Now we hear that Michael Vick is getting his own reality television show next year. This is how we treat criminals in the US, not only slotting them back into lucrative sports careers but placing them in front of cameras for special attention, in the name of rehabilitation. By watching Vick's new series, we are supposed to understand just how contrite he is and what a better man he's become.
I'm not against reformed criminals getting ahead in life. Even so, this smacks of rewarding bad behavior. Let's be clear. I'm not saying this is a card-carrying member of PETA. I'm saying this out of fear that we are seeing the first signs of new entertainment: rehabilitation tv.
Don't do the crime, if you can't do the prime time?
Because you know what this will bring. For a couple years we'll thrill at the reformed lives of once-hardened men and women, seeing them endure hardships at halfway homes (Real World, eat your heart out), open their first post-conviction bank accounts, restart careers where bosses and co-workers welcome them back without reservation -in other words, hitting all the verities with the kind of gloss and dross that is the standard for reality tv. None of it will be totally real, but captured on handheld cameras to give it just the right nudge into believability. For a couple years this will be top of the Tivo-style viewing fun for Nielsen-friendly families, who can point to Michael Vick as an example for their children.
But it won't last.
Soon, as with all things, the season(s) will pass and viewers will crave the next frontier of reality tv, which will lead us to... recidivism tv. Those we cheered on as new souls will backslide and return to their vile deeds, never out of sight of dogged and relentless producers and camera operators. They say Jon Gosselin was a bit of player until he met Kate; maybe he's an early adopter of popular entertainment to come.