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Reality bites

Falco, Joey | Monday, August 29, 2005

I suppose it is a sign of the times that one of the most popular teen television shows of the past year – “Laguna Beach” – is about real people who act fake in a real setting while using a fake script to present a real glimpse at the fake lifestyles of the supposedly real residents of Orange County, Calif.

With this utterly confusing layering of reality blurring every action taken on the show, you would think that viewers would have a hard time connecting with the characters as they cheat, lie, manipulate and drink their way through high school in this ultra-hip, ultra-rich Pacific coast suburb. On the contrary, though, our society has grown so detached from the restraints of reality that a layered television show like “Laguna Beach” seems to fit right in with our own perceptions of what really is and what isn’t in this crazy world of ours.

In other words, we all have a basic understanding of certain truths about today’s reality, although we act as if our lives are somehow layered and detached from these truths – as if we’re all real characters acting out fake lives on television.

Take the recent gas-price crisis, for example. We’ve all watched the numbers advertised outside of local gas stations soar to somewhere in the $2.65 range, and we all take pride in cursing the gas pump as we squeeze out a few extra drops to fill the tank of our SUVs at an even $50. We even curse our excessively large cars for getting terrible gas mileage and we curse the president for getting us into an oil-acquisition war that has somehow only sent oil prices skyrocketing. At the same time, we’ve all heard rumors that the global oil supply could be dwindling, and with the unstable political climates in oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela, we could be the helpless victim of a colluded oil shock at any moment.

But here, in a locale faker than the set of “Laguna Beach,” real-life crises like oil shortages and skyrocketing gas prices don’t affect us. We just keep on driving our gas-guzzling cars as we always have (don’t even think about making me give up my Jeep Grand Cherokee), because these so-called real problems can’t possibly get through to our disconnected layer of reality. We’re untouchable characters behind the safety of a glass television screen, and it will have to be up to the rest of the world to cut back on oil so that our children’s children’s children will still be able to drive their Cadillac Escalades on cross-country road trips.

And then there’s Iraq. Did you hear that the U.S. death total there is approaching the enrollment of Notre Dame’s freshman class? Not that it really matters, of course, because the reality of that distant war is several layers away from the day-to-day reality of our worry-free lives. Sure, we’ve all heard about the enraged mother who camped out in front of President Bush’s ranch in Crawford in protest of her son’s death, but was that real either? What ’60s hippie movie does this woman think she’s in if she believes that protesting is going to get her anywhere in the reality of today’s detached society? After all, if a president can escape the war that he got himself into by chopping wood and “clearing brush” in Texas, then why should we have to ruin our peaceful reality by concerning ourselves with events that one day we’ll just be able to watch in two hours after Steven Spielberg makes a movie about them?

We are, of course, living in the most detached example of reality in all of American society: college. Anywhere else in the world, getting drunk six nights a week would make you a raging alcoholic; hooking up with three guys a week would earn you the reputation of a prostitute; waking up at noon every day would earn you a spot in the unemployment line; and staying up until four in the morning every night would leave you with the lifestyle of a raccoon. This isn’t “real” life. Why else do you think we pay $40,000 a year to have the chance to take part in it? (It’s not like we’re actually paying $120 for a dining hall chicken breast and $5,000 for a grad student to lecture us on Spanish grammar.) The majority of that tuition money essentially goes directly to distancing us as much as possible from the constraints of reality – from foreign wars and oil crises to domestic political struggles and employment concerns.

And perhaps that explains why we can relate so well to the fake lifestyles of real people acting out a fake script in a real setting on “Laguna Beach” – we are just as detached from reality as the characters on that show.

Or else we’re just huge perverts who get off on observing the sex lives of high school students, but that’s an entirely different story.

Joey Falco is a junior American Studies major who hopes the Irish rips into his home state of Pennsylvania this Saturday. His column appears every other Monday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.