I recently had the opportunity to preview Adam Rifkin’s new film that will be   premiering at the SXSW Film Festival on March 8, 2013. I’m not starting this commentary by stating that I had the pleasure of viewing this movie, as  pleasure is not quite the right word. Rather, I liken what Rifkin has so cleverly done with this film to movies by David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino in that that it packs a lot of message into a powerful, albeit disturbing, visually-injected package. Indeed, like all medicines that have a potential positive effect, the message Rifkin delivers here is the allure and potential destructive force of  unbridled media technology; and how the promise of ratings and success distort the judgment Rifkin’s character (Mickey Wagner) played ably by himself.

We painfully watch Wagner loose his tenuous grasp on any moral compass in order to satisfy the shadowy Network’s’ quest for more stimulating content. Like in “Natural Born Killers”, the film is just plausible enough to cross into the realm of possibility.  Although in essence it is a satire, it kind of grabs you with the feeling “Oh no, that couldn’t really happen, could it?”

The intrusion, accessibility, and moral-bending power of digital media technology have already moved us closer to a “Brave New World” then we scarcely imaged. I believe the pro-social point behind the entertaining satire of Rifkin’s latest effort is to highlight that we must be ever watchful of the blurry line between privacy and public entertainment.

Now, for the first time in history, that line can be blurred with the press of a button. The movie is not fun to watch; rather I liken it to the morbid curiosity of a train wreck and the subconscious desire–no, need–to see something even if we know it will disturb us. I think we do this in part out of that curiosity, but also out a desire to find some hidden message of morality and hope imbedded in the story.

Rifkin’s story is about the desire to create a Reality TV show that is based on  actual real people as opposed to semi-real, scripted shows. Great idea, right? Wrong.

The problem with real reality is that it was too boring to satisfy our Christians versus Lions appetite for violent entertainment. The amoral, voyeuristic desires of American viewers motivated the Network to encourage Rifkin’s character to stoke the fires of conflict by interfering with the normal, happy, and healthy (e.g. boring) family who was the subject of the reality show.

Mickey Wagner starts to instigate mayhem in the family’s life through a series of increasingly intrusive and disturbing acts. I won’t go into detail, but as you might have guessed. the plot thickens and as more bad things happen and ratings go up.   The final scenes of the movie are alarming and so disturbing you might have a hard time watching them, even though this is a movie about making a fictional reality show. The portrayal is just close enough to real-reality not to be entirely uncomfortable.

In my work on the impact of digital media technology on healthy living we repeatedly see that technology and its uses are essentially amoral…rather it is our relationship to it that weaves together the moral fabric of   healthy and moderated use.

In an age of extended broadcast capacity in virtually everyone’s possession (anyone and everyone with a smart phone can record and transmit video and still images anywhere) we have to understand the powerfully intoxicating effect this ability produces. Intoxication can lead to impaired judgment and this is of course is what happened in “Reality Show.”

Just because we have the power to do all these cool things with digital media and Internet technology doesn’t mean we should. The powerful potential of this voyeuristic video capability can easily cross over into shadowy territory and potentiate our thirst for ever-more stimulating and novel content. “Reality Show”   cleverly uses this media to push the absurd power of the medium itself in our faces. Good or bad, malevolent or benign—it cannot and should not be ignored.

This movie is a ‘must see’ by anyone who wants an inertial check-in on their own inner “Reality Show”.