There’s a place in life for trash TV; not a good place, but a place

    When it comes to television, I suspect we all have our guilty pleasures. Some probably make us feel guiltier than others, but it’s pretty much a matter of degree.
    Okay, here’s my confessed guilty pleasure: “Love After Lockup.”
    If you haven’t seen it — which, yes, makes you a better human being than me — it’s about people who get into relationships with prison inmates.
    It’s almost impossible to type that sentence without using the word “trash” in one of several contexts.
    Obviously, every relationship in the show is a train wreck. Some of them are speeding toward the eventual collision, while others are about two millimeters from the engines ramming into each other. One young lady, for example, thinks she’s “engaged” to a guy who already married the mother of his child while in prison. This is not going to end well, but then, none of them do.
    Why does the show fascinate me so (other than the realization that my taste is all in my mouth)? Don’t think I haven’t asked myself.
    Part of it is that I’ve always had something of a fascination with how people screw up their lives. The sheer wooden-headedness, the willful blindness of some folks, intrigues me. I’ll be the first to admit there were times when I made a total hash of my life, but I at least learned from them.
    Actually, one of the stories I’ve always wanted to write is a wedding at the state pen. I think it’s a fascinating human story.  I suppose some of them turn out all right, but I just want to ask somebody, “Why would you do this?”
    (Had I been able to do that story in North Dakota, there also was an interesting personal reason: The guy convicted in the first murder I ever covered now performs weddings in the state pen there. He apparently became a minister through one of those mail-order ordination schemes. You have to admit, there’s a certain cachet in being married by a guy who bashed in somebody’s head with a rock.)
    In my defense, that’s the only reality show I make it a habit to watch.
    I once had to watch a reality show for work and it was one of the most embarrassing stories I’ve ever done.
    It was “Temptation Island,” which aired on Fox in 2001. The premise was several couples of hotties were put on an island together with a bunch of models, ostensibly to “test the strength of their relationships.” Obviously, the idea was to get them to cheat and create the required drama.
    I lined up several marriage experts — counselors and ministers — asked them to watch it and got their reactions.
    It is impossible to overstate how horrible the show was. It was what you’d get if you locked an alcoholic in a liquor store overnight. It was, without a doubt, the longest hour of “entertainment” I’ve ever sat through. And I’ve seen the first 20 minutes of “Howard the Duck.”
    If the description alone doesn’t convey how bad it was, consider this: It was the only time, in nearly four decades as a reporter, that I ever apologized to sources for forcing them to watch something.
    (I do force Karon to watch “Love After Lockup” with me, but in exchange, I agreed that she could watch Hallmark movies.)
    For you fans, “Temptation Island” is apparently being rebooted, albeit on another network. I won’t be watching it.
    I’m old enough to remember when the craze for reality TV first started with “Survivor.” I watched the first season, and it was kind of fun. Unfortunately, however real that first season may or may not have been, the longer the show went on, the more contestants and the producers learned to game the system so that shows basically became stories about how deftly they could all shaft each other without being too obvious about it.
    In the years since, it’s come out that reality show producers, with deft editing and an eye toward all-important story lines, set things up to get pretty much what they want. My favorite example is how “Storage Wars” apparently salts some storage garages with interesting items for people to bid on.
    It’s become fashionable to refer to Donald Trump as “the reality show president,” and he does exhibit some tendencies in that direction.
    Still, I think his election has much more to do with many other things than his reality-show fame. I mean, in this day and age, I really doubt significant numbers of people voted for him because they thought “The Apprentice” was a real game show. Those who did are most likely the same people who swear pro wrestling is real.
    Still, as much as I try to be a good person, I can’t resist wallowing in the occasional televised sewage.
    Fortunately, my lovely wife is nothing if not a tolerant soul.
Tom Pantera is the news editor at the Wauneta Breeze. He has a passion for storytelling, obscure trivia and family. Email: breeze.editor@jpipapers.com

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