A friend of a friend was recently chosen to be on a reality show -- and not just some two-bit makeover show on lower cable, but a big-deal, highly competitive reality show to air on a major network this fall. A few weeks before taping was to begin in L.A., the producers called my friend's friend (because of nondisclosure agreements, I learned all this after the fact) and said that they'd decided to "go in a different direction" (Hollywood's gentlest rejecto-speak). As crushed as she was (she'd already rearranged her life to do the program), I can't help thinking that she dodged one of the biggest hazards Americans face today -- reality show afterlife.
Channel-surf with me: In the dry season of television, we click accidentally onto VH1's new series "Strip Search," in which a fey choreographer and some chick travel around in a bus and randomly (we are expected to believe) ask men to audition for a new "male revue" being staged in Las Vegas. They stop in Pampa, Tex., and Little Rock, in cul-de-sacs, cow pastures and greasy diners, hoping to find men with rock-hard abs and smooth moves. Some guys demur shyly and look away from the camera. But many start dancing, lifting their shirts. One candidate says he's doing it because it's the only way out of Arkansas. Another, an unmarried father who lives in his mama's house in Oklahoma City, lights up when told he's going to L.A. -- while his toddler clings forlornly to him. And something in me, the viewer, tries to telepath through the screen: Don't do it! Don't go!
Some parents get involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, while others obsess about sex-ed curricula. But if I were a busybody parent, I would start some sort of Just Say No campaign against reality television.
Here are our basic tenets: When a camera crew shows up at your plastic surgery, don't let them have an inch. When MTV appears, wanting to document your prom -- just slam the door. When you find "The Real World," "Survivor" and "Fear Factor" applications in your children's bedrooms (because, yes, they're still living at home), tear them up and have a tearful heart-to-heart. It's important to teach by example. Do not, as a responsible parent, trade spaces, undergo extreme makeovers or get the family a karaoke machine. It's not too late: There are still more citizens who haven't been on reality TV than those who have. Stay virgin, America!