Reality TV? Is that what we are to make of the reality-based mini-series triple threat being released by the networks? The Reagans, Jessica Lynch, and Elizabeth Smart are all new victims of exploitation. And in the latter two cases, they are willing victims, so it’s hard to muster much sympathy.

But in all cases they are mustering my ire. I have grave concerns about our appetite for info-tainment. That grey area where stylized and theatrically enhanced plays are put on “based on reality”. And I suppose I’m most annoyed by this trend because I don’t think as a people we are smart enough to tell the difference. History becomes these fictionalized tales after a fashion. To wit: the history of Jack Kennedy for most everyone who’s not a presidential scholar has become Oliver Stone’s version in JFK.

It is understandable. Real documentaries and historical texts don’t have the eye-gluing appeal of these tales which “kick it up a notch” to hold your interest. And there is ample historical precedent here. Who could argue that Odysseus is remembered outside Homer’s Odyssey? Did Homer elaborate the tale to hold his readers? Probably. So I have to admit that I’m on shaky ground here. Where is the line? Where is it okay to bend truth in the interest of appealing to simple human interest? Is it better to be ignorant or misinformed? Given the number of accounts lately of journalists being called on the carpet for outright fabrication of facts, this is clearly an area people are wrestling with everywhere.

The networks would claim that these mini-series are clearly entertainment as they are not produced by their news organizations. But in a TV line-up where news magazines run in prime-time and reality TV is among the most popular new form of programming, is it a stretch to think the viewers might be confused? If the story is really intended to be fictional, then change the names and some of the basic story elements. The plot and theme could be preserved, but by making a few substantive changes the story could be distanced from the news. If you are going to tell the Jessica Lynch story, and bill it as that, then tell the story accurately, and where doubt exists present the evidence. But this won’t happen. A made-for-TV movie about a generic young girl captured by enemy forces and rescued by her comrades probably wouldn’t generate the eyeball share that Jessica would. It ultimately comes down to what sells.

…and ultimately that says more about us than it does about the opportunists who exploit our inability to quell our voyeuristic lustings.

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