The End Is Near

ColumnAn upcoming reality show may signal the end of all that is good and holy.

I  am not one of those people who sees every little thing as a sign of the apocalypse. Inevitably, when someone says “this is the end of civilization as we know it,” they are not talking about Darfur, or even the recent economic decline. They are usually referring to something relatively minor –the cancellation of “Friday Night Lights” for example, or a pop singer who has inexplicably named her son “Bronx.” Referring to something as Armageddon is a big deal and I try to stay away from that kind of hyperbole, but I don’t know what else, besides God’s final fury, can explain “Big Hair Alaska” – a reality show about Sarah Palin’s hair salon.

A two-part series about The Beehive, the beauty shop responsible for Palin’s famous updo,  has somehow landed on the fall TV schedule and I confess, this causes me great concern for the state of American culture.

I do not say this as someone who is snootily opposed to reality television, since it happens to be my guilty pleasure. I’m reluctant to admit that, since I don’t want people to jump to the conclusion that I’m a slack-jawed idiot (a fairly common and perhaps  not entirely undeserved assumption made about people who confess to an affection for such programming.) But I got hooked on the genre in 1973, as I sat glued to the couch in my shag-carpeted living room, ignoring my algebra homework as I watched  “An American Family,” the precursor to today’s reality shows. This 12 part series (they were still calling them documentaries in those days), showed a nuclear family disintegrating in real time, and it gave me my first heady taste of voyeurism.

This shameful urge to peep into the lives of others would never entirely go away, although it would be many years before the airwaves would become glutted with reality programming. Some of these shows, including “Top Chef” and “Project Runway,” would become my favorites. While others, like “The Bachelorette” and “The Jersey Shore,” would leave me queasy with self-loathing. Hovering between these extremes are “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” a show I am always quick to explain that I only watch with my daughter. What I’ve discovered is that you can admit to watching public hangings, but if it’s a mother/daughter activity people will still look at you approvingly and say positive things about “quality time.”

I had very little interest in Palin’s own reality show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” in which she proved that her much-vaunted belief in the sanctity of life did not extend to halibut and caribou. But Big Hair Alaska, a show that takes an unflinching look at Wasilla coiffures, has given me the welcome realization that I do, in fact, have some standards; because here, finally, is a reality show so vapid and so venial that I would not watch a minute of it, not for any amount of money. Unless Tim Gunn makes an appearance as a guest mentor – then I can’t make any promises.

Image: JaciXIII