Shameful though it is to admit to watching most reality TV shows, I don’t mind acknowledging that Beauty and the Geek exhibits a certain heart and humour, that The Amazing Race offers a frenetically entertaining travelogue (albeit a highly carbon-unfriendly one) and catalogue of hilariously rank stupidity, and that Project Runway is good for, er, seeing people making clothes but mostly for the presence and charm of the estimable Tim Gunn.
One that puzzles and disturbs me, though, is I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here. Let’s be honest, for a start it stretches the definition of “celebrity” to its elastic limit: D-listers on their way down looking for a new injection of fame, like botox for the career; and Z-listers seeking face-time and a presentation job on a reality show of their own. Television will eat itself.
Speaking of eating, this is the part that puzzles me: I have little objection to these ‘celebrities’ being forced to consume wombat turds or chew on a kangaroo’s testicles, aside from mourning the latter marsupial’s demise or wondering at its new role as a leaping eunuch. That’s part of their Faustian deal.
When it comes to the involvement of live animals, though, I wonder where and how the producers draw the line. We are supposed feel sympathy for, or more usually laugh derisively at, these wannabes as they are forced to lie in a coffin while rats are poured onto them, or wallow in a tank of water as snakes are dropped from on high, or wear a mask steadly filled with spiders, scorpions and spitting cochroaches. What high jinks!
But let’s look at it from the point of view of the unfortunate animals that are probably panicking at being hurled in their hundreds into the presence of some shrieking celeb. I don’t want to come over all PETA-like but what makes it acceptable for certain creatures with which we might feel uncomfortable to be treated thus? Rats might be disliked but they make delightful pets for some people, and are not unrelated to supposedly cuter rodents like guinea pigs.
So would the audience chuckle so wantonly if instead of rats our celebrity fools were rolling around in a box full of hamsters, or rather than snakes were squashing squirrels underfoot? Or the real test: showered by thousands of fluffy kittens and puppies?
I can imagine the squawks of protest from the hypocritical. But that would reality.