I’m hooked on TV shows like Maximum Exposure, Now See This!, and Real TV. In case you haven’t seen them, they consist of people caught on tape doing stupid things that generally result in compound fractures. My obsession with these shows is not voyeurism—personal disasters as entertainment fodder—but rather a reasonable way to learn about some of the underappreciated hazards of life.
Before Maximum Exposure I might have gone my whole life without witnessing a wheelbarrow accident. Now I see them for the death machines they are. I’ve become a veritable compendium of calamities. So much so, I think Real TV is making me a wuss. It’s skewing my sense of danger. It’s one thing to be reminded of the perils that await thrill-seekers—snowmobiles plunging into snow-covered lakes, the latest goring at Pamplona, bungee jumping gone horribly wrong, parachute entanglements. It’s something else entirely to be made aware of the hazards of everyday life—zoo animals gone berserk, Ferris wheel disasters, soccer injuries, piñata mishaps.
In my world, nothing is safe. I decline to partake in the swimming hole rope swing. I’ve seen a man lose a tooth on one of those. Trampoline with a nephew? No, thanks. I’ll watch, fingers poised to dial 9-1-1.
A big part of these shows’ appeal is the narration. In this department, Maximum Exposure’s surfer-voiced narrator, Cam Brainard, reigns supreme. While Real TV’s Ahmad Rashad is solemn (“I’m sure it’ll be a long time before Jimmy plays lawn darts again.”), Cam is snarky (“Let’s see what these dudes are up to. Roman candles? Check. Gallon of gasoline? Check. Flammable billowy shirt? Check.”)
In one classic Max X clip, a guy rollerblades along a narrow ledge with no protective gear. Suddenly, he falls over the edge, out of sight. The footage pauses and Cam asks: “What do you suppose is on the other side of this wall? A: A pile of cushiony mattresses. B: A collection of soft, feathery pillows. Or C: A thirty-foot drop to rock-hard pavement.”
Of course, the answer is C.
Max X deftly finds the hilarity in the horrific by often including post-recovery scenes of victims proudly reviewing their fateful footage. Besides serving as potent recruitment films for orthopedic surgeons, these caught-on-tape shows prove the adage: “if you make something idiot-proof, the world will make a better idiot.”
Their power is truly transgenerational; they’re affecting my sons’ lives. I watch a hurdler torque his knee into a nauseating angle, and I add another sport to the list of activities I’ll never allow any offspring of mine to engage in.
Life was simpler when I was young. My mother simply had to warn me, “Don’t play in the road, don’t play with matches, and don’t talk to strangers.” My son will have so many more admonitions: “Don’t do back-flips off the tool shed; don’t try to jump from one speeding pickup truck into another; and, if you value your testicles, don’t even look at a skateboard.”
This essay originally appeared in somewhat different form in UniverCity Magazine and Entertainment Today.