Guest / Limited Access /

It's Thanksgiving night 2005, and millions of American eyes strain toward the TV to watch … a football game? A Waltons reunion show? Some Capraesque tale trying valiantly to return us to our moral roots?

Try Survivor: Guatemala, first in its time slot and number ten for the week

in the Nielsen ratings, with an estimated 19 million viewers. From its opening footage of barely clad women crawling through mud to its ritualized closing line, "Gary, the tribe has spoken," it underscores with oomph the nature of our national moment, when cathedrals have morphed into malls and sanctuaries into screens.

We've lived with the current burst of reality TV for five years now. With approximately half of all American television shows falling into the genre, according to Nielsen Media Research, how much more reality can we take?

It's the law of the jungle that has grabbed us, curiously, here at the end of history. We thrill to shows like Survivor and The Apprentice as they, frothing with animosity, sex, and intrigue, dare virtue to intrude in any meaningful way. Call this the anti-community wing of reality TV. Here there are no adults, only overgrown kids doing whatever it takes to "have it all" (the supposed reward for The Apprentice's champion) or to win "immunity" (the weekly hope of Survivor contestants). Their conversations, taped for all the world to hear, reveal a remarkably banal form of moral poverty. "It's the Weaver-butts. They suck at driving," we hear one of the Amazing Racers declare, as families cavort around Utah competing in an elaborate scavenger hunt. "Marcus—he's useless! He's a nuisance," an Apprentice contestant complains about one of his teammates.

This is immaturity by design. Reality TV's stock technique, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedLazy Cultural Engagement
Lazy Cultural Engagement
Can we stop proof-texting culture?
TrendingMark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill
Mark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill
"I do not want to be the source of anything that might detract from our church’s mission."
Editor's PickA Word Can Be Worth a Thousand Pictures
A Word Can Be Worth a Thousand Pictures
Why the pulpit—and not the screen—still belongs at the center of our churches.
Comments
Christianity Today
Unreality TV
hide thisFebruary February

In the Magazine

February 2006

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.