Thursday, August 2, 2012

Why I Am Not Going to See 'The Queen of Versailles'

... and what that has to do with “The Newsroom”

I’ve never caught the reality TV bug.
That’s not to say I am some NPR-listening, TV-eschewing, well-read, pop-culture adverse elitist snob, although I do listen to NPR. I just can’t watch a reality show without mentally scanning the room for “the biggest loser,” so to speak, and feeling that person’s pain. Heck, I can’t even watch the Olympics without thinking about the poor souls who didn’t make the team. I guess I’m just one of those “everyone should get a trophy” saps people hate nowadays.
"The Queen of Versailles"
There is one kind of reality show creation that I can join in public scorn on – I have no problem rolling my eyes at the people you love to hate. I’m just not very interested in watching them. So when my Twitter feed starting buzzing about this movie, “The Queen of Versailles,” the story of the fall of a billionaire and his ex-model bride and their quest to build the biggest house in the world, I immediately said “pass.” Don’t care if they go from collecting marble to Wal-Mart shopping sprees. Don’t care how engaging and funny they are. I don’t want to watch them lose everything. Why should I? We’ve been watching real-life people lose everything for three years now, and it stinks. And this desire to laugh at people we don’t know on purpose in movies and TV is one of the worst things about us.
And this reminded me of a recent episode of the HBO show “The Newsroom.” “The Newsroom” has been written about ad nauseam, and criticized for everything from its strategy of setting its story starting in 2010 to comment on recent real news events, to what some seem to see as writer Aaron Sorkin’s personal war on women.
"The Newsroom"
But what struck me in a recent relevant episode was how Sorkin dealt with the subject of reality TV, something that has become so ubiquitous in our culture we rarely even talk about it anymore.  The plot involved news anchor Will McAvoy’s distaste for it, and willingness to voice this distaste, even though it kept getting him in trouble. First he is horrified to learn a gossip columnist who he meets at the staff’s New Year’s Eve party is doing a “takedown piece” on a “Real Housewife”-type character for having a secret child. Then, on a date with a different woman, he is again shocked to discover his date dying for the details of this story he finds to be out-of-bounds. The date shrugs her interests off as a “guilty pleasure.”
And the fact that this bothers Will does seem old-fashioned. Still, we are out there, and many of us prefer watching dramas and comedies to reality shows. In my duties as an entertainment editor, I have had to follow pretty much every kind of reality program there is at this point – singing (“American Idol”), strategy (“Survivor”),  dating  (“Bachelorette”)  and ??? (“Big Brother”). 
And the only thing they are good for in my opinion are “30 Rock” parodies. I'll take “The Queen of Jordan" or "MILF Island" any day.