Posts Tagged With: Reality TV

Andy Griffith Played Dark Role Before Mayberry & Matlock

It is Andy Griffith like you’ve never seen him. Released in 1957, A Face in the Crowd, follows the meteoric rise of a ‘country boy’ with a saleable skill — singing.

The movie opens with a local radio DJ heading to the county jail to spice up her A Face in the Crowd broadcast which interviews common, everyday people — hoping to find a rising star. Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith), in jail for public intoxication, barters a deal with the DJ and sheriff in exchange for playing a song for the radio show. His bluesy, country sounds draws in the DJ who sees potential in the young miscreant.

After convincing her uncle, the owner of the radio station, to take a chance with Rhodes, the Lonesome Rhodes personality is unleashed on the public. What follows over the course of the two-hour film is a growing awareness by Rhodes that he can influence the public to do his bidding. At first it is benign — as he successfully attracts enough donations to help a woman rebuild her home destroyed by fire, but by the end, Rhodes has become the classic example of ‘power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ When he reaches the peak of his fame, he reminds his associates,

I’m not just an entertainer, I’m an influence, a wielder of opinion — a force.

Controlling the Masses

Although the film has a 1950s-era quality to the acting, it’s provocativeness comes from the dialogue — a significant portion delivered by a young Walter Matthau — and subject matter. In his drive for power, money and fame, Rhodes discards societal norms and values and lives by his own set of rules.

But what the nearly 60-year-old movie does, beside addressing the hypocrisy of the rising elite, is it successfully predicts the ease of influence  TV launched. Everything is a product and Rhodes is the salesman, hawking Viagra-like sugar pills and presidential candidates. Near the end of the film, Rhodes overhauls a Senator’s image with a new personality to make the Senator a more likeable presidential candidate.

Despite Rhodes constant line that he is just a ‘country boy,’ he is well-schooled in market percentages and knows, not only his share of the viewing audience, but what that means in political and financial power. It’s why he advises the Senator on proper facial expressions and a better delivery style when speaking on camera. Rhodes even launches a Hee-Haw type show (Cracker Barrel) — where he just sits around and ‘chews the fat’ with his ‘country’ co-stars — so he can have a vehicle to introduce America to the new, improved (and much more marketable) Senator.

Image Versus Reality

Of course, as in all cautionary tales, the rise to the top is only exceeded by the fall. Rhodes becomes too brash and, when what he really thinks about his audience(they are dumb) is leaked to them, his fans abandon him.

But all is not lost.

It is Matthau’s character that succinctly describes the short-term memory of the American public. In one of the final scenes Matthau admits Rhodes will be back on TV, but, Matthau tells Rhodes, it won’t be the same. When people talk about you, Matthau says, they will say:

Whatever happened to .. you know what’s his name .. the one who was so big a couple years ago… the number one fella… how could we forget a name like that, by the way have you seen the new fella….

White Trash

whitetrashI learned about A Face in the Crowd while reading White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg. As Isenberg points out in the book, the film’s director used Griffith’s childhood upbringing as a motivational technique to draw more out of the actor.

The book, definitely a 5 out of 5 stars rating, addresses one of the oldest and most persistent myths in American culture: that we are a society with no class structure.

Isenberg begins in the colonial era, drawing off of the writings of the Founders, and builds a case that the people used to populate the colonies were, by and large, considered ‘waste’ people. They were expendable. She follows the theme of class up to the present time, showing, among other things, how political leaders exploit the class structure — often by pitting one class against another.

Despite being a more ‘scholarly’ book (with ample footnotes), White Trash is a very interesting, easy read. I highly recommend the book for anyone seeking a more in-depth understanding of America’s culture and history.

Categories: movies | Tags: , , , , , ,

Big Brother — The TV Show — Paints Picture Of Who We Are

We have a summer tradition in my house. Each year, my wife, daughter and I huddle around the TV three times a week to watch the CBS reality show, Big Brother. If you’ve never watched the show, it has a simple premise: 12-16 people are locked into a small house for the summer — competing for $500,000. All they have to do is be the last one standing. Two things are pushing them out of the house — their ability or inability to get along with others (called the social game) and their ability to win physical challenges. In some ways, the show mimics the workplace, where people often win or lose based on their skill set and their ability to get along with co-workers.

Unlike workplaces though, people are asked to leave by their peers. This is done once a week when house guests cast votes to evict a teammate. (The idea has never been implemented in the workplace due to a fear of increased turnover.)

But, what unfolds inside the house is too much free time — which often translates to boredom — and a lot of ‘mind games,’ as every move and word of each player is recorded. Soon, they forget the cameras are there and, even with a loss of privacy, they get a false sense of security.

It is this loss of privacy that shines a light on who we are.

In season after season, despite the varying cast of players, a very predictable pattern emerges. Players make poor choices. Players say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. They trust someone who is lying. As viewers we can see their mistakes. In a small, godlike way, we see the whole picture of their life, but the players, they can only see and know what is immediately in front of them. They only know their own actions and conversations. They cannot see how it is all about to play out.

It’s why they mess up — they make decisions based on their extremely limited viewpoint.

Experience Alters The Course

This season four players are returning and they have adjusted their gameplay. One player, much more abrasive in her past performance, is only showcasing her abrasive side in the diary room — a private conversation with show producers that her peers cannot see or hear until after the season is over. She learned from life. She learned that, although she is funny and witty, not everyone gets her humor or even likes her — so she hams it up for the camera and then uses a more low-key approach when interacting with other players.

Some say this is manipulative — after all she is not being ‘real.’ I disagree. No one can be all things for all people. Our predictability is a liability. When people can push our buttons, they control our behavior. In the end, they know precisely how we will respond.

The wise players, both in the game and in life, step back, pause and think through their response before reacting. Observing life, and adjusting to its flow, is not a weakness. It can lead to peace and power.

And for one person it will mean $500,000 this fall.

Categories: Personal Essays, TV Shows | Tags: , , , ,