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Where has all the talent gone?

  • Padma Lakshmi of "Top Chef"
Padma Lakshmi of "Top Chef"
December 27, 2011|By Katie Killacky, For RedEye

Ninety-nine percent of us watch reality TV.

OK, that was a made-up statistic to make myself feel better about ... myself. I mean, I've spent my entire life earning a living in the performance arts. Unscripted reality drivel is blasphemy.

Should I feel guilty about watching reality TV? Well, it CAN be educational. "Top Chef" has opened my palate, "Muslims in America" has opened my eyes, and "Toddlers & Tiaras" has opened my heart—to the fact that some children are born into unfortunate situations. "Supernanny" has even reinforced the fact that I'm terrified of having kids. Not because I'm afraid I'll need a Supernanny, but because I'm afraid my children might actually go to school with a child who needs a Supernanny.

Yet there still is guilt associated with watching this trash TV—and there should be. It's trash. Soap operas used to be guilty pleasures, but the majority of this crap on Bravo and TLC really is happening—or so we're led to believe. While shows such as "X Factor" and "American Idol" have opened avenues for struggling artists who might not otherwise be discovered, the reality TV epidemic has put a lot of actors, musicians, and otherwise talented people—my people—out of work.

We are so fortunate to live in Chicago and have access to some of the world's most amazing theaters and music venues. On any given night, you can find stand-up comics trying out their jokes in coffee shops, singers participating in cabarets or actors working for free helping out their playwright friends who are trying to get their work seen.

Sometimes these performances can be painful to watch. Sometimes they can be entertaining. Actually, even when they're painful they can sometimes be entertaining. I feel a similar mix of pain and entertainment when being a voyeur in the lives of scantily clad housewives with skewed perceptions of "normal" and turkey meat for brains. So whether it's at Steppenwolf or Ravinia or Stewie's Crab Shack, there is no excuse not to be supporting local artists who work every day trying to keep the arts alive.

Sure, I feel guilty admitting that some of my favorite shows are reality TV, and I know I will continue to watch them, as will others. But I've got a solution: I'll compromise.

The next time I indulge myself in a seemingly harmless episode of "Wife Swap," I'm not going to waste more time being disgusted with the hour I just took off of my life. Instead, I'll go to Millennium Park to see a concert. Or maybe I'll go catch a late-night showing of "Dummy" at iO. I might even saunter over to the basement of that seedy bar across the street and check out Mike and the Flatulence—or some other band nobody's ever heard of. I'm not a cultural snob. It doesn't have to be the Goodman. It just doesn't need to be E!

The reality is, if we don't start rediscovering what true talent is and supporting those who aren't trying to be famous but just trying to find an audience for their craft, the cultural influence left to generations after us will be that of Gucci purses and bar brawls. True story.


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