Game Shows as a Sad Indicator of the State of American Culture

I watched last night for the first time NBC’s new game show Take It All. I am not usually a fan of new game shows, but the fleshiness of host Howie Mandel’s head is hard to avert one’s eyes from, so I watched.

The more I watched, the more engaged I found myself, speaking aloud my greater wisdom than the contestants in determining which items were the pricier ones.

Basically, the game is a high-stakes version of the Christmas-party game White Elephant. An interesting concept, I thought.

But the show really gets intense in the final round, after all but two contestants have been eliminated and must go head-to-head in a battle of trust. You can read the Wikipedia article for more details, but in short, I try to persuade my opponent to pick Option 1 by telling him I am going to pick that as well (in which case we both get rewarded), but in fact I will choose Option 2. If he does choose Option 1 and I choose Option 2, I get his and my prize and he gets nothing.

In other words, the game rewards deception and ruthlessness. If you successfully lie, you win. If you are too trusting of your opponent and he doesn’t deserve that trust, you lose (though I suppose that’s justified).

Game shows in the ’70s and ’80s were more lighthearted and innocent, but it seems that these days, with liberalism’s deterioration of the culture, game shows–well, TV in general–are getting darker, not only appealing to our most base instincts of selfishness, but requiring and rewarding them. Friend or For? is another one that comes to mind. It plays out very similarly to the final round of Take It All.

Another game show, the short-lived To Tell the Truth, actually punished lying. Contestants were subjected to a polygraph test before the show, being asked a wide range of increasingly personal questions. They have to answer truthfully, otherwise the actual gameplay won’t work and they would lose anyway. So during actual gameplay, they are asked these same questions. If they tell the truth, as compared to their answers given before the show, then they advance to the next round. If they lie, they lose immediately. And their family members knew about it because they would be sitting onstage a few yards from the contestant. Sometimes a family member would even pose the question to the contestant, such as a wife asking her husband if he had ever had any sexual contact with someone else during their marriage. The show was a brilliant, I thought, but still disturbing.

Just as the Second Law of Thermodynamics dictates that all things tend toward chaos, all societies eventually succumb to liberalism and ultimately collapse. I’m not sure that the state of game shows is an accurate harbinger, but it would be interesting to look back two hundred years from now, post-America, and study the state of pop culture and trace it along the route taken by the country.