The “reality show” is the cheapest way known to create television. All it takes is a premise and a two-man camera crew. Almost anything will serve as the premise, as “Dirty Jobs” proved.
A personable actor, Mike Rowe, spent his day killing chickens, or digging out a sewer, or harvesting cockroaches. Result: television that somebody will sit down to watch.
“Reality” is cheap, if for no other reason than the fact that some relative unknown with a beard will work for very little. Given the access, any local news videographer could generate an episode of Cops riding with the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office. Family disputes, wandering drunks and drug dealers are available in almost any part of the country; roll tape you’ve got “reality.”
It isn’t real, of course, but it does confer some kind of godlike stature on the performer, be they bearded duck-caller or foul-mouthed child. It’s very helpful to find talent that’s oddly engaging but if you reduce it to its basics, you have to wonder, “Why am I watching this?”
That said, it is amazing how involved people get in the lives of these “stars.” They are not stars. “Star” suggests a talent that is rare and transcendent. These people are moderately talented bit players at best. Recently somebody called Phil Robertson whose occupation, I am told, is making duck calls, and he unburdened himself of his opinions on homosexuality. This was dutifully reported in a magazine. I would not doubt the gentleman’s credentials in the field of making life-like quacking noises, but I’m doubtful of his credentials in the areas of sexual psychology or the words of our Lord in the New Testament—the basis of Christianity.
Why the magazine felt his views on anything, outside of duck calls, were worth examining is beyond me. His comments were offensive to his employers and his views cost him his job. Yet, when A&E decided they could manage without him and his opinions, there was an outcry. There was no denial of free speech. He can say anything he wants. He just can’t say it on A&E.
We ascribe deep significance to the opinions of celebrities. That somebody appears on television does not move that person’s thoughts out of the common place into the rare. The ability to hit a mark and recite lines written by somebody else, while taking direction from the director, does not enhance the verity of value of one’s personal opinions. Some performers are genuinely brilliant, some do have remarkable minds and have interesting insights, but most of them, not so much. They’re actors, not oracles.
My old Dad, a very successful actor, once summed up his profession as ”Painting your nose red and fooling about.” That’s being brutally honest; there’s more to a good performance than that, in fact.
Alfred Hitchcock famously observed, “Actors are cattle.” A technical director friend used to refer to performers as “the meat.” Which to say they’re probably no smarter than you or I and no more liable to gems of wisdom. So why do some people attach such importance to what they say?