PORTLAND, ORE. — There is a golden opportunity right now for the US government to diffuse a tense diplomatic issue while capitalizing on the amazing popularity of "reality TV" shows. The Bush administration should inform Puerto Rico that the Vieques bombing range is being shut down, and all naval war games using live ammunition will now be directed against Temptation Island.
Yes, it sounds extreme, but there's also big potential for a ratings explosion, so I won't be surprised if the programming moguls at Fox TV call me in for a story conference. Of course, they'll probably go straight to Colin Powell with the idea and I'll never see a dime in royalties.
I keep recalling that moment during the campaign when George W. Bush made a nasty comment about a New York Times reporter in front of an open mike. The incident didn't hurt Mr. Bush in the polls, and some pundits claimed it actually helped by showing an unrehearsed side of his personality.
I'm more inclined to think the audience who saw endless replays of the gaffe on news shows and late-night TV simply accepted it as a normal element of our increasingly voyeuristic society. Huge numbers of viewers seem to have an insatiable appetite for wild police chases, animal attacks, and other miscellaneous video mayhem.
The new XFL promises to intensify the excitement of pro football by having microphones placed along the sidelines and inside locker rooms, always on the prowl for spontaneous audio combustion.
Voyeur shows aren't content-driven. The premise is what ensnares the viewers, and our current situation would not be surprising to an earlier generation of TV writers. I'm thinking specifically of the late Meyer Dolinsky, who sold numerous scripts to a wide variety of shows, including a science fiction gem that aired on the original "Outer Limits" in 1963.
The story (entitled "O.B.I.T".) focuses on a secret government agency that spies on its employees using a special surveillance machine that can see everywhere. The device is eventually revealed to be part of an alien plot to undermine the morale of Earth's population and soften us up for conquest.
The enemy creature, thwarted but still contemptuous as he departs, issues this warning about the machines: "... they'll demoralize you, break your spirit, create such rifts and tensions in your society that no one will be able to repair them.... You're all of the same dark persuasion. You demand, insist on knowing every private thought and hunger in everyone - your families, your neighbors, everyone but yourselves!"
"O.B.I.T." is available at many video stores. I'm not sure we can turn back the invasion of voyeur-based TV, but renting old episodes of "Outer Limits" and "Twilight Zone" is a start.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society