Reality Check

In the 1987 movie The Untouchables, Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness reaches a point where he realizes his pursuit of maintaining the “lawful” has been done without much respect for the law. As he tries to justify this to himself, he says, “I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld, and I am content that I have done right!” This rationalization comes after a long, fruitless pursuit of Al Capone.

A part of that sentence has been replayed in my mind a million times since. I simply stop to check and take a personal inventory. Inverting the idea, I “behold what I have become.” And I try to contrast this objectively with others around me. What measuring tools are available?

A Time-Consumer

One of the most prominent measures of a man, I find, is what he does productively in his spare time. I don’t have to look too far to find the number-one consumer (waster) of spare time–modern television. Over three-hundred channels are available to me, but I find Cavaliers basketball games, Andy Griffith reruns and Monday Night Football among my only favorites. I can get these programs without a hefty satellite bill, but the family has different wants/needs. My boys are hung up on the nature reality shows and … uh … (be strong here, Ronnie) the … Food Network.

I can understand some of the interest in these shows, but, folks, be honest. For example, someone has filmed a shark biting a man, and the show uses those 12 seconds 10 times in the hour then analyzes the heck out of those 12 seconds. An expert tells about sharks, and another one tells about bites, and then the bitten man describes how frightened he was, and the 12 seconds of film are shown again. And again. And again, in slow motion. Roll the credits.

The food shows are even worse. Fade into the concerned face of a teary chef saying to the camera, “I … I … just w-w-w-anted the cake to be special. I didn’t know it would melt.” (More tears.) Then there is the story of a special birthday cake and how the plans were ruined by a 90-degree summer sun. Now, cue a sun expert, a melting expert, the baker and the birthday girl. Roll the credits. Are you serious?

Let me readily admit that after a full day of work and then the after-work work, a soft chair, a bowl of popcorn and a great movie (I still call ‘em videos) are very welcome. But that dead stare of boredom, with shameless abandon, into a show like The 20 Worst Cooks in America, is just wrong.

Critical Masses

But I am leaving something out. Attached to these shows is what I call the “tsk, tsk” factor, that part intended to make viewers feel better about themselves than they do about the victims in the shows. This is what keeps people coming back.

“Look at that idiot; she can’t even boil an egg!”

“Look at that moron; of course, the snake bit him, he shouldn’t have picked it up!”

“Look at that loser; no wonder he lost his house and his job–he was cheating on his wife!”

See? Quietly, these impressions penetrate our thoughts, and we all become experts, quick to remind others that we are far more bright than those idiots in the shows. This seems to give us license to become critics.

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