Have We Always Been This Cold?

Is it just me, or is anyone else concerned about what seems to be a growing public appetite for watching real people fall on their faces in front of an audience?  I’m not talking about actors.  I’m talking about human beings having a terrible no good very bad day with a camera turned on them, and people think it’s funny, so it goes viral.

We can blame it on too much cable, too little material or the 24 hour news cycle or the possibility that the better angels of our nature have gone into hiding, but honestly, what’s so funny about a train wreck?   What’s with the continuous loop showing a runway model or a pageant contestant falling on her butt during her big moment?  Haven’t we all had that nightmare about walking out in front of people and realizing we’ve forgotten to put our clothes on?  Has empathy gone out of style?

Front page of my hometown paper about a month ago:  “The flubs heard round the world.”  What passed for news:  a small town news anchor  appeared to be drunk during her newscast.  I had seen the clip rebroadcast the night before—don’t remember what I was watching, but it wasn’t small town newscast—and I thought, this isn’t news, and it isn’t a joke.  I was really disappointed to see the article on the front page of MY newspaper, complete with the handy dandy url so that readers could “Watch the now viral video’”!  The next day the story was everywhere.  London, for heaven’s sake.  Not New London—THE London.  And of course the Letterman Show aired “Top Ten Signs Your Local News Team Is Drunk.”

The part of the article that interested me—yes, interested me, I write character-driven fiction, after all—was the comment from a well-known local news anchor who almost lost his job about 20 years ago—before the days of viral video—over a similar incident.  Apparently the broadcast hit the airwaves live—and, indeed, he was in his cups—but it was never shown again.  The tape went in the vault for safekeeping, the anchor got sober and has enjoyed a long career.  But he told the Strib, “To laugh at someone in this kind of dilemma is the same as laughing at someone attempting suicide on television.”

Has popular culture come to this?  Are we headed for the coliseum or The Huger Games?

Not if purveyors and consumers of the Romance genre have anything to say about it.  Empathy is our middle name.  I’m just saying, Letterman, get a life.  We know who’s fair game and who isn’t. The rest of you guys, turn off the loop on stuff like this.  If it’s the world’s dumbest thief, okay, but the public humiliation of somebody falling on her face, come on.  Let’s tell the better angels of our nature it’s safe to come out of the closet.

Have you had a why-would-you-ever-put-that-on-TV moment lately?  Express indignation here.

Oh, and let me end on a really really high note.  I got this beauty in my in-box today from Bell Bridge Books

The Last Good Man - print

My first Bell is about to ring!  THE LAST GOOD MAN will be available late January/early February for the first time in digital format as well as in trade paperback.  It’s been out of print for quite a while, but it was a USA Today bestseller, and it’s one of my favorite stories.  Yes, of course I’ll be talking about it in the coming weeks, but I just couldn’t wait to show off the new cover! 

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About Kathleen Eagle

Kathleen Eagle is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels.
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20 Responses to Have We Always Been This Cold?

  1. Cindy Gerard says:

    Oh Kathy, your new cover for The Last Good Man is breathtaking! I LOVED this book – I think it was the first of your books I ever read and it was the one that got me hooked on romance. Bravo! I’m so glad it’s in print again for everyone who missed it!

    And I agree with you on the sensationalism of other people’s pain. I don’t watch those game shows were people are always being knocked down or falling off something because I could see myself in the ‘fool’ mode so easily.
    And yet – I’m hooked on Project Runway, which, in so many ways is a virtual train wreck. At least the participants KNOW they are going to look ridiculous on many occasions.

    • Project Runway is can’t miss for me, too. I suspect the producers encourage the backbiting. The stock roles are always filled–the conniver, the bitch, the clown, the mother hen etc, so they know what they’re doing even though it’s “reality.” And the creative aspect makes the whole thing ultimately come together in a good way. But the appeal of some of those ensemble catfight shows escapes me.

