Junkfood for the American Mind

The coup has failed. I’m back.

(I don’t suppose anyone on this campus actually missed me, but I missed all of you.)

Actually, it wasn’t a coup.

It was an assassination attempt by University Health Services. But you’d be amazed what the right medicine and a few real doctors can do.

None-the-less, hell service did manage to render me bedridden for nearly a week. And seeing I was left with hardly enough energy to feed myself, I was forced to rediscover the magic of the television set in order to break the monotony of suffering my ailment.

The first day I figured out the remote control (you might have noticed that I don’t watch television too often), I expected to be plighted with an onslaught of cheesy, melodramatic soap operas until the afternoon cartoons came on, bringing some semblance of reality back to my TV set.

I never made it to the cartoons.

To my utter astonishment, my television bombarded me not with soap operas, but with talk shows. Every hour on the hour they flashed across my TV screen, at least two different shows on two different channels at any given moment. I was lulled into cautious curiosity by their vast number.

Remote in hand, ready to click the channel at any offense, I sampled a little bit of these infamous talk shows. I was befuddled by the tales they told me.

Underage strippers who get their mothers to drive them to work. Wives who have been beaten by their husbands but still love them. Men who leave their wives for her ex-husband.

I determined this society is very sick—something I’ve suspected for some time. What sort of social degradation have we as a society undergone for this sleaze to pass as entertainment? I was disgusted.

I went to turn the crap off, but I couldn’t do it. Nothing was wrong with the remote. I just couldn’t seem to press the power button.

My mind had become fixed on hearing the sins and the secret confessions of all these twisted people. Talk shows had become a drug and I was the junkie. All I had done was experiment—I never realized they were so addictive.

I cut a deal with the devil to loose 50 pounds. In return I bake him an apple pie every day.”

“My daughter introduced me to pornos. I was watching her on the set and decided I was missing out on all the fun.”

“I was upset with my boyfriend so I cut his penis off and chucked it into a cornfield. Then I felt sorry for him, so I drove him to the hospital. They sent an ambulance back for the penis.”

I’m not making these stories up. They were right there before my eyes, tantalizing my ears. These confessions were being broadcast across the nation for me to tune in anywhere. It was an addiction that was easy to satisfy, I realized. I could get my fix from any television set in the nation.

That’s why talk shows are so popular. You, grandma and grampa and all the three-year-olds in the United States can plug into them from absolutely anywhere.

And the less of a life you have the better it is. The less obligations you have to do anything but sit in front of the TV, clicking from one talk show to the next, soaking up the screwed-up and insane lives of other miserable people just like yourself.

Maybe they should take it to cable. Maybe there should be a talk show channel. Twenty-four hours a day you can sit back and watch hundreds of people spill their guts about the sick, perverse things they’ve done with their husband, the maid and Fido the dog. And, best yet, you can indulge yourself in the lives of the hapless and chronically-deranged as your own life goes down the social drain before your eyes.

Why is it Americans can’t get enough of talk shows? Maybe it stems from the same reason why we can’t keep our nose out of every skirmish over a third-world patch of mud. Maybe its just our nature as a society to get into everybody else’s business. Maybe it’s a sign of our own insecurity—the fact that it makes us feel better to learn about people who are more screwed up than us.

The principle behind the talk show is a noble one. To present for open discussion and debate some touchy and taboo aspect of society. To open the doors of discussion and bring into the light those social issues that would otherwise fester in the darkness of the underlying layers of culture. To render society self-aware.

But what today’s talk shows are serving up is sensationalism and a thinly-veiled plea for ratings. It’s total junk food for the mind.

And don’t forget, you are what you eat.