Simulated fear misses the mark

Good old fear. Is it a friend, enemy or just another life partner, like pain and hard-to-reach itches? We’ve all felt fear, sometimes in conjunction with pain and hard-to-reach itches, and the biggest of us admit it openly with a wink and a smile.

But fear is not funny, it’s scary. A famous guy once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” and that was clever. Fear can be both ridiculously debilitating and titilatingly exhilarating.

MTV debuted a show called “Fear” last year and millions of people with cable who still couldn’t find something decent to watch saw young students, clerks and telemarketers get scared shitless, or at least act that way.

“Fear” is kind of a staged “Blair Witch” game show. Contestants are taken somewhere like an old factory or prison with bags on their heads for no apparent reason. The locations are rumored to be haunted. Like all good rumors, they were likely created by the MTV PR machine. The contestants each have to complete a dare with a camera and flashlight mounted to their head. If everyone makes it, they all get five grand.

The dares sound scary, and the contestants seemed scared, but I don’t buy it. There are cameras everywhere, your mom is watching you on television and a Pepsi ad is just around the corner.

Continuing the “take it one step further trend” NBC will air a new show called ‘Fear Factor,’ a show in which people supposedly confront their fears by performing stunts. Of course self-help or a sense of accomplishment isn’t the point. The lure to participate in the show is a $50,000 check, an opportunity to be made fun of by Letterman and a potential career as a Hollywood stunt person.

On each episode, a group of three men and three women is dared to perform such stunts as being dragged along the ground by horses, leaping across moving semi trucks and letting snakes or rats crawl all over them. The players can opt out of a particular challenge and be eliminated from the contest or go through with the stunt in hopes of winning the jackpot.

Contestants have to get a tetanus shot and sign a 40-page liability release to be on the show. The producers have sworn that contestants’ welfare is the number one concern. For fancy stunts, they wear harnesses that remind them how tender the groin is but don’t let them fall to death. Maybe next year.TV Guide’s chief critic, Matt Roush, said “It is a truly debasing, dehumanizing show.”

Debasing dehumanization has already proven to be successful on television and valued in society. It’s what Fox’s “Boot Camp” was all about. And when you think about it, corporate America, and of course mass media, wants to make dehumanization cool again. If people on television, supposedly real ones – not actors who just act un-human – will do things they normally wouldn’t for just the possibility of some dough, then of course us droids in TV land will go to work and perform the death defying, sometimes scary and hard on the groin stunt work we do every day in an attempt to make a living.

People are going to watch reality television. Articles like this, however critical, will make them watch more of it.

Surrounded in media-generated hype as I am, I sat in suspense while the winner of “Boot Camp” was chosen. A woman, worthy of the title and chosen for apparently good reasons, could hardly smile without permission when she won the loot.

I may even watch one of the “Fear” shows. It will take my mind off what’s really scary: The atrocities happening all around the world: poverty, the machine responsible for Dubya and the fact that there’s no sack of money and a Pepsi ad for anyone at the end of another frightful day.