"Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me"

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There is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children
by Melissa Fay Greene

Thank you, Judy, for drawing my attention to this book on the problem of AIDS. The quote from your blog (below) which presents the African AIDS issue through the lens of reality TV made me think of the role of human suffering in entertainment - hence the U2 quote as the title of this post. Some extreme, though lesser known, reality TV shows that were spawned out of Survivor's success did cross the line. They used physical and emotional pain as a basis for shocking and entertaining the masses, and ultimately for making money. I once read a book on this topic called Shooting People: Adventures in Reality TV, which explored the dark depths to which people will go to entertain or be entertained. It made me wonder whether the flavour of our reality shows was beginning to resemble the Roman Empire's famous Colosseum, which, as we all know, found its pleasure in human death.

Our other collective reaction to human suffering seems to be such deeply ingrained apathy and neglect that nothing less than a shocking reality TV show could cause in us an emotional or even a helpful response.

Consider the following scenario comparing African clinics to popular reality TV:

These programs are "reality shows."
In Africa, by the hundreds and thousands and millions, but one by one, a person sits in a clinic waiting room, jumpy or still, feeling fine or feeling nauseous, coughing or not coughing. Or she squats outside in the dirt yard, holding her head in her hand, occasionally looking up and calling to her children not to wander too far. Each waits to hear his or her name called. Inside the examining room, a doctor or nurse or nurse's aide examines a slip of paper and looks up. The eyes speak first.
Negative: You advance to the next round. See you tomorrow.
Positive: America has voted. Your journey ends here.
There are no television cameras.
No viewers at home are cheering or weeping.
No viewers at home phoned in their individual votes. Most never knew anything was at stake.
"I have heard there are treatments," a woman will whisper.
"Not in our country," the doctor will say with a sad smile.
"Does it mean I will die soon?" a man will ask.
"Yes, I'm afraid that is what it means."
"I thought perhaps I just had a cold."
"No, I'm afraid not."
"...I have heard that there is holy water which is effective?"
"No. That is a myth."
"As I supposed. Thank you, Doctor."

So this is MY preferred premise for a reality show on human suffering: Us rich folk in the West give up any one frivolous expense of our choice, and see how many lives we save overseas from preventable causes of death. Here are some examples of what families might choose to do:

- giving up 5 manicures or 10 movie tickets could save someone's life (e.g. by providing leprosy medication)
- giving up highlights/lowlights or gourmet coffee for a year could save several families (e.g. by providing these families with goats - a source of milk, food, and income)
- the excess cash from buying an economy car rather than a luxury vehicle or SUV could save an entire village (e.g. by providing a clean water well, which ultimately saves thousands of lives and dollars by preventing diseases related to water contamination)

TV crews would visit kind-hearted individuals and families in numerous wealthy nations around the world who'd decide which of their usual trivial expenses they'd be willing to give up, and how they would donate the extra cash. Then our TV crews could follow these donations right to the offices of the NGOs (non-government organizations) and onward to their intended recipients. In the end we'd be counting the smiles that would otherwise have been wiped out by illness or death. It would be like a World Vision telethon with an Extreme Home Makeover twist, and it would be fabulous! What's more, I believe it would educate and inspire a solid portion of the Western population to follow suit. So, when do we start?


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