Does the increasing amount of realism in television and video games really do us a service?
Science fiction author Ray Bradbury saw it coming. In 1951, a time far before computers, video games, and Joe Millionaire, Bradbury published a semi-prophetic short story entitled “The Veldt” which warned of the dangers of blurring the line between reality and technologically induced entertainment. In the tale, two young siblings slowly retreat from their parents in favor of “the nursery,” a room with virtual reality capabilities. The parents of these children, in an attempt to reclaim them from the haze of an artificially created environment, threaten to turn off the nursery if the children do not spend less time outside of it. However, the two siblings have passed so many days in this virtual reality machine, particularly in a virtual African grassland, that it has taken on a realism of its own. When faced with the ultimatum of the choosing their own parents or the nursery, the jaded youngsters lure their mother and father into the mechanism, slam the door shut, and wait for the lions to devour their parents.
Flash forward 53 years. Half-brothers Jason Bautista and Matthew Montejo, 20 and 15 years old respectively, are charged with the murder of their mother, Jane Bautista. As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, the two young men decapitated and dismembered the corpse in an effort to throw off the authorities. The idea to mutilate the deceased body of their own mother came from everybody’s favorite mob boss, Tony Soprano. (In case you just broke from your Amish community, “The Sopranos” is a hit television series on HBO based on life in the mafia. Also, you can stop churning now.)
The striking similarities between the two accounts are more than a bit unsettling, considering one is a fictional story describing the worst case scenario of technological intervention and one is an actual news report from last week. Bradbury predicted that phenomena such as this would occur, and society is just starting to realize the validity of these prognostications. Like a dog with cataracts, I realize the line between reality and entertainment gets blurrier as time goes on.
The entertainment that really paints an ominous picture isn’t from the same ilk as “The Sopranos” though. With shows like these, most viewers can discriminate between an actor being paid to perform a murder on screen and acceptable behavior within actual society. The most potent threat to susceptible minds will come in the form of video games and reality TV shows. I know nobody really thinks “The Bachelorette” is producing any significant harm to mankind, but hear me out.
Among the most popular TV shows right now are “Joe Millionaire” and “American Idol.” With the exception of encouraging tone-deaf individuals to showcase their lack of ability or exposing the general populace to cattiness unrivaled by any local SPCA, these shows do no harm… for now. I must admit that I’ve been a devoted viewer of Joe Millionaire since its inception and have not been killing anybody close to me. Hell, I don’t even maim. The problem I see lies not within the actual show(s), but the craving mankind has for the macabre.
It’s well known that by turning on the news, you’re exposing yourself to all of the breaking headlines regarding death, destruction, rape and so on. These stories are run simply because people are engrossed with such subject matter and savvy network executives tap into this interest. If networks can make a buck off of running such disheartening stories at six o’clock, nothing is preventing them from turning a bigger profit by basing a primetime reality TV show based on those exact themes of violence and conflict.
If people are blurring the behavior acted out in movies with real life actions now, imagine the problem presented when everyday people star in shows focusing on violence. The general viewing public will feel an even stronger connection with the characters of such a reality television show because they are no longer professional actors but everyday citizens, just like themselves.
Don’t believe that it will happen? Maybe Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, and company can convince you. MTV’s successful reality show, “Jackass,” which consisted mainly of painful daredevil stunts and excessive vomiting, was recently made into a movie and performed tremendously at the box office, debuting at $22.8 million. Not surprisingly, several lawsuits were brought up against MTV by parents, accusing the network of encouraging their children to recreate the idiotic acts they saw on television.
Reality shows are not the only potential culprit either. The growing realism of video games is something that cannot be ignored. One such example that flooded the news during the holiday season was the recently released game for the Play Station2, “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.” Here is a game that not only allows, but encourages the player to steal cars, hire prostitutes and shoot cops. The unsavory deeds performed in the game are bad enough, but the game is so realistic that the player even has the option to change the radio station while driving his stolen car. The video game industry touts the unprecedented realism of games such as these, and rightfully so, as it makes it more enjoyable to play. However, this added realism cannot be good for a society in which the realms of reality and entertainment progressively edge closer together.
These games and television shows can have a dangerous impact on people who are delusional enough to misunderstand what’s real and what’s not. I realize that the people who have trouble with such distinctions make up an infinitesimal portion of the population though. It would not be fair, nor constitutional, to ban these shows and games simply because there are a few morons out there who feel the need to irresponsibly imitate what they see on a television screen. Nevertheless, I can’t help but sense that those moronic acts will grow to be more frequent as realism seeps into popular TV shows and video games. Be sure to heed Bradbury’s warning of the inherent dangers in the increasing fusion of entertainment and reality, or you may wish you had an extra large bag of catnip on you.