Reality shows are all over the television now. That’s partly because we are a nation of voyeurs, partly because reality shows are cheap to produce, and partly because we have raised a generation that is very comfortable spilling everything before a flashing red light. As I am on a mini-getaway with my husband, this piece from 2005 -which is about my then-refusal to do an interview for the BBC- seemed apropos:
February 14, 2005
Playing to the cameras; a theory about why
In response to my revealing my utter disinterest in growing the blog much beyond “playful primate” status or getting this Irish mug on camera somewhere, Dirty Harry has written a very funny personal confession (and some nice remarks in between the laughs).
But you know, it is a very interesting thing, to consider how others reacted to my being contacted by the BBC. The assumption that everyone made was, “well of COURSE you’d want to be part of that – anyone would…”
But would anyone? And why? Why is it assumed that anyone would consider it a positive thing to be so conspicuous?
Everyone is different, of course. My son, Buster, seems to have been born to be the center of attention, and he revels in it. I have friends who, handed a microphone or invited into a spotlight, are pleased to be in such a situation. My own husband rather likes being singled out.
Perhaps it is merely that I am a painfully shy person who has never been comfortable when shoved to the fore, who would much rather hang back, writing the speeches and allowing others to bask in the applause lines, so to speak. Perhaps most people are not like that.
But I think there may be more to it – to this idea that “of course, anyone would want to be interviewed for tv or the radio,” I think there is a culprit in all of this, the same culprit who is fueling the preponderance of “reality” television shows which clog up the airways and keep hungry scriptwriters out of work. It’s the humble videocamera that is somewhere in a closet in your own home.
Twenty-five years ago, video-cameras were huge and cumbersome, and yet people couldn’t wait to buy them, and from the moment a family acquired a machine, everything became ripe for videotaping. Weddings. Births. I remember being present at a funeral in Jamaica, Queens where the wake was videotaped, so the tape could be sent “back home” and family there could “see everyone.” American children couldn’t eat their lunch without hearing the whirrrrrr of the camera, “show Daddy what you’re eating! Is that Peanut Butter and Jelly? Can you say Peanut Butter?”
When my best friend went into labor with her first child, I took her to the hospital, and lugged in the video camera and case. While we waited for her husband, she instructed me to videotape the room – the fetal heart monitor – the clock. I was very bad at it and they still tease me about the strange camera angles and dizzying turns.
Like everyone else, we got a video camera, too, and subjected our poor eldest son to hours of bathtime “smile for the camera” performance. I remember when I stopped liking it. It was when I went to put him on the schoolbus for the first time. Gathered there with all of the other children on the block, I simply hadn’t thought to bring the video camera. Not having one, I was able to observe what the children were going through. Nervous and antsy about school, they weren’t getting re-assuring hugs from Mom. Mom was saying, “stand over there, by the fence, get Mark into the picture – okay guys, where are you going today?” And the children, nervous but obedient dutifully replied, “to school…”
“What grade are you in, are you in high school?”
“No, we’re in kindergarten…”
I know, I know…it’s cute. I don’t want to sound like a party-pooper. But what I realized that day was that there was a whole rite of passage that was being shunted aside, for the pictures. When the bus came, the camera focused on it. Then the door opened, and the parents videotaped the driver saying good morning and giving her name. Then, one-by-one, each child entered the bus taking stage direction. They posed near the first step, turned and smiled and waved and disappeared inside the vehicle. Only my son got to hold Mom’s hand as he advanced into this new experience, got the quick hug and the vigorous wave as the bus left; everyone else was busy taping the bus until it turned the corner. I came away from it thinking: you can tape it, or you can experience it, but you really can’t do both.
I didn’t take the video camera out for a long time, after that. I thought it was better to actually live life, and record it fully on the heart, where it might be remembered imperfectly as to detail, but the feel of it, the scent and taste of life, would be imprinted.
My feeling was confirmed when we took a family trip to Walt Disney World and I somehow pulled video-camera duty. We came home, watched the tape, and I kept saying, “I didn’t see that! Wow, I didn’t see THAT!”
My kids said, “Mom, you taped it, what do you mean you didn’t SEE it?”
I had taped it. But I hadn’t LIVED it, and therefore there was no memory of it encoded into my harddrive – no imprint on my heart.
No wonder I hadn’t had a very good time on that vacation! I never experienced it!
So at least one, perhaps two generations have now been raised playing to the camera. No wonder reality tv works for them. To these folks, having an intrusive camera in your face is simply a part of life. If you’re participating in some television show, all the better! You might get asked onto Regis and Whoever. You might get interviewed by top disc-jockeys and get your picture in People magazine! And this is, I guess, to be accounted a good, desirable thing. It means, apparently, that you are a star.
I don’t know. I just know it’s not for me. I look at famous people and it seems to me most of them aren’t made any happier for the fame. Some people are absolutely suited to it and revel in it, of course, but often people who become famous seem to become uncentered, or ungrounded – to lose touch with real life – and they seem to suffer for it, for losing that grounding.
Me, I’m a creature of ego, and I think if I ever got comfortable with any sort of prominence, I would get into awful trouble. I think if I embraced it, I would end up looking at the wrong thing – meaning, myself.
There was a boy who fell in love with his own reflection in a moonlit pond and so taken was he by his own likeness that he became blind to everyone else, and to God. Better I should just stay in the background, where I like it, and keep my eyes on Jesus.
Buster, on the other hand…he’s always making sure we’ve brought the camera! And we’ve learned to stick the thing on a tripod and let it record, while we watch with our own eyes, and trust it to memory.