I’m outraged at my lack of outrage

Those wacky reality show writers. First, they try to convince us that someone actually writes reality shows. Then, when they finally accomplish that, they try to convince us to muster some outrage about product placement in their shows.

Remember the Subservient Chicken, who would do your bidding with a simple command, that made the rounds a while ago? Now we have Subservient Donald – as in, Donald Trump. As in, The Apprentice, whose use of product placement has been a target of television writers’ protests against the pervasive and growing practise of inserting brand names into shows, especially reality shows. The site is brought to us by an even more entertaining site called Product Invasion, itself the product of a group of “very sleep-deprived writers and Writers Guild of America, west staff.”

Subservient Donald is their masterpiece, but we’re also treated to tragic behind-the-scenes tales about producers having to pretend that participants in The Swan were eating sponsor Jenny Craig’s food, even though the trainers didn’t want them to. The stylish, funny site invites readers to submit pre-written e-mails to advertisers telling them how boring reality shows are now that they’re more like infomercials.

So, um, if they’re so dull, why are you watching?

The website is effective in helping me see the reality writers’ point of view. They make me want to care about their cause. But looking at the issue from my point of view – and I’m trying to convince the world to revolve around me – I just don’t. I don’t care. I’m sorry.

I have great respect for television writers. Well, maybe the adjective is overkill if we’re talking about reality show writers. It’s possible the noun is, too. But even though I find it hard to take seriously the creative integrity of reality shows, product placement is rampant in scripted shows, some of which I do care about.

The always witty Lisa de Moraes, television columnist for the Washington Post, objected in a recent column to Medium‘s use of product placement, when the main characters discussed the upcoming film Memoirs of a Geisha in exchange for Geisha‘s producer Sony buying ads promoting the television in various high-profile publications. Show creator Glenn Gordon Caron was enthusiastic about the deal – no word on what the episode writer thought.

It must be annoying as a creative person to be forced to incorporate a specific product into your script. But unless they’re really bad at it, even if I notice, I’m still not going to care that much. It’s fine with me if a show has characters discussing an actual movie, unless the dialogue comes across as more copywriting, less creative writing. Because that means it’s bad writing, not that it’s necessarily a bad idea.

In any case, television revolves neither around the viewer nor the creator. It revolves, of course, around money. And where does the money come from? Unless we’re talking HBO (and we’re not, because I don’t get HBO, and the world revolves around me), it’s the advertisers. As long as companies are willing to pay, and people are willing to watch (because that’s the only reason the companies are willing to pay), there’s no incentive for networks to turn away product placement.

If we can stomach watching Tyra Banks somberly pass out head shots, while intoning “Congratulations, you’re still in the running to become America’s Next Top Model” time after bloody time to women who are never going to be America’s next top model, there’s no way we are going to tune out because the girls are strutting their stuff at K-Mart (seriously – they had a catwalk competition in K-Mart). There’s an element of the ridiculous to most reality shows, so what’s a bit of ridiculous product placement on top of that?

I have only so much outrage to go around, and at the moment it’s all taken up with the fact that my hair salon won’t tell me where my beloved hairdresser defected to. Though come to think of it, the replacement I went to was pretty great. Maybe I just don’t have outrage in me. I’ll make Donald Trump do the chicken dance, and laugh at the clever gimmicks on the writers’ site. But even if I cared enough to say I care, unless I care enough to turn off the TV, my words mean nothing. And if everyone cares enough to tune out, these shows will fail, and the writers will be out of a job. Am I expected to believe that’s what they want?

Maybe the writers will instill some outrage in the kind of people who are horrified at the content their kids are exposed to, but who can’t be bothered to monitor their viewing habits or take the TVs out of their bedrooms. But unless they can get them to care enough to turn the TV off, the writers’ only hope may be the FCC – who presumably don’t care about advertising or ratings, but who might care about actionless outrage and standards. That is, if they can get them to care.

So sorry for not caring, writers, but thanks anyway … you sure can write a good website.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)

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