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Too real for me - Joel Hall

For a grown man living in "the real world," I probably enjoy cartoons more than most people do.

When you spend your day delving into, and dissecting, the complicated matters of life, death, and politics, cartoons -- for me at least -- are a welcome and necessary diversion.

Throughout the 1990s, television networks, such as NBC, CBS, and ABC did away with most of their cartoon programming. When Turner Broadcasting System came out with Cartoon Network several years ago, it was an escapist's godsend. Whenever I needed a few hours of distraction from the harsh realities of the world, I could get my fill of Japanese animation, "Space Ghost Coast to Coast," and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."

A defining characteristic of television in the new millennium has been the reality TV show. I must admit that I watched "The Real World: New Orleans" from start to finish and stayed somewhat abreast of the first couple of seasons of "American Idol." For the most part, though, I have always viewed reality television as an abomination, in comparison to good television programming.

Unlike a documentary that gives people a window into real things that matter, or a police drama that captures the exploits of real-life heroes, most reality television concepts are contrived, and highly superficial. At the same time, reality television, in my view, isn't true fantasy, because it's subjects are people representing themselves (although not necessarily portraying themselves). In other words, when it comes to reality television and fantasy television, I am kind of a purist.

Whenever I withdraw into the world of cartoons, I really don't want reality to bleed into my experience. For that reason, I was highly displeased when Cartoon Network recently decided to hop on the reality television bandwagon with its new series of shows called "CN Real."

Mostly geared toward teens, the line-up of shows on "CN Real" is sort of like a throwback to the days of "Double Dare" and "Wild and Crazy Kids" on the Nickelodeon network, but with a slant toward the reality programming now favored by MTV and other "music" television networks.

The line-up on "CN Real" includes "Brainrush," a show in which unsuspecting teenagers are asked to answer a series of questions while riding a roller coaster; "Destroy Build Destroy," in which host Andrew W.K., a heavy metal musician from Michigan, helps two teams of diametrically-opposed teens (older siblings vs. younger siblings, nerds vs. shop-class kids, etc.) build machines, drop them from high distances, rebuild them, race them, and then blow them up with their choice of high-powered explosives or a bazooka; "The Othersiders," which is basically The Travel Channel's "Ghost Adventures," with kids, and "Survive This," a show in which teenagers are dumped into the middle of the wilderness and forced to fend for themselves (While that may be some parents' dream, it sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen.)

I don't really have much bad to say about the programming itself. While I could liken some of it to the regurgitated worms adult birds feed to their young, some of the shows are pretty inventive. However, Cartoon Network - the one last bastion against reality programing - isn't the proper venue in my opinion.

While there are an endless amount of fascinating, important, real-world topics television can highlight, reality is often messy, harsh, and hard to explain. Occasionally, one needs to escape that reality, and cartoons offer the perfect respite.

That oasis of escapism, however, is being threatened by the ever-growing desire of television producers to superficially peek into the lives of others. My hope is that the humor and imagination that goes into making cartoons will not, one day, be replaced by the laziness of producing reality TV.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.