Friday, July 28, 2006


Who Wants to be a Superhero

A reality show where people are
rewarded for doing the right
thing? Go figure....
When I got into work yesterday, my team leader mentioned a show on SciFi that he wanted to check out. I like science fiction, though I've kind of moved away from it over the years. My favorite author, Harry Turtledove, I suppose is best known as a science fiction author, but he does a lot of what is known at "alternative history fiction." The most recent series I'm reading follows a timeline in which the Confederacy won the Civil War. It's the start of World War II and rebel troops have pushed out of Kentucky all the way to Lake Eire, cutting the US in half, though Federal troops are organizing a counterattack into Virginia.

I've read some of Trutledove's SciFi work and it's good, but I just don't read or watch much science fiction any more. Also, I really don't much care for any genre that has a cutesy nickname. I have never been in such a hurry that I needed to refer to animation produced in Japan as Japanimation. I hate the term, but now I've gotten wildly off of the subject at hand.

The show that Harry wanted to watch was Stan Lee's Who Wants to be a Superhero. It's a reality show about a bunch of people living together in a superhero's lair, competing to be immortalized in comic book form.

I'll try to be polite here, BUT I FUCKING HATE REALITY TV!!!!!!!! That honestly is as polite as I can be. I don't hate documentaries, they are by definition, the documenting of actual events as they happen. Reality TV is anything but. People are thrown together, sometimes given a specific aim - sometimes not, have dozens of cameras pointed at them 24 hours a day and are expected to act real. I don't know about the reality in your daily life, but mine involves me being able to take a dump without a camera crew present.

And shows that do have some sort of aim, some sort of winner always end up being a win at all costs affair. Alliances are made and broken. Contestants stab each other in the back to obtain something as fleeting as some amount of money. All of the things I was taught growing up about how to treat other people, how to act in society are completely thrown out the window. Just win baby.

On top of that, people have found out that they can achieve fame, even a career by being on these stupid shows. I'm not talking about American Idol where the aim is to have some sort of talent, demonstrate said talent and perhaps be given a recording contract. That's fame for a reason. Fat naked Richard from Survivor parlayed his appearance into some radio gig. Some other Survivor bitch was in a movie with Rob Schneider (that's really not winning, darlin') for no other reason than that we recognized her from a reality show.

In 2001 while waiting for the verdict in a coworker's trial (don't EVEN get me started on that bullshit) I saw a call for contestants for a new gameshow in the LA Times. I went to Burbank for the try out, passed the test and was asked to stay to play the game for the producers. The show was an adaptation of the English gameshow The Weakest Link. None of us had ever seen it so we watched an episode. I was appalled! What a mean-spirited piece of crap!

When we played our mock game, we had to vote people off, the loser had to walk away and talk to the camera during their "walk of shame." The producers kept telling us not to be so nice, to be meaner. They were trying to create animosity between us. I guess it didn't work on me and I never got called back.

I was discussing the show with another potential contestant on the way to our cars. I mentioned that I thought the best players would get voted out as the game neared the end. He disagreed, figuring the other players would vote out the under-performing players so more money could be won. We disagreed. If you've ever seen the show, you know which of us was right.

The next year I tried out for Jeopardy! It was a completely different vibe, and those who were overly competitive somehow were weeded out. This was not a place for bullshit posturing, for a "win at all costs" attitude. It was a group of people who all wanted to be on their favorite TV show.

It was even friendlier in the green room before tapings. We'd all made it. We were actually going to be on Jeopardy! Nothing else really mattered. Yeah, we all wanted to win, but I always felt like that was secondary. The guy who beat the living daylights out of me, Chuck Champagne, was such a nice guy. We came from completely different worlds but we had a love for knowledge in common, I never thought about competing with him. I gave him a good run and was pleased to see him win another game after beating me. OK, this was the same season as Ken Jennings, so I'll admit it would have been cooler, if I was going to lose, to lose to Ken Jennings.

What was this all about again?

Oh yeah, Who Wants to be a Superhero.

So I'm watching the show last night, giggling about the superhero personae (that's the plural, look it up) the contestants had chosen (Cell Phone Girl?!? What a lame superhero power. Yeah, she can dial 911 when there's trouble....), saw them all party together. They talked freely. Too freely it turned out>

The first potential superhero kicked off the show (no voting here, no alliances , no back stabbing, Stan Lee decides) had remarked at the party that he could make a lot of money from being on this show. Stan got rid of him at the first opportunity. For me, this show immediately started looking up. No fortune, damn it, you're supposed to be a superhero.

You ran past a crying little girl in your
atempt to win. Some hero ....
The first test for the remaining folks was to change into their costumes quickly and discretely then run to a finish line. Here's the twist (there's always a twist). Along the potential heroes paths was a little girl crying for her mother. Three of the contestants did the humane thing and helped the little girl. The rest ran past her, some hamming it up on their run trying to look more like superheroes on their runs.

Stan Lee was not pleased, and he couldn't have been more right. These people are supposed to be trying to act like superheroes. Running past a child in need is definitely not all that super. My only regret is that Stan didn't kick off every superzero (cheesy - sorry...) who didn't help the girl.

I don't have any idea where this show is going, but it is absolutely unique in that it actually has, so far, rewarded people for moral activity, for doing the right thing and punished some of those who didn't.

I suppose that disqualifies it as a reality show.

'Nuff Said


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The Bert Convey
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