As Seen On TV...

Those of you who know me are well aware that I’m a man who is riddled with weaknesses and guilty pleasures.

Most of these are somewhat socially acceptable and legal in states with open-minded legislature. For starters, I love me my robots. I don’t care if they’re made out of machined metal and state-of-the art electronics, or uncooked macaroni glued onto toilet paper tubes. If I see it I need to buy it. If I can’t buy it I need to covet it.

I also have a big weakness for science fiction movies and books, coincidentally, many of which contain robots. Quality is not a hugely mitigating factor. Old and clunky can be as equally enjoyable as sleek and modern.

The list of my other guilty pleasures isn’t especially long or twisted, but one of them in particular that I wanted to talk about today is my love affair with reality television.

The term ‘reality television’ is a bit of a misnomer in this particular case, because while my family and I do enjoy ‘reality’ shows like Survivor, Amazing Race, Miami Ink, American Chopper and Deal or no Deal, the specific aspect of reality broadcasting that I’m talking about falls into the category of ‘Caught on Tape’.

My love affair with this type of show began in the 1980s and was fostered by television shows like Dick Clark’s Bloopers, Blunders & Practical Jokes and America’s Funniest Home Videos. Video footage of local newscasters doing puff pieces at a local animal shelter and then getting attacked by the cats or dogs up for adoption ticked my funny bone. Home video of a toddler experiencing his first snowfall and then accidentally falling head first into a six-foot snowdrift would leave me chuckling for days.

The video footage for these types of shows became more readily available with the development of cheaper, higher quality camcorders. Now when we see some mook lighting a single sparkler that accidentally ignites his entire crate of 4th of July fireworks, the images we see are more detailed and respondent.

Another boon to the area of ‘caught on tape’ video programming arrived when local and state police departments began installing forward looking video cameras in their police cruisers and wiring the police for sound. What great fun this footage was. I think the advent of this development lead to the creation of the delightful television show COPS.

COPS is one of those shows that I never seek out, but always tends to be there when I’m in the mood. When I’m home alone and in a vegetative state in front of the television, it’s an old friend to hang out with for a while. I don’t think I’ve ever made a point of hunting it down and trying to find new episodes. Watching an episode of COPS always leaves you, even if it’s on a subconscious level, feeling pretty good about yourself. We all have our share of problems, but at least we’re not as bad off as those poor slobs. You know, “There but for the grace of (insert your deity of choice) goes me.”

I just finished watching an episode of TLC’s Sports Disasters. It featured speedboat racers skipping a little too high off waves, catching some air and then fragmenting into thousands of pieces. Bullfighters getting caught on the horns of a dilemma and being bashed around the arena. Daredevils racing stock cars, snowmobiles, motorcycles, and whatever else they could put a motor into and subsequently bashing into each other until flames erupted and fire licked at the wreckage.

Most of the segments they show leave me wincing and wondering how much pain they were in the next day, but some of the segments scare the beejeebez out of me. These always tend to involve major sporting events in places like Bolivia or Madrid or Ireland, and the featured sport is more often than not soccer.

I haven’t figured out if South American soccer fans are really that dedicated to the sport and would do anything to have their team win, or if they crazy bastards are simply looking for a fight.

If a referee makes a questionable call he is a walking target and it’s only a matter of time before someone caves in his skull with a soda bottle, a brick, or anything else that can be thrown. Either referees earn a ton of money or they’re gluttons for punishment. Either way, they always seem to get the crap kicked out of them.

As bad as referee bashing can get, it’s nothing compared to a player from one team fouling a player on another team (either innocently or intentionally—it doesn’t seem to matter). The first thing that happens is the players throw down and tear into each other, and then the stands empty out and the rabid fans start stomping on team members and each other.

As the fans get whipped up into a frenzy they start ripping the stadium seating and fence posts out of the concrete to be used as weapons. If the riot police, who seem to always be in attendance at these events, manage to separate the teams from the crowd and empty the arena, they then have to deal with the angry mob that flares up outside the stadium. Cars get overturned, businesses burned, and people punching and stomping each other to pulp. The cops who work these events must have to buy their teargas in massive quantities.

The whole idea of crowd mentality has always scared me. I was working down in LA when there was a quasi riot outside the Staples Center. I was watching it live on television, miles away, from the safety of my hotel room, but what if I just happened to be walking past the stadium that night and suddenly found myself getting stomped for no other crime than being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or what if I owned one of the businesses that got literally torn to shreds?

I think my biggest fear is that I will one day find myself caught up in a crowd that gets out of control for some reason. There’s unbelievable strength in numbers and inhibitions seem to fly out the window when you’re a part of a mob.

If my worst fears ever do come true, someone will most likely have a camcorder rolling and I’ll probably wind up on the news. Keep your eyes out for me.

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