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By Ellen Makkai
June 11, 2009

If Reality TV degenerates at its current pace, families will soon tune in to a trendy new show, “You Bet Your Life.” But it won’t be a Groucho Marx game show re-run. Over TV dinners we’ll be watching some poor soul competitively killed--not a digitized cartoon, mind you, but gladiator-style and for real.

We 21st Century sophisticates fancy ourselves more civilized than the Roman hoards who packed arenas and roared their approval with every bloody collapse. But today’s Reality TV revenues disagree. The more perverse the program, the higher the viewership.

"The show's ratings have grown consistently, as there has been interest in these real-life issues of this real-life family,” says cable network TLC about Reality TV’s latest calamity, “Jon and Kate Plus Eight.”

The series chronicles the frantic life of the Gosselin parents, twins and sextuplets. After a promising 2005 start, the hit show spiraled downward amidst charges of adultery, greed, and child exploitation.

Time to cancel? No Sir, bring it on! The Memorial Day season premier outranked every other broadcast network program thanks to promotional spots hinting at a televised marital collapse.

Alan Funt gave us an early taste of unscripted TV in his popular prank-filled “Candid Camera,” a show that “"caught people in the act of being themselves." Popular peep-show, “The Newly-wed Game,” prompted young marrieds to titter about newly discovered intimacies.

Incrementally, talk shows slid from high-brow chat featuring newsmakers and celebrities to ordinary folks peeling the skin off their lives. Dr. Phil recently yakked it up with “Teens pretending to be bisexual.” Jerry Springer’s chair-pitching, clothes-ripping combatants routinely bring audiences to their feet with Roman coliseum enthusiasm. As punches and teeth fly the applause reaches deafening decibel levels.

The Parents Television Council found that between 2000 and 2004, Reality TV sex, violence and profanity increased 52%. And five years hence it’s worse. Patti Blagojevich, wife of deposed Illinois governor, eats a tarantula, drug-addicted B-list actor, Jeff Conway, throws up into a wastebasket, and anti-social “Bad Girls” curse and slug it out on national TV.

Human nature is hard pressed to shun the public humiliation of others and thus Reality TV established voyeurism as a primetime spectator sport.

But Bret Michaels chewing the lips off his balloon-bosomed sex contestants now borders on boring. Our desensitized wits will soon demand heightened stimuli to satisfy entertainment appetites.

The definitive personal indignity is death--nothing like real-life decapitation to fire up revenues.

Jade Goody, a drunken strip teaser on “Big Brother,” later invited us on her grim video odyssey as she unsuccessfully battled cervical cancer. Recently, cancer-stricken Farah Fawcett trained a camera on herself as she lay dying. Will her final breath and death rattle become a Reality TV bonanza?

Jerry Springer came close to on-air murder in 2000 when Ralf Panitz murdered ex-wife, Nancy, just hours after their contentious TV appearance. Ringmaster Springer denied culpability for aggravating an already combustible situation. I bet ratings would have been stratospheric had Ralf wasted Nancy on screen.

Rome’s bloodlust entertainment lasted approximately 600 years. In A.D. 391, the monk, Telemachus, climbed into the arena and tried to halt the gruesome amusement. According to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, and Bishop Theodoret of Cyrhhus, he was fatally slashed by gladiators and stoned by the crowd.

“In the name of Christ, I beg you, stop!” Telemachus cried from the stadium floor. Upon hearing of Telemachus’ plea and martyrdom, Emperor Honorious put a final end to the games.

Today our arena is a flat-screen TV but the fare is equally wicked. Decency codes are toothless and spineless politicians are silent. TV networks, perpetually hungry for ratings, know that audiences are primed for increased depravity and carnage.

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So who will protect us from…ourselves? Who will be our Telemachus? In spite of TV profiteers and a presumably indignant crowd, who among us has the guts to stand up in the 21st Century arena and cry, “In the name of Christ, I beg you, stop!”

� 2009 - Ellen Makkai - All Rights Reserved

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Former syndicated columnist, Ellen Makkai, is a Bible-reading grandmother who lives in the Denver foothills and blogs again at












Human nature is hard pressed to shun the public humiliation of others and thus Reality TV established voyeurism as a primetime spectator sport.