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Rubbernecking at the Discovery Health Network   Leave a comment

Rubbernecking at the Discovery Health Network

Dwarf families reveling in their shortness.  A two-headed sister duo touring Europe.  A twenty-two year old man the size of a three-year old riding around in a car seat.  A family of back-woods country bumpkins with a homely little girl who can barely speak English ruling the roost.  The man with a tumor in his testicles so big they drag on the ground when he walks.  It’s the modern-day version of an old-time circus freak show.  If you have a physical deformity or abnormality, the Discovery Health Channel wants you.

Watching this buffet of poorly equipped people panders to the lowest common denominator.  It makes them feel better about having a lawn full of broken down cars or being on disability for a mysterious back injury incurred at a desk job working for the city.  But I have to admit, I’ve taken a gander at the double-header and the guy with the cumbersome sack.  This Discovery Health Channel genre of Deformity Reality Programing is like a horrible car wreck on the side of the freeway.  You can’t help slowing down to take look.  Then you hate yourself for being so callous.

Who’s Exploiting Who?

But can you blame the Health Network?  It’s cheap fodder for the masses.  All they have to do is follow these disfigured misanthropes around with a camera and watch people’s reactions.  And if things get boring the producers provoke some sort of tense situation.  For instance, the two-headed girl gets in a fight with herself over a guy.  What puzzles me is how the Discovery Health Network justifies this gibberish as being on topic for their overall mission.  How is exploiting people with deformities health related?   I don’t see anybody trying to help the tiny twenty-two year old start growing again.  As a matter of fact, the minute he’s too big for his car seat people will lose interest.  I think the network would actually like to ramp things up by slapping a Pamper on him.  Humiliation is good for ratings.

What about these deformed debutants allowing themselves to be exploited by the Health Network?  Do they feel if they have the deformity, they might as well use it to seek fortune and fame?  Or does the Health Network give them the pseudo altruistic mission of opening up their lives to millions so people will be more accepting every time they see a two-headed girl driving a car, or a dwarf gynecologist super-mom delivering babies she can barely lift?

Funny for the Wrong Reasons

However this “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” show completely perplexes me.  It has nothing to do with health.  It’s just an illiterate family calling everything a “hot mess” with a homely little girl seemingly running the family.  The only handicaps I see are low IQs and the inability of anyone to coherently speak the English language.   It’s not even funny.  Actually, its pathetic to watch these food stained undershirt wearing sofa surfers loafing their way through an inane self-created drama in the litter-box they call their life.

With or without the cameras, this is literally how they would carry on.  More terrifying, there must be viewers eating up this family of miscreants imbecilic trials and tribulations or Honey Boo Boo would be Honey Bye-Bye.  Discovery Health Network would then be on the prowl for the next socially retarded family destined to be made a spectacle of and a cable television sensation.

Taking a Swipe at PBS

Several years ago when I worked for a San Francisco PBS affiliate, I went to the annual PBS convention  in Twenty-Six Palms California.  I don’t remember the keynote speaker’s name, but I do recall his message.  The gist was that all of these cable stations are trying to emulate PBS.  Net Geo, Animal Planet, Discovery Health,  A&E, The History Channel, etc. all have noble monikers, but none of them fulfill the promise.  They sound PBS’ish, but only offer a steady diet of reality programs showcasing prison wives,  female police officers in Memphis, a comic doing disgusting jobs, the animal police, weird re-enacted medical emergencies, home-makeovers, people-makeovers and deformed people prancing around town to satisfy everyone’s hidden curiosities.

Normally I’d be offended.  However, I have the option not to watch these channels.  So if I do watch and don’t like what I see, it’s my own fault.  And I have to admit, I like staring at the two-headed girl and wondering if both heads feel the urge to urinate, and who controls the bladder?   Or if the dwarf husband is attracted to normal sized women, or he is true-blue dwarf right down to the lifts in his shoes?

Reality Whores

When you get to the meat of the matter, who I’m really angry with are these pseudo PBS networks who have laid down and spread their legs to be seduced by the simplicity and lucrative nature of  reality programing.   Maybe they learned early on PBS is PBS because they are government and private foundation-funded.  They can show educational and other worthwhile art and science programing irrespective of the ratings, as they do not depend on commercial advertising.  PBS is an anomaly by design.  Perhaps somebody at a cable network realized this after trying to take a swipe at the network that brought us Masterpiece Theatre, Frontline and The American Experience and fell on their faces.  And, the best alternative they could come up with was Weird Sex.

The Reality of Reality Programing

The reality of reality programing is that as long as there are deformed human beings, cable networks will be building reality shows around them.  It’s cheap, you don’t need actors or a movie set and human nature dictates most people will at least take a peek.  Others will watch entire programs so they can show a public display of disgust as they fulfill their curiosity.  And the bulk of the audience makes no bones about the fact they enjoy seeing how these deformed people get through their every day lives.  The programming actually makes them feel better about the royal mess they have made of their own lives.  “Hey, I may be 45-years old, work at a gas station and live with my mother, but at least I ain’t no midget!”

My own take on it is this; If I ran one of a hundred competing cable networks and Deformity Reality Programing was the catch of the day, I’d cast my nets and start dredging the bottom of the ocean just like everyone else.  I’d like to say I’d at least take the high road and do it with some dignity, but there is none when you are basing a program around someone’s deformity.  The only way this lucrative trip to the cash-register is going to cease is if the reality “actors and actresses” decide to have some respect for themselves, and others with their condition, by having an attack of self-conscious and good taste.

Jerry Springer is Obsolete

The only good thing Deformity Reality Programing has done is exclude the need for a host.  It used to be that Jerry Springer would trot out the man with the massive tumor ridden scrotum.   Then he would ask the “provocative” and humiliating but obvious questions about his daily life.  Now Jerry is out of the mix.  The network just follows the guy around with a camera and we cringe at the poor bastard dragging his balls around town on our television screens unaided by Jerry’s off the wall commentary.   And when it gets boring they put the guy on Strange Sex and roll the cameras as he goes out on a blind date.  Finally, when the testicles aren’t giving enough bounce to the ratings, they put the guy on Medical Miracles and film their amputation.  I call this the  “Deformity Reality Programing Life Cycle.”

The Lock-Up:  An American Tradition

Personally, I think I’m going to shy away from Deformity Reality Programing for a while.  MSNBC, specializing in political news and commentary during the week, has become a plethora of Prison Reality Programing on weekends; Lock-Up.  Lock-Up Raw.  After Lock-Up.  Juveniles Locked-Up.  Women Locked-Up.  Mormons Locked-Up.  I’m sure the network touts it as educational and foreboding to those considering a career in crime.  For me it has always been the program to which you drink a few beers while getting your buzz on before heading out on a Saturday night.   Plus, MSNBC keeps it on all night so when you return home drunk and alone you can always watch someone else who has it worse off.  And don’t kid yourselves, the programming executives know this.  They were the ones getting their buzz on watching Lock-up 15-years earlier when they were in college.

So while I find exploiting people with deformities on reality television in poor taste,  its low hanging fruit just waiting to plucked by unimaginative cable network programmers that is almost always a sure-fire hit.  The Discovery Health Network is simply giving us a look at the Bearded Lady twenty-first century style.