(Original publication September 3, 2015)
I well remember when I was a teen-ager and began having serious thoughts about writing as a hobby or possibly a career, my father’s first cousin, Sally Kelley—an established writer, would say about certain things that happened, ”If you wrote that bit of reality down, it would be called impossible fiction.”
I’m afraid we’re living in “impossible fiction” times these days. I know when I was recently touring Turkey on a 15-day bus tour, Rod, my traveling partner, and I had just sketchy bits of news in English on the TV. These fragments came via BBC or CNN, which for the most part were broadcast in Turkish. Those slight moments in English were the only way we could find out what was going on in the USA. One piece of information that startled us was not only had Donald Trump gotten into the race for president but he was leading the pack of Republican want-to-be candidates. We were amazed and figured that we’d just have to wait until we got home to find out what was really going on.
Upon our return, we found that Donald Trump was running the biggest reality show ever—The Donald Trump For President Show. It was full of bloated comments and was feeding a certain segment of the public all sorts of braggadocios tidbits about anything that popped into his brain and slide out on his tongue. The major surprise to me was the number of people who were eating his showmanship up with a spoon and relishing each of his over-simplifications to the country’s problems.
This past week I had a wonderful week in Portland, Oregon, with my friends Dave and Pete. At night we watched some reality shows based on real-estate. One I had never heard of and it was about “Tiny Homes.” I watched as each show crafted a doll house for eager couples. We are talking about trying to put all of one’s living into a very minuscule space. Apparently there is a vast audience for this show. I watched and wondered like most people how two adults could possibly fit into such a structure and actually carry out their daily creature habits. Some inhabitants even talked of entertaining and other such things. This for sure was some of that “impossible fiction” my cousin talked about.
Then we watched another real-estate reality show about renting an apartment in a foreign country. The searchers are always given three choices and they make a pick. This might be interesting to the viewing audience perhaps because many people could be planning on moving somewhere outside of the USA—especially if Donald Trump gets any closer to the White House than he presently is.
Then if you look around you will find reality shows about any and everything possible. You soon realize that “impossible fiction” shows have taken over TV. There are duck hunters, a family of 19 and counting, a little-people show, ghost busters and the biggest one—“Keeping Up With The Kardashian.” The latter are famous for being famous.
New reality shows seem to be hitting the TV all the time. Producers are anxiously trying to come up with some new wrinkle in the reality business daily. They see it as fast money.
I well remember many years back when the Variety show was king. The Perry Como Show and Ed Sullivan type productions were extremely admired. Then comedy in the form of The Carol Burnett Show and others were all the rage.
All of a sudden though “the talk show” format came into vogue. We had the Jack Parr Show, the Steve Allen Show, Dick Cavett and a half dozen more like them that were popular. They gave us our first taste of “reality.” We heard movie stars talking about their personal lives and we ate it up.
The soap operas have always been a mainstay for those with a yen for “scripted” reality. Mix them with the talk shows and over time the entire society became hooked on how people are getting through each of their days.
For the professional writer of books, screenplays, stage plays and short stories, this new avenue “the reality show” has not been a welcomed adversary. A good reality concept can make tons of quick money and find acceptance easier than most regular writing. The big thing is you don’t have to have a written script.
Is it no wonder then that a large stadium in Mobile, Alabama, could have over 20,000 people screaming in rhapsodic glee at the reality antics of Donald Trump?
All this “reality” we’re witnessing makes me wonder where we will go from here? Who will be our next president? Will that person continue the “reality” show type of society or will he or she try to anchor us to a more reasonable approach to daily living? The election is still 14 months away. How much more material can Donald Trump provide us in those 14 months? How many more new reality shows will appear in those months?
It all makes me think of the 1935 political novel by Sinclair Lewis, “It Can’t Happen Here.” This book deals with the rise of “Buzz” Windrip, a popular person who gets elected to the presidency after promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and traditional values. Once elected, he takes complete control of the government and imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule.
So, what was fiction in 1935 is now beginning to sound like the reality show we are presently viewing in the political arena.
Keep watching to see how all of this plays out between now and election day on Tuesday, the 8th of November, 2016.