I don’t actually have a life, I just simulate one on my computer. Rather than going out and doing something radical, like going to the grocery store or interacting with my neighbors, I prefer to stay at home where Webvan can bring me my food, and I can watch others play at having lives over the Web and on television.
Therefore, the events of the past few weeks on JenniCam and Big Brother , along with the release of The Sims for the Mac, have lent new verve to my virtual existence. These reality programs have taken my virtual life to hitherto unforeseen heights, helping me to forget all about the untimely death of Mr. Booboobottom, my
Portamonkey who, until recently, lived in my Handspring Visor.
Admittedly, losing Mr. Booboobottom to an overdose of electrical current was a crushing blow. He was family, after all. But I found that watching the Big Brother Web cam 24/7 made me forget my pain as I focused on who I would vote off were I sequestered in Ikea hell. (It’s a toss-up between Jamie and Karen, if you’re wondering.) I also found myself captivated as the Brittany vs. Jordan drama unfolded. Who will ultimately win Josh’s affection — the virgin or the stripper?
Sure, most of the time Big Brother offers me nothing more than George puttering around the yard, and the television show is about as thrilling as a glass of warm water. But the occasional live drama more than makes up for the mundanity that is
Curtis. Of course, those of us who have been hip to online journals and Web cams have long known that the best kind of live drama is unedited.
JenniCam, the high-profile Web site showcasing a young woman and her Web cam, has been a virtual soap opera lately. If you aren’t a fan, or haven’t
read about it in the news, Jenni recently hijacked her best friend’s fiancé. (Her best friend is neighbor and
fellow Web cam operator Courtney). Now call me old-fashioned, but mightn’t stealing a friend’s fiancé constitute shocking real-life drama? CBS couldn’t pay for anything this riveting.
Yet the fascination with JenniCam’s drama stems from questionable actions and emotional pain that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The problem with reality programming is that it can cause real people real pain. Then of course, something about voyeurism always makes me feel a little guilty, even if those I’m watching have given their consent and encouragement for me to do so. Also, when you’re merely watching others’ lives unfold, you are powerless to change their actions. Sure, JenniCam and Big Brother are fascinating, but what I’ve always really wanted to do is direct…and now I can.
With the release of The Sims for the Mac, my virtual life is complete. Now I can finally get my voyeuristic fix without worrying about all those troublesome ethical questions that go hand-in-hand with watching other people watching television. My little Sims not only don’t mind my spying, they depend on it. What’s more, if one of my little Sims shags the neighbor, nobody gets hurt. In fact, being married to several Sims at once is apparently normal.
The Sims, for me at least, brings reality programming full circle. It’s so much like reality programming that I don’t need reality programming. And as for reality itself, well that’s just too troublesome to contemplate. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be putting up a new wall in my virtual kitchen.