Salman Rushdie meets reality TV

"Fear Factor" premiered on NBC this week and won high ratings, especially with the coveted group of younger TV viewers.

It heralds another round of "reality TV" shows this summer that will likely range from the good, to the bad, to the utterly ridiculous. The survivors (so to speak) will live on to be repeated later this fall and next year.

Novelist Salman Rushdie has been watching the British version of "Big Brother 2," which engendered more interest in Britain than the parliamentary elections, and wrote about reality TV shows last week for The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia.

"What is gradually being reinvented is the gladiatorial combat," he concludes. "The TV set is the Colosseum, and the contestants are both gladiators and lions; their job is to eat one another until only one remains alive. But how long, in our jaded culture, before 'real' lions, actual dangers, are introduced to these various forms of fantasy island, to feed our hunger for more action, more pain, more vicarious thrills?...

"By the end of Orwell's great novel '1984,' Winston Smith has been brainwashed. 'He loved Big Brother.' As, now, do we. We are the Winstons now."

The final four words of last week's column, "A son's view of the 'serious' Rockwell," were accidentally dropped. It should have ended: "We're being told something about the nature of all self-portraiture. And something about how his own work, though painted in a 'realistic' style, never reflects 'real life' in quite the way we might have assumed."

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