New reality television show plays God

Reality TV has become the most dominant force on network television since the booming popularity of Survivor, now in it’s 12th installment. Shows that detail the makeover of a house, a karaoke contest or the awkwardness of dates are the easiest way for a network to make boatloads of money. The overhead costs of a reality show are significantly less than traditional shows, such as sitcoms, where the whole cast demands $1 million per episode paycheques. Audiences eat up every minute of reality TV. When they seemed to be on the decline, networks came up with increasingly outrageous concepts. ABC has finally topped the controversy of such shows as the Fox’s Swan, where “ugly” contestants were made “beautiful” through plastic surgery. In the spring ABC will air Miracle Worker, a show where the subjects of each episode will be terminally ill patients, unable to afford the cost of medical care. A team of doctors will perform surgery using new and untested techniques.

A show like Miracle Worker raises many moral questions, though a large corporation giving away life saving surgery is not a bad thing ostensibly. When you throw into the equation the fact that cameras will follow around the subjects for the better parts of six months of their lives–during the process of diagnosis, surgery and recovery–and the entire situation is made into TV, you enter a grey area. One could argue that it’s a win-win scenario. The company makes money, the patients recover, audiences rejoice and everyone gains. The world is a better place. On the opposite side, patients and their families are exploited for the “human” aspect of their story, Disney reaps the benefits of another weepy, feel good, real-life story, and some people are ultimately left six feet under because their case wasn’t camera worthy.

In a society where we have the technology to save people from certain afflictions and the only barrier is money, it is scary that we are now giving the power to corporations to decide who will get a chance to live. If the show chose entirely based on some sort of devisable system of need, this wouldn’t be a problem. Obviously, Miracle Worker includes aspects of marketability in its choices of patients. First, the surgery the subject needs has to have a 90 per cent chance of success. It’d be unfortunate for a feel-good show to have an unhappy ending. Second, the patients and their families need to go through psychological screening before they are selected to be on the show. God forbid someone going through one of the hardest times of their life had some sort of freak out on TV–that wouldn’t be good for ratings. Though the list of patients that ABC screens are supposedly recommended to Miracle Worker by a team of neutral doctors, it is ultimately up to the Miracle Worker‘s producers to choose who gets the surgery and who doesn’t, and often, without the surgery, the patients find no other means of recovery. This choice is ultimately about who lives and who dies. Bow down before ABC, the God of bad dramas no one else will pick up! Bow!

Of course the ideal scenario would be that none of these patients needed a third party to step in to take care of the operations they need. Government health care, employer insurance or a combination of the two should take care of their fiscal problems. In the United States, there is a greater shortfall of people who aren’t adequately covered by either than here in Canada. The next most ideal scenario would be for ABC to just give the money away to hospitals and the health care system, leaving the hard choices to people who have been qualified and trusted by the public. Obviously that’s not going to happen because that only makes good one-time television, where as a show like the Miracle Worker will benefit ABC’s image until the re-run tapes wear out. Under the current scenario, the few people that benefit from the Miracle Worker likely would’ve been part of the group that fell through the cracks. A reduction in the number of people who are adversely affected by being left out of insurance and government funding is ultimately a better situation than before.

As reality TV and what we call entertainment ventures further into the obscene, it’s up to the audience to question what it’s watching and ponder the moral implications. Canada should consider itself lucky, as under current conditions, there isn’t a need for a third party to step in and act as a messiah in the name of ratings. If in 20 years we’re in a similar situation as the U.S., we’ll have to question how we got there and why we’re watching Uncle Tom’s appendectomy being performed on national TV because it wasn’t covered by his HMO.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.