Wherein Brown stumbles upon reality television and reality stumbles upon Brown.
[Last time: Tired and parched from his 60 year trip, Brown ducked into a Starbucks, where he learned that “tall” means “small” and cellphones are glorified telegraph machines.]
Since the DuMont Network went bust last year 61 years ago, we’ve only had three television channels to choose from. People here in the future can choose from hundreds.
I holed up in a motel room, where I laid on the bed and flipped through the dizzying number of channels. Every TV here in 2017 has its own clicker similar to the Zenith Space Command, but rather than four buttons these clickers have dozens. And that’s not even the most remarkable feature of these enormous, flat televisions, nor is the fact that they are all in color and the picture is as clear as an Ansel Adams photograph.
No, the most amazing thing is that the TV Guide is built right into the television! One pushes the “menu” button on the clicker and up pops the listings, and what listings they are. Sporting events, music, movies, educational programming–even a channel dedicated to nothing but weather. Many of the stations still broadcast today’s most popular shows. Believe it or not, people in the future still watch I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, Father Knows Best, and that brand new one, Leave It To Beaver. Some of these people must be as fascinated by our time as we are by theirs.
They also have news channels–yes, channels. Entire networks are dedicated to delivering the nightly news 24 hours per day. Each political party has its own network, and the Fairness Doctrine appears to no longer exist. Each channel gets to present the facts however they choose, so the same story will be presented as a great leap forward toward a better tomorrow or a great leap farther away from a glorious past, by which they mean our time. Fascinating!
Sometimes these channels seem to forego facts altogether, dealing instead in opinion and conjecture. The future man is highly intelligent, though, so much so that unlike in our time these news programs don’t need to disclose when they’re delivering opinion rather than fact. Viewers just know, apparently.
Future man is so sophisticated that he’s turned Candid Camera into an entire genre known as “reality television.” Unlike Mr. Funt’s show, these programs never admit that they are elaborate pranks. They don’t have to–the entire country is aware of this. Some of these shows follow the I Love Lucy template but more absurd and unbelievable. A family of illiterate duck hunters runs a business empire, for example, or a morbidly obese family of dullards trots their bratty daughter to various beauty pageants.
Others are “real life” versions of Dr. Kildare. Many of these are like our circus sideshows: midgets, fat ladies, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, et. al. Unlike in our time, though, the freaks are presented as sympathetic individuals with medical needs rather than oddities. Bums, drunks, loonies, and pack rats have their own shows, too.
And then there’s the Queen For A Day template–the game shows masquerading as reality. Boy, they have some doozies: naked people walking around “alone” in the wilderness, fat people (is future man obsessed with fat people?) competing to lose weight; “inventors” selling their ideas to “investors”; chefs baking cupcakes; a large man (again) trying to eat enormous amounts of food in a prescribed amount of time in exchange for a commemorative undershirt.
I can’t quite explain this yet, but it seems that the host of one of these game shows has been elected President of the United States. While I’m pleased to report that my prior assumption that alien bird people had taken over the government was in error, I’m having an equally hard time believing this. Imagine Groucho walking off the You Bet Your Life stage and into the White House! Imagine old Bill Cullen giving up The Price Is Right for the Oval Office!
Unbelievable, and yet it seems to be true. An actor portraying a boorish, successful businessman on one of these reality game shows now sits behind the same desk that our President Eisenhower uses, where he performs an act similar to Gorgeous George, the infamous wrestling heel. Every news station, no matter which political party owns them, focuses almost exclusively on the game show president, and he gives them much to work with. His presentation style is more Kruschev than Ike–all bluster and fear. There’s a little Joe McCarthy in his act, too: A bogeyman around every corner, conspiring against the nation, the president, or both.
I watched the television for hours, but I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. Were the Russkies our friends now or still our sworn enemies? Were the Arabs trying to kill us or sell us gasoline? Were we back at war with Korea? Was the planet getting hotter or not? Were we being so overrun with Mexicans that we needed a wall, or were they returning to their own country in record numbers? Could you really make a boat from a spray can and a screen door?
All of the channels, the choices, the information: It all left me dizzy. I stared at the huge television blankly while a camera mounted to the belly of a helicopter broadcast images of a parking lot. The light from several police cars flashed below. Ant-sized officers wandered around. One blocked the lot’s driveway with yellow tape, others stared into the shrubs bordering the parking lot. Had a crime been committed, or was this another “reality” show?
The helicopter hovered above the scene, and I waited along with the policemen to see what would emerge from the shrubs. We waited and waited, and then a flash of white peeked through the bushes. The policemen reached to guide it from its hiding place while two of their fellow officers pushed from behind.
Text scrolled along the bottom edge of my TV screen: “Breaking: Terrorists or illegals? Mystery container found in parking lot”…”Live: Attack thwarted at suburban shopping center”…”White House spokesman gloats ‘We warned you”….
The helicopter’s camera zoomed closer to the scene. Two officers pointed their pistols at the object while two more tried to pry its hatch open.
My time capsule had been found.