Is Reality Stranger Than Fiction?

Now that the German version of American Idol (Deutschland sucht den Superstar) is over, I have to say, I'm more impressed than I ever thought I would be. It proves that reality TV can be great art. Even better: i proves that reality can be great art, and here are my two reasons: Dieter Bohlen and Dog.

In Germany we don't get many American reality shows, so I can’t judge whether Brigitte Nielsen or others are as good as "Dog", the cool white trash bounty hunter who runs around Hawaii with a holster by his side full of pepper spray. But he's good.

Germany has a similarly brilliant reality-TV star. His name is Dieter Bohlen. He is a former pop star, a multi-millionaire record producer and such a superficial, egomanical, stupid and conceited and nasty-minded creep that all of Germany hates him. And as a character, he could not have been written better by Shakespeare himself. Bohlen rules the jury of "Deutschland sucht das Superstar" (the German edition of "American Idol") and is known for his cruel, heartless, under-the-belt put-downs of badly-singing would-be candidates in the first phase of the show, when literally thousands of completely untalented people appear in front of the cameras and sing in a truly horrible way. Every time the show starts up with a new season, media (and moral) watchdogs get upset about Bohlen. Church leaders tell the press that he should be forbidden, that how he treats these poor kids (of course, clearly these poor kids know they will be meeting up with Bohlen when they come to audition – if that doesn't say something about the human condition, what does?).

But the truth is, Bohlen is a modern Archie Bunker or "Ekel Alfred" as the German knew that character. He is George Costanza, Ed Bundy, Mister Bean, he is everything that is horrible and disgusting about us human beings, but he does it with a bizarre charm and is, most ironically of all, incredibly successful with it. If he were a character in a sitcom, no one would complain (well, that's not strictly true: they complained about Ed Bundy and Ekel Alfred too). But no writer out there could write Dieter Bohlen. That's what's so great about him: He's a real life satire, and satire is all the most painful when it's real. Dog is the same way. He's not Archie Bunker, he's a white trash comic book superman, full of sympathy with his poor clients who are too stupid to even skip bond and get away with it. He always has a sermon on his lips for them, and he's so American in his chauvinistic self-confidence – he knows the difference between right and wrong, yet he's merciful and good, he's part comic book super-hero, part country sheriff, part Sunday school teacher and part… well, modern America.

People talk a lot about how reality TV has brought down the level of culture in the world, but I disagree: it is art, and, because it goes to the heart of who we are now (which is the real reason everyone claims to hate it), it is far better art than most everything else out there.


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