..

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  11. “The Briefcase literally forces the American lower class to compete with itself for table scraps bestowed on it by wealthy people who work in television.”

    Well, that's how the wealthy would have it; minimum wage jobs for all and be grateful for your poverty status. So, I guess this is real even if the actors are fake.

    BTW, I've never watched "Reality TV". It's the lowest form of entertainment out there, even surpassing the WWE.

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  12. I wonder what the upcoming column or blog will be that ties into that sign above.

    Wendy, well said about how the wealthy would have it. As a quote in today's paper said in regards to Rauner, you can use the Fitzgerald quote how the rich think they are better than us.

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  13. Lovely, scenic pic up on top now.

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