Friday, March 23 , 2018, 4:29 pm | Fair 62º


Harris Sherline: How Shallow Can We Get?

Commercials and reality TV stoop to new lows, perhaps following a trend of educational failures

Watching the latest television promotions about some of the programs that seem to be among the most popular fare, I find myself wondering just how inane and shallow our society has become. For example, The Bachelor celebrated the final choice of the season’s hero and his courtship of some 25 women, all salivating to become his bride.

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

At the risk of offending, I ask you, just how real can that be? The show is obviously very successful, having just closed out its 14th season, so am I the one who’s out of step when I ponder the reality of finding a mate among 25 contestants who have been selected by the producers of a TV program?

Perhaps so, but color me skeptical anyway. I think it’s not only silly but completely unrealistic. Do any of these match-ups develop into a mature relationship? Is there a real, honest-to-goodness marriage after the glare of the lights have faded and the happy couple presumably settle into the hard work of developing and maintaining a long-term relationship?

Courting under the watchful eye of the show’s staff, who manage every aspect of the process for maximum viewer appeal, the program’s Web site notes: “The Bachelor finale 2010 may have been the biggest in show history. After all, The Bachelor: The Finale followed one of the more contentious seasons in the show’s history. Most of that revolved around one finalist, Vienna Girardi, who divided the fan base like few others before her. Yet Jake Pavelka saw past that to put her in the finals, against Tenley Molzahn. In the end, the final rose of The Bachelor finale did go to Vienna — who will get to cheer Jake on when he goes Dancing With the Stars.”

If The Bachelor were the only “reality” show on television, there probably wouldn’t be much reason to comment on the silly, unrealistic character of our entertainment these days. But it’s not. We’re routinely assailed by other inane programs, such as The Real Housewives of Orange County, New York, Atlanta, New Jersey, D.C., and other parts unknown, Survivor, The Bachelorette, Project Runway, The Bad Girls Club, The Amazing Race, Sober House, Celebrity Rehab and Sex Rehab. I could name more, but why go on?

One reason, I suspect, for the proliferation of such shows is that, for the most part, they are low-cost productions that generate significant advertising revenue. In short, they’re very profitable.

However, it isn’t just television that promotes an unrealistic perception of the world, it’s also our books, movies, art and advertising. We’re constantly assaulted by advertising, especially on TV, that insults the intelligence of the viewer with vapid comments and behavior, presumably designed to sell products but, more often than not, they’re offensive — at least to me.

Sexually charged advertising or commercials such as fast-food restaurant ads that depict people eating hamburgers like slobs are just two examples. Or automobile ads that promote speed that is obviously excessive. They sell speed that’s clearly illegal. Or how about commercials that push drugs, telling us about the list of potential side effects that can do serious damage to the user or kill them?

It has reached the point where some TV programs devote almost as much time to ads as to the story. Commercial breaks seem interminable and often include as many as 10 advertisers. A one-hour show is actually only about 30 minutes of programming, or less.

The bottom line seems to be that commercials are generally pitched to the lowest common denominator, inevitably trending down as the education of each succeeding generation fails to teach critical skills and the ability to analyze information. This is further translated into a lack of interest in evaluating information about our government and the politicians who control it.

The situation is exacerbated by an education system that has a dropout rate as high as 75 percent in some parts of the country. According to The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 21, 2008), the five cities with the lowest graduation rates were Detroit (24.9 percent), Indianapolis (30.5 percent), Cleveland (34.1 percent), Baltimore (34.6 percent) and Columbus, Ohio (40.9 percent).

CNN noted in a May 5, 2009, article that “nearly 6.2 million students in the United States between the ages of 16 and 24 in 2007 dropped out of high school. ... The total represents 16 percent of all people in the United States in that age range in 2007. Most of the dropouts were Latino or black, according to a report in the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.”

Something is seriously wrong with our education system and with a generation that is riding it to the bottom. It’s no wonder our media, art, books, advertising and TV programming are pitched to the lowest common denominator.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog,

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