  2. Linda says:

    I try really hard not to watch other peoples downfall or public disgrace- I would not want people to have seen me at my worst or lowest moment. I would also hope that those that care about me would try to help not show it to the world. Agree with Cindy as to why don’t watch reality TV or most of the new game shows. My only guilty pleasure is cooking competitions type shows- again these chefs know what they are getting into in the compettition.

    • I wonder if it’s mostly people who love to cook who enjoy the chef contests. I’ve seen a number of them a couple of times, but they don’t hook me. I do get a kick out the the whole “presentation” thing.

  3. Leanne says:

    LOOOOOOOOVE the new cover! YAY!:) My husband loves WIPEOUT, that show where people deliberately do crazy things like climb a wall that shoots water at them or jump on a revolving thing that will knock them in the head. He laughs and laughs. I wince and hope the contestant is okay. Most Reality shows are like watching train wrecks for me and I don’t watch many. Some Dancing With The Stars. Some American Idol. I watched the last couple shows of The Bachelor last year. OOog. I hate shows where people fall and the only reason I will watch a clip on the internet about someone falling is to study it to make sure I don’t do the same thing. The only reality show I’ve been committed to is Project Runway.

    • I’ve never been able to get into “Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars” but have you seen “The Sing Off”? I discovered it last fall–guess it’s been on for a couple of seasons. It’s between seasons right now, but I loved it.

  4. Terry Odell says:

    The backbiting, staged or not in Project Runway turned me off after a couple of seasons. Now I’m hooked on Top Chef–there’s still a lot of ‘not-so-nice’ but maybe I watch it because I love cooking more than sewing.I watch Iron Chef and Chopped, too, but those are one-show events.

    Just about every other show has me asking why anyone would want to put themselves on view for the public–and why the public obviously eats it up, since these shows are reproducing worse than rabbits.

    • I’ve looked at the cooking shows but I’m not so much into cooking. The cake stuff is pretty amazing, but again, doesn’t hold my interest from one to the next. And a whole series about cupcakes? I do like David Tutera’s wedding show. Love watching the ordinary bride get the gorgeous wedding.

    • Reproducing like rabbits–love it! And why do they all have to be “wars”?

  5. michelehauf says:

    Now that is a gorgeous cover!

    I cringe so often at all the stuff that’s aired on TV lately. Seriously, what is with this new show Mobbed, where supposedly they make the contestants think something very horrible has happened to them, and then they spring a great surprise on them? Wierd. Or the strangest show was that one, Dating In The Dark. I have no words.

    But I am still waiting for Writing With The Authors. Wouldn’t that be a snore-fest? 🙂 And now here’s the author….sitting before the computer…typing. Again. Ha!

    • Oh, yeah, we could do this, Michele. We get ourselves a real Caddie. A big long one. We take to the road, take our laptops along. We go searching for inspiration, scream as we’re driving through tunnels…multiple tunnels…

  6. lois greiman says:

    Beautiful cover. Congrats to the Debs at Belle Bridge and to you, Kathy.

  7. Hi Kathleen,

    I have long wondered about this same issue. I remember as a little girl, and growing up, how my mom always taught me to put myself in the person’s place. It’s something I tried to teach my kids, too, and oddly enough as they were growing up, I had MANY parents say to me, “I wish my kids acted like yours–they are so kind.” Or “I wish my kids loved each other like yours do–my kids just fight all the time.” Newsflash. Kindness must be TAUGHT. It is not something people just “DO” from birth. I think this was a huge revelation for me after my own kids came along. I did this just because it was how I was raised, so it was the way I knew to parent. But when I started hearing these comments and paying attention to other kids behaviors and their parents’ reaction to it, I could well understand why they wished their kids were kinder and more loving. Still, they didn’t realize it was up to THEM to teach them to be that way. Sadly, I think that is one thing that keeps these reality shows and the videos like you’re talking about so popular in today’s world. It’s kind of a “pecking order” that people can look at and think, “Gosh, I’m glad that’s not me.” Rather than thinking, “How awful for that person. What am I doing watching this?” Cruelty and thoughtlessness is also taught–by inaction. One thing that has always stuck with me are the words that I’ll paraphrase here, spoken by Joel Osteen during one of his sermons. He said, “Why would you fill your mind with trash? Because, sometimes it’s just easier to just sit in front of the tv and watch what’s on rather than turn it off. You have to make a conscious effort to turn off shows that are offensive.” You know, I really didn’t take it in the way he was speaking–‘offensive’ is different to different people–but to me, it meant these kinds of shows we’re talking about–watching someone else’s misfortune. I really don’t watch a lot of tv anymore, especially these reality shows. I take it back–I did love the show on HGTV where they choose a family and send them on vacation somewhere and totally re-do their house–even sometimes bulldozing it and building it from the ground up. But the kind of reality shows I like are those kinds that show good being accomplished somewhere. Very thought provoking post, Kathleen! I love the cover for your book, too. It’s beautiful. CONGRATULATIONS!
    Cheryl

