Thursday, February 16, 2012

Big Ideas Gleaned from Reality TV

In a recent post written for (posted January 13, 2012), I indicted reality TV, urging viewers not to support the genre and citing several objections, including:


·      the absence of boundaries between what people may do behind closed doors and for cameras,

·      the overall snarky, belittling nature of human interaction, and

·      the operational standard of winning by any means necessary.


Now I must grovel before you, my knees in the grit, and confess: in spite of that post disavowing reality TV, I do, in fact, watch some reality TV. But wait, before you cast me off, allow me to explain.


I watch Halloween Wars, Cupcake Wars, and Chopped semi-faithfully, recording new episodes in order to fast-forward through some of the preparation. I try to imagine whether or not I could use the occasional bizarre ingredient with grace and creativity in impossibly brief, stress-filled blocks of time to produce something that measures up to the demanding judges’ expectations.


My judgment? I don’t think I could perform as well as any one of the contestants, and that is the primary reason for my interest in these shows. Any one of the contestants is a food artist, confident and daring enough to prove his and her talents in a very public arena. Each one, even those who fall short of the big prize, deserves admiration because every contestant, like kids who spell tricky words and athletes who kick, throw, catch, and hit balls of different sizes, refuses to shrink from the ultimate test. So watching these reality programs is another way of bearing witness to courage and triumph. These programs are also a way to practice deducing big ideas, also known as literary themes, from human experience.


One lesson, other than courage and triumph, drawn from these programs is that talking back to authority is risky. The contestants who accept criticism graciously without unnecessary explanation or defensiveness are more likely to win the round. I have seen more than one chef on Chopped defend an oversight or omission by asking for just a bit more time. Doing so is akin to a downhill skier declaring that he could have succeeded if he had not had to navigate such a steep mountain. Contestants should remember that the contest parameters are pre-set, defined; one either measures up or doesn’t. Not to do so is to be cut from the herd.


I’ve also seen contestants on Halloween Wars crack under pressure. A couple of them have even stormed off the set, leaving team-members to lose if they cannot fill the vacuum left in the wake of the temperamental one. That those teammates do not also storm and stomp is a credit to them, and a second lesson to draw from these reality programs. Those who can take setbacks and persevere will earn rewards in the form of second-chances, praise, and possibly big money.


A third lesson has to do with human relations. The competitors who are insensitive to others tend to lose. One guy made a lot of noise as he planned and stirred. Another bragged that his skills were superior to all others’. Such confidence crosses the line into the territory of hubris, and almost always, unless that contestant learns and embraces humility before the hour ends, the judges will prick the balloon of his ego for him.


I have also observed that the winners tend to be in the service of something greater than themselves: another challenge, a bigger mountain, or an expansion of their business. Usually these winners strive to pay back someone who believed in them--a parent, a partner, a co-worker. In other words, they are hopeful and thankful. None of them says that he will never bake or cook again if he loses. Each of them seems determined to try again, maybe even, if invited, on the same show in the same circumstances.


The producers of these programs include some of the snarky features of the worst in reality TV. They capture eyes rolling when another contestant’s product earns praise; they film eyes cut and heads turned to catch a glimpse of a quivering lip or tiny tear after a contestant receives harsh critiques, and if there are a few fissures in a contestant’s demeanor, those cracks will make the final program. Still these are secondary to the amazing skill and character that 98% of the contestants demonstrate. I usually fast-forward through that other stuff anyway.


I know cooking shows may not be your taste, but I invite you to try one now and then. I find--and this is my final lesson--that they embolden me to experiment with my own, original recipes. They also remind me of the Japanese precept: first feed the soul with foods beautifully presented, then feed the appetite. I could do much better with that one, and these chefs and bakers show me the way. Finally, these shows remind me of the exquisite language that writers choose to convey the same points, and I turn off the TV, switching to books and poetry instead.


Reading Challenge:


For each one of those literary themes printed in bold font in the essay above, list one or more works of literature that develop the same theme.


Writing Challenge:


Choose one of the literary themes in bold font from the essay above and build your own story or poem to reveal that theme.


GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): A Personal Pet Peeve


How dare you suggest that you cut me loose?! I cut you loose and was quite content to lose you! I can lose or misplace car keys just as easily as I can lose you even though I still know perfectly well where you are. All I need to say is ‘Get lost, and don’t come back!’


By the way, in that speech above, the s in loose sounds like an s; the s in lose sounds like a z. Few people mispronounce the words, but many people spell them incorrectly.


The adjective loose spelled with two o’s means:


·      free or released from fastening or attachment: a loose end.
·      free from anything that binds or restrains; unfettered: loose cats prowling around in alleyways at night.
·      uncombined, as a chemical element.
·      not bound together: to wear one's hair loose.
·      not put up in a package or other container: loose mushrooms.

The verb loose spelled with two o’s means:


·      to let loose; free from bonds or restraint.
·      to release, as from constraint, obligation, or penalty.
·      Chiefly Nautical . to set free from fastening or attachment: to loose a boat from its moorings.
·      to unfasten, undo, or untie, as a bond, fetter, or knot.
·      to shoot; discharge; let fly: to loose missiles at the invaders.


The word loose in idiomatic expressions means:

·      break loose, to free oneself; escape: The convicts broke loose.
·      cast loose: a. to loosen or unfasten, as a ship from a mooring and  b. to send forth; set adrift or free: He was cast loose at an early age to make his own way in the world.
·      cut loose: a. to release from domination or control, b. to become free, independent, etc. and c. to revel without restraint: After the rodeo they headed into town to cut loose.
·      hang / stay loose, Slang . to remain relaxed and unperturbed.
·      let loose: a. to free or become free and  b. to yield; give way: The guardrail let loose and we very nearly plunged over the edge.

The verb lose, spelled with one o, means:


·      to come to be without (something in one's possession or care), through accident, theft, etc., so that there is little or no prospect of recovery: I'm sure I've merely misplaced my hat, not lost it.
·      to fail inadvertently to retain (something) in such a way that it cannot be immediately recovered: I just lost a dime under this sofa.
·      to suffer the deprivation of: to lose one's job; to lose one's life.
·      to be bereaved of by death: to lose a sister.
·      to fail to keep, preserve, or maintain: to lose one's balance; to lose one's figure.
·      to suffer loss: to lose on a contract.
·      to suffer defeat or fail to win, as in a contest, race, or game: We played well, but we lost.
·      to depreciate in effectiveness or in some other essential quality: a classic that loses in translation
·      (of a clock, watch, etc.) to run slow.

The word lose, spelled with one o, may appear in two idiomatic expressions: lose out and lose face.

Definitions and illustrations are from I am grateful for them.