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For TV’s ‘reality,’ a dash of cold, hard truth

In the odd lexicon of pop culture, the word “reality” has taken on a strange new meaning.

Television sees it as a game of giddy intentions, where shapely women and eager men strut their sexuality in a variety of demeaning ways from blind-dating to blind-marrying.

They line up like dogs at a pound, hoping to be chosen by the appointed bachelor or bachelorette. They sleep with spiders and dine on lizards to test their fear factors.

They are hired or fired by the pouty icon of American money-making, the ubiquitous Donald Trump, and humiliated by elimination from pretty bands of survivors.

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And they are “made over” in the current images of beauty, whose demands are only as deep as an adolescent’s dream.

Millions watch what they believe to be a reality, retreating from the threats of the day into a world created for those who just want to have fun. They isolate themselves in an environment television has created in a game of numbers, and it isn’t over yet.

Comes word from a company called Adam & Eve Productions that it is set to create an X-rated reality show that will seek “the sexiest couple in America” who, when chosen, will star in their own adult movie. It will be, they say, on pay-per-view television, and one can only imagine what that search will entail.

Televised reality approaches an almost surreal level, edging onto the kind of hedonistic plateau that oracles predicted would exist when the masses, fattened on basic needs, would require greater extremes of entertainment to amuse them.

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But the reality that exists today doesn’t involve eating spiders or chopping one’s way through false jungles. True reality is much scarier than that.

One has only to stare in sadness and horror at the televised image of American hostage Roy Hallums, pleading for his life with a gun at his head, for a view of reality almost too grim to acknowledge. It lacks the fantasy of a stage performance, which makes it all the more terrifying. We know that others who have preceded him in the new reality of terror have been shot or decapitated, in the blood feud between us and them.

Reality is the looming threat of being drawn into future wars by a president determined to bring his kind of “freedom” and our idea of democracy to other lands. Reality is a leader who demands billions to fight existing battles and to fund tomorrow’s extension of pax Americana, while ignoring the needs of the millions plagued by starvation or genocide.

We are burdened with a self-proclaimed war president whose militaristic philosophies are shaped by the uniform he barely wore and the war he never fought. Pain exists on many levels in the new reality, couched in euphemisms that blur its true nature.

No more obvious an example is the term “extreme questioning” applied to mask the torture practiced upon prisoners who, according to current definition, lack the legal right of protection under the law. Congress, frightened off by the White House, scrapped legislation to restrict the use of torture, and a lawyer scoffed at the notion that humiliating military prisoners was any kind of abuse.

Defense attorney Guy Womack, referring to the incident of piling naked prisoners atop each other in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, asked a military court, “Don’t cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year? Is that torture?”

War desensitizes and, by its violent nature, encourages and condones instances of savagery against those on the “other side,” not only by soldiers “only following orders,” but by civilian agents of a secret government who probe the limits of human endurance by methods we can only guess at. One wonders when we became a nation that allowed the infliction of pain while preaching a gospel of mercy?

Reality bites hard. It doesn’t dress in a bikini and loll in hot tubs or squeal like teenagers on a roller coaster.

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Reality is bombs and missiles, aimed from weapons or strapped to a fanatic’s body, that shred human flesh and kill innocent people. Reality is the tears that are cried when the death list of war lengthens.

I understand the need to escape from all of that, because giggles fall gently on the ear, while screams of pain pierce like knives.

But to shut out the screams is to ignore the future potential of horrors beyond our imagination, and to wonder what apocalyptic signs we missed when the reality of blind-dating was going on.

Al Martinez’s column appears Mondays and Fridays. He’s at al.martinez@latimes.com.


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