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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Eagle

Reality bites on TV and on campus

The Right Campus

L ast night, I caught the first episode of ESPN's "Dream Job" - a sports version of "American Idol" where 12 contestants compete for an entry-level contract to work on SportsCenter. The affair is prototypical ESPN - instead of finding contestants that have a modicum of journalistic ability (or sports knowledge, for that matter), the ESPN talent scouts seemingly have found some obnoxious hacks whose sole ability is reciting canned catch-phrases. Why do these contestants take so much time out of their work schedule or college career to enter a minor-league reality show? It's simple: They love the spotlight.

Reality television is all the rage these days, but this culture of pseudo-reality has begun to permeate AU's campus. The Eagle ran a full-page feature about personal journals several weeks ago. No fewer than 60 Web logs or personal journals are listed on the AU Daily Jolt Web page. Some are informative - like a Web site analyzing Patriot League athletics and the AU Republicans blog analyzing current events from a conservative perspective. On those sites, the Web authors are rarely part of the story. But the majority of the other publicly advertised Web journals are surprisingly honest - and public - diaries about every last detail of students' private lives. Some use these journals as a soapbox to rant at certain people, some discuss their relationships and love lives. Web sites like Xanga and LiveJournal are gaining subscribers by the dozen each day. And all these comments are preserved for posterity with search engines like Google.

Even American University's administration has gotten into the reality craze. On the AU admissions Web site, a girl from the class of 2006 named Allison is pictured with Martin Sheen, writing about her experiences abroad from Paris. Useful? Unlikely. It's more like unreality. I'm fairly confident that AU wouldn't feature the average Anderson Hall student who was expelled from the dorm at 4 a.m. twice one week because of fire alarms. Nor would AU feature the rants of students having to deal with campus-wide spotty Internet connections or mediocre TDR food. But here's Allison, thousands of miles away, and you can follow her carefully edited life on a blog, all promoted by American University.

If I sound a little cynical, I promise I'm not. For nearly a year, I wrote in a blog where I opined on all things political. Indeed, amateur Web journalists and writers greatly democratize the media. Web logs remove a great barrier of entry to writing, and many blogs show writers' initiative and often creativity. But what does it say about society - or perhaps just AU students - when many people are writing about their drunken escapades for everyone to see? (There's a very good reason why I don't write about such stuff). Freshman Carni Klirs writes regularly in his LiveJournal, but his journal - featuring an eclectic mix of random musings - is primarily for friends. "Some people are crazy how personal they get," he said. Just like reality show contestants' unannounced desire for celebrity status and attention, personal diarists want some attention from an anonymous Web community.

This desire for celebrity is pervasive throughout campus. Seemingly small campus events become similar to massive reality shows. Just like the "Dream Job" contestants stammering lame catch-phrases for an overnight gig hosting ESPNews, student elections feature a wildly over-hyped two weeks of campaigning to gain an unglamorous "dream" job. One word: why? Student presidential candidate "Big" Steve worked with scores of incoming freshmen for AU's orientation program. That's much more rewarding in my mind than being the head of student government. The election was less about policy and more about personality: the popular Polson versus the gargantuan and gregarious Steve. (Polson won, for those not paying attention). Meanwhile, President Benjamin Ladner's administration is busy making consequential executive decisions that adversely affect students, like reducing our diploma size and raising the cost of tuition.

But no one pays much attention. After all, it's a lot more fun scrutinizing colorful student candidates than critiquing an influential University administration.


Section 202 host Gabrielle and friends go over some sports that aren’t in the sports media spotlight often, and review some sports based on their difficulty to play. 



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