Friday, August 19, 2005

Noontime obscenity

While slaving away at my desk at work, my gaze wandered over to one of the noontime shows on TV. I never paid much attention to them before; not that I consider myself above the inanity and insipidness of noontime variety programs, only that I never got the entertainment value of mostly mediocre comedians and even more mediocre actors trying much too hard to be singers and dancers when they clearly aren't one or both. But this time, I found myself transfixed at the sight: an old woman in humble clothes was standing in the middle of the brightly-lit stage surrounded by dancers gyrating to a steady beat as if their lives depended on it (which, when you think about it, probably isn't a farfetched idea).

No, that scene is hardly a first. On the contrary, it happens almost daily; countless people have joined similar television variety programs in the hopes of earning a quick buck. Maximum profit at minimum effort (maybe not so minimum, considering that many of them line up for hours just to get the chance to be studio contestants). But I'm not sure what made this old woman different, what made her stand out among all the others who've dreamed of winning big at contests designed to elicit fantastic expectations of instant wealth but can just as easily be a platform for similarly incredible frustrations. Maybe it was her facial expression: a mixture of disbelief, anguish, nervousness and anticipation. Disbelief, perhaps for making it to the much-coveted "jackpot round"; anguish, perhaps for carrying the enormous hopes of dozens of family members, relatives, friends and casual acquaintances; nervousness, which is a given, this probably was her first time to be in front of a live studio audience, not to mention being on national TV; and anticipation, of course, for the riches that may or may not come.

Watching that scene, one word entered kept going around in my mind: grotesque. Here was a hapless individual who, just like the rest of us, only dreams of having good things for herself and her family. But then I see her rub her tense face every few minutes with her gnarled hands; the beautiful co-host with immaculate hair by her side providing shallow and unwelcome relief; the dancing showgirls practically encircling her like lionesses about to pounce on a scared rabbit, and the main host that reminded me of a seasoned ringmaster in a circus, masterfully orchestrating a grand showcase of illusion. I couldn't help but think how awful and callous the people are behind this whole concept, for using individuals and dangling money in front of them, trying to elicit a reaction. I felt like it was entertainment intended for the truly sick and demented. How anyone could be amused by seeing someone's emotions being played with live on national television escapes me, and I felt sorry for her, for what she had to endure to get the "top prize."

I don't understand why I feel so strongly about it. The old woman probably won more than what I earn in six months. But even until now, I still can't explain it.


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