By Joe Rector
Too many people these days are watching “reality television” programs. “The Apprentice” proved to be one of the more popular of all time, and it propelled the leading character to becoming the president of the country. Others include “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” and
“Survivor.” A cruder program has young people meeting up on an island to see who can hook up and how well individuals play the game. “Duck Dynasty,” “Honey Boo Boo,” and “The Toe Bro” have appealed to viewers’ baser instincts. Heck, one show features a vet who makes rounds and performs surgeries and procedures on his patients, things that make me more than a little squeamish.
Those of us with a few years can testify that reality shows have been around for years. The ones we viewed were much better and more compelling that any half-witted series aired today. The first one is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. The Apollo missions that landed on the moon was reality show at its finest.
I was enjoying the summer before the senior year in high school when the first moon landing occurred. At 3:17 p.m. on July 20, 1969, The Eagle landed on the surface of the moon. Only 39 minutes later, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. Mother, my brother Jim, and I watched the entire thing, and we were joined by an audience that covered the entire planet. Each second was breathtaking, and viewers stayed tied in knots as they worried about some ill befalling the mission.
For years, my generation stayed mesmerized by space shots. We watched a television or listened to a radio as the man from Houston counted down the launch. A hold or cancellation replaced excitement with disappointment. No highs were better than when Alan Shepard and John Glenn entered the heavens or circled the globe. No lows were as crushing as the fire that took the lives of astronauts or the explosion in the sky that snuffed out the crew’s lives and shocked all viewers.
Only a few years later another reality show gripped the nation. The Watergate mess began in 1972 and ended in 1974. The trial started in January, 1973. That trial called dozens of witnesses, but the most important one was Alexander Butterfield, who revealed the existence of the Watergate tapes. The tide of public opinion turned against Nixon with each new revelation in the trial, and the country watched with disgust, depression, and destabilization as he resigned before being impeached. We worried what would become of our country as the former president waved from the door of the helicopter and flew away in disgrace.
Sure, we have reality shows airing almost every night, but I’d bet most of them are more contrived that natural. Also, not a single one of them has the ability to affect the entire nation and world as did those from years ago. Of course, with the present political climate, we might just have another serious reality broadcast before long. Only time will tell. I know I’ll watch every moment of it if it does come to the television screen, just as I did with those from fifty years ago. Unlike the inane programs that folks watch now, this one might shape the future of our country for years to come. That’s what reality does. It’s not always so cute, happy, or quirky.