Truth in Fiction

on October 11, 2007

Some of you may remember the movie with Richard Dawson and Arnold Schwarzenegger called THE RUNNING MAN. It was based on a Stephen King-writing as Richard Bachman novella of the same name. I never saw the movie–it looked cheesy. But the story I read multiple times.

In a nutshell, it’s a game show with fatal results. Desperate people run for their lives–and money. If they win–that is, survive for 30 days–they get $1 billion. For every hour they stay alive, they earn $100. For every law enforcement officer and “hunter” they kill, they earn more money. That money is sent to their family should they not survive.

No one survives.

America watches the show and calls in tips and leads. If the lead pans out, they get money. It’s the country against one man.

For years, America has been fascinated by reality shows. Take FEAR FACTOR where “average” people confront their fear for money. Like being buried alive. Or lying in a box of spiders. Or eating worms. Then there’s SURVIVOR and spin-offs where a group of people are thrown together under adverse circumstances and they must work together–and against each other–to “survive.” In Hollywood, this means you stay on the island.

I’ve never particularly liked reality shows. My favorite reality show was JOE SCHMO, where everyone was an actor except one guy, Matt. It was a joke–on him. And it played off every stereotype of every reality show. My husband and I laughed and never missed an episode. But at the end? I felt sorry for Matt when he realized he was the brunt of the joke. It was no longer fun.

I just saw a preview for a show called LAST ONE STANDING. The commercial focused on the violence. Blood will be drawn. The competition could be deadly. Six athletes from Britain and America are sent to live with tribes and learn the deadliest of fighting techniques.

And we get to watch.

I went to the Discovery Channel website to check out the show and on the surface, it actually appears interesting. These men apparently bonded emotionally and spiritually, they were immersed in foreign cultures, adopted by these tribes in order to become a warrior for them.

But the hook? The violence. That someone could loose a limb, an eye, or their life.

Yes, it’s a gimmick. Yes, it’s Hollywood. (Or in this case the BBC.) But in the end is it any different than The Running Man? Where America watches a potentially deadly competition?

George Orwell was a satirist who looked at the potential of human beings, both the good and the bad. Many of his “predictions”–or fears, for lack of a better word–have come true. Ayn Rand identified one of the greatest threats to freedom: the loss of individuality. Stephen King’s dystopian vision of deadly competitions are not far from reality. He only had to look at the past–gladiators, for example–and our own human fascination with strength, violence, and individuality. Because we WANT the underdog to win. We root for him–but don’t we also throw roadblocks in his way?

I can’t help but wonder what Stephen King thinks when (if!) he watches a preview for a show like LAST ONE STANDING. Is it history repeating itself, in the sanitized way of Hollywood? When does it stop? If desperate people are willing to do desperate things for money, maybe the year 2025 and the Game Network isn’t that far off.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?