The Parent Trap: With other options, why watch reality?

“Would you please turn that down?” I called out to my son, who was relaxing from his day at school. Normally when I say that phrase, it’s because of some music on his mp3 (Japanese rock is his favorite). However, he has started a new regimen when he relaxes after school — one that I truly didn’t expect.

My kid has become addicted to Maury. When I ask, he’s not really sure why, but I know.

Older folks might remember Maury Povich, who in his younger days was an actual reporter. But he is now resigned to enlightening the public with stories like the man with a rotten tooth who spoiled his relationship or the woman who seduced her boyfriend with chicken tetrazzini. But everybody’s favorite segment on the Maury show is the aptly named “Who’s Your Daddy?”

“Who’s Your Daddy” is a pretty simple concept. Maury interviews a woman with a baby, and a husband/boyfriend who is convinced that the baby is not his. Lie detectors are utilized, the results are revealed and the fun begins. My son watches with a gleam in his eye as a young man, told that he is not the father of the baby he thought was his, starts weeping on the couch. The blood lust coming from the crowd is palpable.

Do we really believe all of this? Do we really think that real people would take the time to come onto a television show and expose their dirty laundry to the nation? It reminded me of the time when I was told by my sports editor to promote a pro wrestling exhibition. Yes, there was a reason why he was not a sports editor for long. I met a man and his wife, who were both signed to perform. While waiting for my photographer, he revealed that they were both guests on another “talk” show, this one hosted by the man who was actually once the mayor of a major American city.

“We were a couple who cheated on each other,” he told me proudly, adding that the pay “wasn’t that bad.” Now why wasn’t I surprised?

Of course these stories can’t all be real. There can’t be that many messed up people who have a hankering to appear on television. If Maury really wanted to get back to his news reporter roots, he’d start interviewing the many families who can’t afford health care or might lose their homes because they’ve been unemployed for too long. But that won’t happen, and for a very good reason. Nobody wants to watch reality. It’s easier to look at the dregs of society and get a false sense of superiority that only comes from fiction.

But my son will still come home tomorrow and make his after-school snack of Ramen noodles and watch Maury talk to a family in “crisis.” That’s great – an artificial snack for an artificial show. And in retrospect, why not watch the drama of Maury? It’s mindless entertainment and, no matter how bad your day has been, at least it didn’t include a lie detector and paternity test.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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