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A Report From Inside Your TV

Tarek SaabI don’t own a television, so it’s a little ironic that a television show has permanently altered the course of my life. In the span of a few short months, “The Apprentice” catapulted me from a normal white-collar marketing job at an engineering company to prime-time exposure on NBC as another cog in the entertainment machine. One morning I sat consumed by the latest company figures while putting together a PowerPoint presentation; the next, I found myself in a swank New York studio where a photographer barked orders like “less stiff, more spiff!” (whatever that means).

I tried out for “The Apprentice” on a whim when the show’s producers held an open casting call at my company’s headquarters. The thought of being on television made me apprehensive, but I envisioned all the life-changing opportunities that would spring from becoming a celebrity. The glitz, the glamour and the ensuing national fame are the stuff that people dream about. Little did I realize that it’s the stuff that millions of people obsess about, too.

As someone who for a time was inside your TV, I hold a special perspective on how entertainment has transfixed us. Naively, I once thought that a show’s significance was self-contained within its allotted airtime, perhaps extending only a little further to water cooler talk and the tabloids. But as I quickly discovered, the Internet has exacerbated our addiction to fantasy. Amazing to me were the bloggers who spent months analyzing my idiosyncrasies. Television shows like “Talk Soup” were dedicated to discussing other television shows, and I became a conversation piece there, too. There were even newspaper editorials that followed my weekly travails. The absurdity reached its pinnacle at the checkout line of the local Kroger supermarket, where my picture decorated TV Guide and Us Weekly, and where I learned, through the folks at Teen People, that 67 percent of women in New York believe Orlando Bloom is better looking than I am.

The question is: Is all this as harmless as it seems? Have we become totally consumed by the entertainment culture? I find it unnerving to discover that women who know nothing about the embryonic stem cell debate hold deep-rooted opinions on everything from Jennifer Aniston’s wardrobe to TomKat (the love affair/marriage of actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes). The same men who devote weeks to researching NFL stats in preparation for their fantasy drafts are blithely indifferent to the swelling conflict between Israel and Iran that appears destined for confrontation. For the most part, if it’s not entertaining, the majority of us seem entirely uninterested.

As I travel throughout the country speaking to various organizations, the questions understandably veer toward Reality TV. Audiences desperately want to know if what they see on television is true or if it’s scripted. They want to know if The Donald’s hair is real, or if we really have to pack our suitcases every time we’re sent to the boardroom. There is a fascination with the truth behind the entertainment, and naturally so. (By the way, it’s unscripted, it’s real, and I’m not really allowed to say.)

But something important gets blurred when we dissociate factual truth from moral truth. For example, through the process of unearthing the sordid details of a certain celebrity romance or breakup, we blindly absolve our favorite entertainers of their immoral behavior or, more significantly, their glamorization of immoral behavior. The real lives of our stars have become entertainment, too, and with that phenomenon, immorality has become the “new morality.”

When I ask young men about their favorite movies, there are three they always mention — “Tombstone,” “Braveheart” and “Gladiator” — and not because of the violence. For years, Hollywood has mastered the heroic virtue film, and all three movies offer roughly the same plot: A good man wants to lead a simple, happy life, but an evil force destroys those plans, forcing the man to seek justice. Ironically, it is conviction that drives these inspirational heroes, and conviction requires a particular morality and a belief in objective truth. But strangely, and somewhat stealthily, objective truth among our Hollywood stars has become as historic as the films acknowledging its existence.

My experience as a television personality has educated me about fame’s power. I’ll never forget the first time a stranger went into hysterics after seeing me at a coffee shop. What I do and what I say matter more to people now, and they carry a heavier responsibility — especially if they relate to morality. In the news, my Catholicism has made me a sheep among wolves. When my involvement with the pro-life movement was made known publicly, I became a whipping boy for my “right-wing religious” activism. The fact is, having sound moral convictions simply doesn’t jibe with the Hollywood illuminati or the growing congregation of our country’s entertainment worshipers.

Our nation’s celebrities would have you believe that tolerance has replaced truth as the basis for virtue. To them, a “good” man is one who is tolerant of all actions and lifestyles, while the one who draws a line between right and wrong is a zealot or bigot. We’ve been willingly hypnotized by entertainment politics, and there is no greater hypnotist than the multi-billion-dollar porn industry, the gateway to pedophilia, bestiality, sodomy, sadomasochism and other disordered affairs.

So where will tolerance lead us? If society believes nothing is true, then those who do believe in objective truth have a real problem. Recently Elton John proclaimed the following in Observer Music Monthly magazine: “I think religion has always tried to turn hatred towards gay people. Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays … From my point of view I would ban religion completely. Organized religion doesn’t seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings and it’s not really compassionate.”

Though he may be one of the first entertainers to publicly castigate religion, he’s far from unique in having a radical atheistic agenda, and he and other “demi-gods” are forging ahead with their political and ideological battles in the public arena. “Sir” Elton acknowledges: “I don’t know what it is with me, people treat me very reverently.”

Through television, music, movies and the Internet, we’ve become preoccupied with distraction. Thanks to our celebrities and the celebrity media, an indoctrination of moral relativism has pervaded these seemingly innocuous pastimes, and our values are becoming subtly reoriented as we satiate our entertainment needs. From my television experience, it has become very clear to me how much fantasy has overshadowed reality. If we continue to replace religion with entertainment and abandon our grounding in truth, the question we must ask ourselves is: Are we really living in reality?

Tarek Saab is the co-owner of Lionheart Apparel with fellow CUA alum David Colletti. Saab’s book, Gut Check: Confronting Love, Work, and Manhood in Your Twenties, is scheduled to be published by Spence Publishing in September 2007.

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Revised: March 2007

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