What is Real?

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal January 3, 2012

We’re not a television family. We don’t have cable, and rarely take the time to watch a movie. However, during September, October and November, we spent several Monday nights watching my brother, Jake Hunsaker, perform on The Sing-Off, an NBC reality show featuring a cappella groups from around the country. His group, Vocal Point, a nine-man chorus from Brigham Young University, did quite well, surviving to the top five finalists and making a name for themselves with their catchy, upbeat tunes.
It was a little strange to see someone I grew up with perform on television. I remember the day Jake was born. (He is the second youngest, and I am the second oldest.) I remember feeding him his bottle and changing his diaper. I recall many of his milestones through the years ... graduating from high school, buying his first car, going on to college. And I remember singing with him around the house and on family trips. The difference is, now he’s singing on national television.
It was fun to get the inside scoop from Jake after each episode of The Sing-Off. “The judges took nearly two hours [not two minutes] to make their elimination decision,” he told us one week. “We became good friends with that other group,” he offered another week. “Filming an episode actually takes several hours,” he explained once. In other words, reality television is only partly real. Despite what we’re told, much of what we see is carefully orchestrated.
It’s not just reality TV that’s not entirely real, however. I walked into a store the other day and was greeted by a wall of television screens. Each one played a different movie, and not one showed a real person. Blue people, animated people, creatures mixed with human likenesses, twiggy ladies with overgrown hair ... not a single being was an actual human. The blatant farce made me wonder how much time today is spent watching things that are real. A real tree, a real river, a real cloud in the sky, a real person, a real conversation ... the reality of life is slowly slipping away.
Statistics compiled by TV-Free America state that parents usually spend 38.5 minutes in meaningful conversation with their child each week, yet an average child watches 1,680 minutes of weekly television. The average youth spends nearly 1,500 hours watching television each year, and only 900 hours attending school. At age 65, most Americans will have spent nine years watching the tube, not counting internet, iPad, iPod and other “screen” viewing.
I remember taking our children to a winter park when we lived in Las Vegas. On the hour, electric blowers, hidden in the tree tops, began shooting beautiful, white snow out onto the park green. My children were thrilled. As Las Vegans, they had never actually seen more than one or two “real” snowstorms, and they were enamored with the wet fluff on their heads and jackets. After 10 minutes, the snowfall abruptly stopped, and we were left in the warm, Nevada night air, the fake snow soon melting around us. The rapt attention of those watching was incredible, and a little scary. I wondered if our world has become so computerized, so simulated, that we’ve forgotten simple beauty. Are we so starved for reality that we’re amazed at manmade counterfeits?
We enjoyed watching The Sing Off. Even after my brother’s group was voted off of the show, we continued to sing the songs around the house. Santa brought us the Christmas CD, and we’ve even downloaded some of the music from iTunes. The real music simulated by real voices will continue to make its mark on America.
Our television watching stint is over for now, at least until another friend or sibling makes it onto national programming. Watching television isn’t all bad; I just hope we’re filling the rest of every real day with real people, real images and real conversations. Because, like every group on The Sing-Off, you never know when life could suddenly change and you will be singing your “Swan” song.

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