Sunday, 12 October 2014

Hey, Bubbaloos, Which Reality Show Are You On?--by Reb MacRath

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We all have our lists of Great Ideas. And, no matter what agent Don Maass thinks, we're not always bubbleheads when we pitch a new book as our best. But another list claims my attention today: Great Impossible Ideas.

Imagine, for example, a TV show called American (Wr)Idol. Or So You Think You Can Write. Or The (Inner) Voice. That's right, a sizzling reality show that brings the same excitement to the writing business as the others to singing or dancing. We could start with a montage of lead contestants training (perched for hours at their desks...taking long walks on the beach...filling trash cans with rewrites and bottles of booze...etc.). Then we'd move briskly along to the auditions for auditions: writers working for weeks on their queries which net them form rejections: 'Promising but too pitchy'...'You write well in places but--well, not for us.'...Onward to the Main Event: the final 12 who make it to full manuscript reads by top agents...And on.

That has Hit all over it, just the thing for Simon Cowell. But it will never come about. And so my mind keeps turning to another show that does that has far darker ties to the writing trade. This appalling show is:

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Season after season, Survivor portrays the overthrow of the strong and decent by weak, conniving s.o.b.'s. Alliances are made, gaining the numbers required to boot the good-looking, the charming, the buff. Bold-faced contestants lie and scheme against their closest on-show friends while assuring us all in dramatic asides that, hey, this is only a game. In one unforgettable show, a lovely Asian girl salvaged a friend's bottom teeth from the deep, then gave up her family reunion reward so the others could meet with their own kin. This poor kid was then voted out because she was too likable to beat in the show's final vote!

The most infamous Villain on the show, so far, is Russell Hanz--a millionaire oilman who insists that he is 'completely honest' in all his dealings outside the game.

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On the show, at least, Hanz proved to be a holy terror: a Machivellian bully capable of bitch-slapping a whole tribe to his steely will. The look on his face when he found himself aced by a "dumb" innocent blonde was almost worth the anguish of having watched him for twelve weeks. And every now and then a player you don't want to spit on wins. Still, I've stopped watching Survivor because I see the game daily at work. There, no-talent bumpkins band into cliques, battling for promotions by voting their foes off the island: shunned or, better, unemployed. Then, of course--Survivor style--they begin smearing their allies.

It's the way of the world, some might tell us--as it's always been and will be. Should it be any different with art? Don't look too closely and you might conclude that the patron saint of writers is our old friend, Jeff Probst:

Here's Jeff with some squirming treats for those who've secretly trashed friends and foes, then gone on to dump allies no longer of use.

Literary politricks isn't something we like to discuss. It exists. But the part of us that recoils from it is the better part. There should be something nobler to any artistic alliance than the spirit of a game show. Are true alliances reciprocal? In the positive sense of the word, sometimes yes. But not on a tit-for-tat basis. Not payback but Paying it Forward. Moreover, true alliances aren't formed for the sake of convenience.

There's no need for us to vote anyone else off the island. No need to steal or burn anyone's rice. If we see writing as a procession dating back thousands of years, our chances are better for staying on course. In this procession, we all stand behind and before, driven by our ruling values, not treats. And our best allies aren't favor factories--but those who share our commitment to putting our values to work.

So thanks, Jeff, but I'll pass on the chance to slime my allies or myself. And while I write I'll play some tunes by American Idol's top Losers:

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Jennifer Hudson

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Adam Lambert

In closing, as an example of a true alliance at work: Lynne Garner, of Authors Electric, recently wrote of her successful posting of "a small album of images" on her hedgehogs Facebook page. Within hours the page had 23 new Likes and went on to reach 11.2K people. With thanks to Lynne--I owe her one--I post my own candidate for Best Hedgehog Photo:

And here's the post to Lynne's terrific post on successful use of social media:


Catherine Czerkawska said...

There IS a reality show for writers. It's Italian and it's called Masterpiece. They say if it's successful they will (heaven help us) roll it out to other countries! You could hardly make it up, could you?

Reb MacRath said...
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Reb MacRath said...

Thanks, Catherine. I first pitched the idea of a Real Time reality event about thirteen years ago--not as a TV show, but as a sort of Live version of James Michener's book The Novel. It was rejected by every major agent in the country. I don't see this show 'taking' in the U.S...or, I'm guessing, the UK. Even dolts can form impressions based on a dance steps or sung notes. Much harder on TV to judge recited pieces while coloring one's toe nails. Here's a link to an article in the New York Times on this show.

Debbie Bennett said...

There was one in the UK too a few years back. Naff and pointless and totally removed from reality.

Reb MacRath said...

They should have gone with my idea: a real-time nonfiction novel. Well, there's still time for someone to steal it.

Lydia Bennet said...

I suppose you could say that Catfish is a reality show about writing fiction - creating characters, histories, plotting a life, and all fake, or at least most of them are! I seem to recall reading they were planning a reality show for visual artists - to paint portraits - I was quite interested until I read it was all about 'celebrities' who would be painted, and all the blurb was about them and nothing about the actual artists who'd portray them. Reality shows are fake and pretty much scripted, sometimes after the event - they take all the film and chop it up and reorder to create story lines. So being an 'editor' i.e. writer on one of those is a sort of reality show about fiction about... no, I've got lost now! Maybe someone will take up your idea Reb but it'll all be about celebs who've done nothing but become famous for being in other reality shows!

Reb MacRath said...
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Reb MacRath said...

Scripted is the word, Val. The last episode I watched of Simon Cowell's X-Factor, years back, had a cute little contestant, maybe 14 years old, with a big voice and terrific personality. I don't think she ever expected to win, but she made it close to the finals--emphasizing several times that she hoped to branch out into acting, even get her own TV show. Well, when she got the boot, she staged a GIANT meltdown, howling to her mother: "You promised me I'd be a star!" Boo-hoo. So far, she hasn't got her show, but I don't believe viewers are out of the woods yet.

Cherokee Blacke said...

No matter that your once thoroughly original idea has gone on to be badly done by profiteering putzes. The heart of this piece, for me at least, is its crisp analysis of alliances in the arts. You seem to love tackling subjects not often discussed--sometimes for good reasons.

Reb MacRath said...

Why, thank you, Cherokee. You're right about the subjects I tackle--but I edited this post carefully to avoid any targeting charges. No need to get over-specific. My sights were fixed on real literary friendships vs. mutual shenanigans.

Leverett Butts said...

Excellent post as usual, Reb. I'd like to see a writer's version of Survivor, but we'd never vote anyone off and we'd just sit around trying to figure out how to make papyrus.

Reb MacRath said...

Thanks, Lev. Richard Monaco could probably keep us all honest with the threat of putting us in a new book and contriving our jawdropping deaths.

Leverett Butts said...

LOL. Or horrible disfigurements.

Reb MacRath said...

Incidentally, if I ever teach a course about a writing, I think I could pack the house. Why? Because I'd do more than talk about plotting and characterization, finding an agent, etc. I'd talk about such things as literary politics, the absolute importance of our forging an arc for our career (and learning to weather the lows), etc. And, oh yeah, we'd talk about writin' as well.