02
Dec
14

What Would You Do?

Despite numerous posts affirming my affinity for television, there is a great deal on the tube of which I am not a fan. Examples include soap operas, confrontational talk shows, decoy dynasties, and any and all sporting events that don’t involve figure skates, tennis racquets, or hockey sticks. In addition, I have no time for likes of Dog the Bounty Hunter, Dance Moms, Toddlers OR Tiaras, semi-scripted dramas featuring shallow, insipid, spray tanned people from New Jersey, or Real Housewives from any locale. And while I have nothing but love and sympathy for the 21st century’s version of Shirley Temple, there is little in the entertainment realm that would please me more than a TLC special entitled There Goes Honey Boo-Boo wherein we discover that her family has entered the witness protection program and/or been relocated to another country, planet, or universe where there are no cameras, cable TV, Internet service providers, or streaming video options.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I’m against reality television as a concept. In fact, I am a devoted fan of several reality programs; I just prefer it be educational rather than exploitative, and articulate instead of asinine. Which is why my favorite reality shows are typically found on The Weather Channel, the History Channel, and HGTV.

One exception is a program on ABC called What Would You Do? For the uninitiated, this is a program hosted by John Quiñones wherein actors are placed in public settings and paid to display some obnoxious behavior or other as cameras record the reactions of the ordinary people around them. For example, in one episode, an actor played a Muslim clerk at a fast food joint while another played a racist customer who berated and verbally abused him repeatedly. In another episode, an actor, playing a mom in a grocery store, tells another actor, playing her child, to steal a wallet out of another actor’s purse in full view of other customers. The goal, of course, is to see if anyone will intervene, and why or why not.

More often than not, the observers are shown doing the right thing by defending the wronged party, summoning help, or, in the case of the stolen wallets, reporting the theft to the victim and then offering the thieving mother money so she could purchase groceries. In each episode the scenario is acted out a handful of times, and each time John Quiñones ultimately reveals himself to those in attendance and inquires as to the basis of any action they did or did not take.

I enjoy this program not only because I like John Quiñones, dig social experiments, and love watching good prevail over evil; I also enjoy it because on several occasions I have found myself in situations where I felt the urge to intervene, and wondering—after either giving in to or resisting that urge—if I had done the right thing and whether others would have handled the situation differently.

On one such occasion roughly twenty years ago, I was in the lobby of a portrait studio of a large department store when I witnessed a boy of about four repeatedly mistreating his two younger brothers while his mother, with an infant in her arms, tried to complete a transaction at the counter. Time after time I watched this child—whom I immediately pegged as a budding sociopath and imagine now to be living at tax payer expense in a maximum security correctional facility for the crimnally insane—smack, kick, and push his siblings onto the floor as his mother stood just feet away facing the other direction. Unsurprisingly, given that they were barely one and two years old, these poor kids would cry out in pain, whereupon their mother would ask the older boy what had happened, and he would respond by claiming one brother hit or kicked the other, or had fallen onto the floor of his own volition.

After seeing this played out for about the sixth time, I finally decided something had to be done. And so the next time the older kid assaulted one of his siblings and then lied about it, I stood up and told his mother as gently as I could that the older boy had been hitting, kicking, and pushing his helpless younger brothers the entire time.

To my surprise, she did not react with anything remotely resembling surprise or gratitude. No. Faced with someone whose only interest was to protect two of her children from the evil lying within the other, this well dressed, 30-something woman looked at me with what can only be described as defeat, and acknowledged my remarks with only the slightest of nods.

I don’t know what anyone else would have done in that situation. And I since I doubt that ABC or Mr. Quiñones would ever pay child actors to abuse other child actors, I may never know. I can only hope I did the right thing, and that my actions gave that mother the motivation she needed to get the boy some help.

Another of my favorite programs is Deal with It, which is a game show in which people are offered money to behave in outrageous ways in public and in the presence of a friend or family member who is not in on the joke. The amount participants win depends on how far they are willing to take the situation, and whether or not they can “deal with” the reactions they are getting from their companion(s) and the people around them.

This show resonates with me because so many people in my acquaintance are, as the Jarhead puts it, bat crap crazy, and/or routinely do things that other people simply would not do.

Such was the case one afternoon as he and I sat down to lunch with two elderly female relatives. With the food—four hamburgers and four orders of fries—having arrived, we all began removing the buns from our sandwiches and applying condiments. As the Jarhead and I took turns with the ketchup and mustard, I noticed one of our companions reaching for a packet of strawberry preserves. Unsure as to her intentions, I kept my mouth shut—for a change—and then watched in stunned silence as she opened the preserves and began liberally applying them to her burger.

Having met this person only twice before, I didn’t want to embarrass her by pointing out what I was sure was a mistake if it wasn’t. More importantly, as this person was near and dear to our other companion, who was not particularly fond of me, I didn’t want to make an issue of the preserves and further damage her already dim view of my character and personality.And yet, I did not want to see this person unknowingly ruin her burger and then have to choose whether to eat it, order another one, or go without. Not knowing what else to do, I sat watching out of the corner of my eye as our companion finished applying the preserves, placed the bun back atop her sandwich, then picked it up and started eating.

To this day I don’t know if the old dear had mistaken the preserves for ketchup and failed to notice, if she had mistaken preserves for ketchup and pretended not to notice, or if she was simply someone who liked fruit with her meat. Deep down, however, as a fan of What Would You Do?, Deal with It, and its predecessor, Candid Camera, a part of me wants to believe she knew exactly what she was doing with those preserves, and was simply having a little fun by seeing if we could deal with it.

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