Long-time readers of this blog know that Laurie and I are big fans of Ragen Chastain at Dances with Fat. Her recent take on how The Biggest Loser is really about the money is a fine post, but the gold is in the comments, where Jennifer Hansen says:
I’ve said it before: I want to be enjoying the 20th season of a show called The Biggest Gain. In this week’s episode we meet Ahmina, who is trying to overcome her fear of falling through the water (yes, this is a thing, my husband and I both have it) in order to learn to swim at age 33; Bob, a veteran who is coming out of a long spell of depression after becoming a paraplegic and wants to regain as much as possible of his former physical fitness; Charlene, who is battling agoraphobia; and Darius, a minor-league baseball player who turned down a non-athletic scholarship in order to follow his dream. By the end of this run, Ahmina will be able to float calmly in the deep end of the pool although swimming without a flotation device still activates her panic reflex, Bob will triumphantly lift his entire body weight for 10 reps using the armrests of his chair as braces, Charlene will be filmed reading a book in the local park for the first time since the bullying she experienced as a child drove her indoors, and Darius will have decided to become a machinist’s apprentice due to a job loss in his family. All four will be praised for their courage and relate their new insights in in-depth interviews, and Ahmina’s tears of joy when she realizes that the water really is holding her up will go viral on Youtube. All expenses are paid for the contestants, but viewers will vote on who gets the $250,000 prize for the Biggest Gain
Nancylebov, whose comment sparked Hansen’s response, says in her own journal that she thinks
a show like that could work. It’s not like upworthy is going broke, and it would be cheaper to make than The Biggest Loser. I don’t think it would make The Biggest Loser go away, but at least it would exist and do some good.
I agree with Nancy, and I think there’s a bigger point to be made here: as a culture, perhaps even as a moment in historical time, we are completely focused on the negative. Sure, there are still those little uplifting bits at the end of the news, and in the back pages of the newspapers, but it seems to me (anecdotally) that they have gotten less cheerful and more “how unlikely is this?” over the recent years. We see a lot fewer stories about generosity and compassion, and a lot more about disaster and cruelty.
One of the reasons I’m so impressed with Jennifer Hansen’s comment is that she is swimming upstream against the culture. Her high concept is that big problems can be improved, if not solved, and that we can “compete” in a race to make things better, rather than a shame festival like The Biggest Loser.
Reality shows are inexpensive: that (and the Hollywood writer’s strike of several years ago) is why we see so many of them. My only question is: who’s starting the Kickstarter for this one.