My daughter is six and a half, which I’m discovering is a weird, in-between age for girls with regard to television. Too old for shows like Dora, Little Einsteins and Blues Clues, but still (in my opinion) not old enough for Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place or That’s So Raven (my daughter is sassy enough without needing to learn new ways to be sassy, thank you very much). I could just turn off the television completely, but – oh, come on, who am I kidding? The television in my house is on pretty much 24/7, and finding things that are appropriate for her to watch has become something of a challenge lately. Luckily, however, reality programming has stepped in to fill the void.
It started a few years ago with Project Runway, which we began watching together because of my daughter’s sudden interest in clothing at the age of four. Now, after three seasons, not only can she do a mean Heidi Klum imitation (one of you will be the winner, and one of you will be out), but she also knows intuitively when a designer is not thinking outside the box. Oh, and she also knows about drag queens and asymmetrical haircuts.
More recently, however, she’s gotten hooked on just about anything with crazy contestants and a challenge. Dancing With the Stars, Iron Chef, Trading Spaces, American Idol. She’s also a big fan of game shows. Wheel of Fortune, The Price is Right, and Deal or No Deal, which makes her so anxious that she closes her eyes whenever a new case is opened. And let’s not forget about her current favorite, John and Kate Plus Eight, the TLC show about a couple in Pennsylvania who have a set of seven year-old twins and another set of four year-old sextuplets. She figured out how to record things without telling me, and I missed the first episode of 24 this season because my Tivo was filled to capacity with John and Kate Plus Eight reruns.
Perhaps I’m rationalizing, but I do think that a lot of these shows are, in a convoluted way, educational. For example, when you watch wannabe designers making a dress, you learn that there is a process and people behind the clothes that we wear – they don’t just magically appear in stores. You also learn that some men like to dress up like women, and that “–licious” can, in fact, be appended to just about any word in the English language. Also, when you watch people making bets with money that they could really use, you learn about greed, and risk-taking, and about how to cut your losses. When you watch Simon shred peoples’ dreams to bits right in front of them on American Idol, you learn that it is, in fact, a hard, cruel world out there. And when you watch the chaos that is John and Kate Plus Eight, well, you learn to be grateful that you only have one four year-old sibling living in your house, and not six. And you also learn that being pregnant with sextuplets can do very upsetting things to the skin on a woman’s stomach.
Of course, there is also a downside to watching these shows. My daughter – and, quite frankly, her whole generation – seems to think that being on television and being famous is a right, not a privilege. They think that they, too, can appear on a reality show and instantly become big stars with recording contracts, or fashion spreads in Elle Magazine, or just plain old rich because they opened the right case. Last week, when we were watching the season premiere of American Idol, my daughter asked how old you have to be to audition, and I could just hear the wheels spinning in her head as she planned the song she would sing and the outfit she would wear, and imagined her ascendancy to fame, fortune and world-renown.
I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with having big dreams. We all had dreams as kids, too – the difference is, ours were in our heads, and we knew they were dreams. They weren’t being played out on television right in front of us, every single day. I’ll be honest, it scares me. I worry about these kids, and how disappointing life is going to be for them when they discover that they’re just ordinary people, and that the hand most of them were dealt does not include a life of mega-stardom. I worry about how hard it will be for them when they realize that their fifteen minutes is all they’re going to get, and that’s if they’re lucky. I worry about how they might waste their lives chasing things that will never happen, instead of embracing the fulfillment of a life well-lived, even if it is lived in relative obscurity.
For now, though, all we can do is – oh, wait, sorry. My daughter is calling me, and I’ve gotta’ go. American Idol is starting, and I don’t want to miss it.