American Gladiators

I caught a bit of “American Gladiators” on TV the other day. This show features ordinary people going up against physically hyper-developed competitors with names like Wolf and Crush in various feats of strength, agility, endurance, and sheer determination.

When Wolf struts into the arena he howls, flexes his muscles, and looks menacing, much like a character from the ‘professional’ wrestling circuit. In fact, the host of the show is former wrestler Hulk Hogan. These people are over the top. The referee also shouts like a drill sergeant, makes exaggerated hand gestures, and uses lots of body English just to ask the contenders if they are ready. Even the John and Jane Does who take on the gladiators are loud, animated, and full of swagger.

Contestants on other shows such as “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” and most ‘reality’ TV shows are also loud, expressive, and overly animated. They look like ordinary people, but they don’t act like ordinary people. Is it just because they are on TV?

In the 1960s-70s we had Walter Cronkite read the news in a straight-laced manner and Ed Sullivan introduce entertainers in a deadpan manner. Contestants on TV shows looked and acted like ordinary people. The exception was “Let’s Make a Deal,” where ordinary people dressed up in costumes and held up signs to get Monty Hall’s attention.

Over the years, the bar has been raised continuously. Newscasters are becoming more in-your-face, radio deejays have become shock jocks, and the man and woman in the street are amping up their communication style to stand out. They want to be noticed, even if Monty Hall is not there to offer them a deal.

What does this mean for the future of communication? Has the pendulum swung to the extreme before settling back to a more moderate position? I don’t think so. TV has been shaping our reality for generations, and will continue to do so. People will continue to talk louder, become more opinionated, swagger, gesticulate, and fight harder to be heard.

How will you compete for attention? Will you try to be louder than the mob? Or will you find some other way to differentiate yourself and get your message across?

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