Where Brain Cells Go To DieThese days it seems our favorite form of entertainment is watching the very worst examples of douchbaggery prance across our television screens in an endless parade of freakishness. “Reality TV”—the conduit through which most of this digital bounty (?) is pumped— bears little resemblance to anything real. It’s now become so completely artificial that a number of professional production personnel in the television industry recently went to court in an attempt to assert authorial rights over the story lines produced for reality shows, arguing that the painstaking process of editing video clips of unscripted activity out-of-sequence to create a new chain of events, coaching participants and encouraging them to behave in specific ways, then mismatching and re-mixing conversational sound bytes to create illusionary conversations— and an invented plot line— for such programs was artistically no different than writing a script or inventing an original story. The lawyers are still fighting that one.

One current reality television program about supposed-moonshiners has lately drawn legal fire (from police authorities who cooperated with the production company that filmed it) for implying that something illegal was being filmed, when in truth all of the supposed “moonshining” taking place is completely fake. The production company admitted under pressure they staged the footage in question as a “reenactment,” but the cat is out of the bag. The show doesn’t depict real moonshiners making real moonshine…. it films paid actors pretending to do so.

“Reality” television is only “real” in the same way that WWF wrestling is a “real” sport. It is scripted in advance and heavily edited after the fact to make it more entertaining… and entirely fictional in outcome, if not in execution. Meanwhile the entertainment industry still feeds the ravenous public endless get-rich-quick success fantasies, allowing us to merrily glut our schadenfreudel hunger on the sad shortcomings of a parade of pathetic, amoral clowns… while still keeping us starry-eyed with fairy tales of instant wealth and fame .

These days that type of scenario— in which someone “cures cancer in a high school laboratory” or “invents cold fusion on a workbench in somebody’s garage”— is a bit hard to swallow.

Not that it couldn’t happen that way— real genius pops up in the strangest places and can manifest itself in the most unexpected manner. It’s just that— were something like that to happen (or should I say, WHEN it happens)— it’s not likely we would ever find out about it. Corporate interests would intervene. Nor are the titans of business the only ones who insist upon controlling such things. If someone were to somehow invent a way to generate clean, abundant energy from some cheap common substance, and were to announce the discovery to the world, within hours the inventor would have vanished into government custody and every factual statement ever made about the discovery would be officially retracted by the press and quashed as ridiculous nonsense.

If someone produced such an invention I suspect whether or not the inventor was ever seen alive again would depend upon how willing he was to surrender all rights to his discovery. The government would take it and license it to industrial contractors and release it as they saw fit. They might even clash with big business as the corporate heavies got wind of it and demanded a piece of the action. In any case, the general public certainly wouldn’t see it or benefit from it until a LOT of men with silk ties (and armed gunmen at their beck and call) decided to allow it.

Such realities are a bitter pill to swallow, try as we might to escape them. Maybe reality TV— with its vapid Real Housewives and bug-eating Survivors— isn’t so bad after all.