    • Very thoughtful comment, Cheryl. So true that offensive means different things to different people, but most of us know when something is just pure mean spirited-ness. It’s something we need to talk with young kids about pretty often and let they know that when you say or do something that doesn’t feel right, listen to your instincts. It doesn’t feel good to hurt somebody or to watch somebody get hurt. Don’t get swept up by the crowd.

      • Yes you are so right–people know (or most do) when something is just mean-spirited. I was being kind of tongue-in-cheek about Joel Osteen’s idea of ‘offensive’ sometimes being different from mine…since I write romance novels–he probably would find THOSE offensive. LOL But as far as watching stuff like you’re talking about, people falling and embarrassing themselves and so on, I always just feel so sorry for them when that happens. My first inclination is to say, “POOR THING!” and empathize with them rather than laugh. You’re right about listening to your instincts. You know, I think that’s why I loved TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD so much. Atticus was going to do the right thing no matter what, and he made sure his kids knew it too. Loved your post and the comments today!

  8. Liz Selvig says:

    Hi Kathy,
    I really enjoyed this post. Being kind was more important in my family than doing chores or getting ahead. I sometimes worry I didn’t sell these lessons hard enough to my kids, yet they are loving, giving, industrious adults so I didn’t fail completely. I hate those embarrassing moments you talk about, I dislike backbiting reality. I often wonder if that’s why “people” make fun of me when I admit to liking Dancing With the Stars and Idol — they may be a bit silly, but the contestants really grow to love each other no matter who wins.

    When my niece (now 25) was about seven, she came, frustrated, to my mother one day and said, “Grandma, why can’t everyone just be nice?” Out of the mouths of babes. It’s our family mantra 🙂 Glad I found you today–this is a great topic.

    As for your book cover — oh, my, it’s a beauty all right. Congratulations!!

  9. PatriciaW says:

    My husband insists the fault likes with Jerry Springer and Morton Downey, Jr. I’d add America’s Funniest Videos. Mash that all together and get the train-wreck we now call reality TV.

    I recall in the Black community when, if a Black person was on television, we’d look up, hopeful that the appearance would be for something positive. We’d cringe and turn our heads if it were for anything embarrassing, like extremely stupid or criminal behavior. Because we so rarely saw ourselves on television, it was important to present ourselves well.

    Now that we’re a bit more prevalent in broadcasting, seems we no longer care about embarrassing ourselves or our community. It’s awful.

    • One of these days people will be seen as individuals standing on their own merits, responsible for their own actions and no one else’s, all card-carrying members of the human race. (People, not corporations. Had to put that in.) The day is coming, Patricia. I really do believe.

  10. Kylie Brant says:

    Beautiful cover, Kathy!

    I think it all began 20 years ago with the stupid Home Videos shows. Then the television bloopers came along. Fast forward 15 years and arm half the population with camera phones and we’ve reaped what was sown in the last several years 😦

  11. Yep. Everybody’s a reporter now. Trouble is, not too many are journalists.

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