Stupid Rays

“This thing here,” my TV Broadcasting professor declared, “shoots out stupid rays.”

He was holding the video camera that I would use for the rest of my college career.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out what he meant by stupid rays.

I was on the campus of another college to cover a basketball game.  A few minutes before tipoff I decided to get some shots of the fans.  They were all seated quietly, waiting for the game to start.  I stood at one end of the bleachers and pointed the camera towards the calm fans as I walked to the other end of the bleachers.  The stupid rays were working well that night.  Once quiet fans turned into maniacs as soon as their eyes made contact with the camera.  It looked like a tidal wave of stupid.

A tidal wave of stupid is probably the best way to categorize much of what one can find on television these days.  Over the past decade or so, the traditional format of actors playing a part in a made up story has taken a back seat to what is known as reality television.  But make no mistake, the stars of reality television shows are still acting and the story is still, for the most part, made up.

If you take the most honest family in the world and add a cameraman to their home, they will change.  On top of that, if you start to pay that family for the trouble of having a cameraman follow them around and that family suddenly becomes famous, reality exits stage left.  As a result, instead of watching reality, we end up watching and laughing at caricatures of ourselves.

I’ve never been to New Jersey.  I’ve also never seen Jersey Shore but every time I see a commercial for it I catch myself thinking, “Man, people from New Jersey are messed up.”  This summer I met a bunch of people from New Jersey.  They were nothing like the people on Jersey Shore commercials.

Just before I sat down to write this, I was in a grocery store where I noticed a teenage couple with a baby.  They looked very tired, the baby was crying and there wasn’t a whole lot in their shopping cart.  They looked nothing like the people on MTV’s Teen Mom.  They weren’t wearing nice clothes, the mom wasn’t sporting a tricked out haircut with a crazy manicure and there was no nice car waiting for them in the parking lot.  That’s mainly because there was also no cameraman.  Reality.

Reality shows thrive on the absurd.  There’s not currently a show about a normal guy that works in an accountant’s office and comes home every day to his normal wife and children.  There are, however, currently, 14,843 shows that feature emotionally unstable supermodels that like to marry NBA players or obsessive mothers who put their kids in beauty pageants or some combination of the two.  Stupid rays.

I don’t know what my old college professor, the one that introduced me to stupid rays, is up to these days.  Maybe he’s at some other college still teaching aspiring young broadcasters.  If he is, I’ll bet that when he gives his stupid ray speech, instead of holding up a camera he points to a television.

“This thing here shoots out stupid rays.”