Our lives are but specks of dust falling through the fingers of time. Like sands of the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. — Socrates
While some may not realize it, the words of Socrates have, for the last half century century, been used as the introduction to a daytime soap opera. No disrespect intended, but the poor man must be rolling in his grave. He’s been credited with articulating the fundamentals of modern Western philosophy and in keeping with the old saw, “I shook the hand that shook the hand of George Washington,” it must be added that his most famous student, Plato, taught Aristotle, who became the tutor of Alexander the Great, whose conquests spread Greek philosophy throughout the known world. Talk about domino theory! Would such a man have sooner sought the forgetfulness of hemlock had he known his words have become one-liners on daytime television? We’ll never know. He may have been an elitist, but you have to like a guy who, despite encouragement from others, refused to enter politics because he didn’t want to tell others how to run their lives when he felt he didn’t know how to run his own.
I happened on “Days of Our Lives” quite by accident. I’ve been avoiding cable television for months now, but I had a rare quiet moment and my usual distractions weren’t quite distracting enough. I turned on the television and started surfing for something apolitical. You can guess the rest. Now I must add a disclaimer here. I am not a snob – really I’m not. Fifty years ago, I was addicted to one, just one, soap opera. My guilty pleasure was called “Dark Shadows” and every afternoon I’d watch it while ironing or folding diapers to see how one dealt with issues created by a vampire who refused to vacate a mansion on an inaccessible, storm tossed coast of Maine. It was pure escapism on my part. I was not a young mother and had worked for 10 years before the crib in our nursery finally had an occupant. She was beautiful, but she arrived nearly 3 months before her due date. She was born in August and we brought her home just before Thanksgiving. She remained terrifyingly small and still had digestive and breathing problems. She and I were housebound for the next 6 months and if at that time you wanted a walking, talking example of “cabin fever” I’d fit the bill. Now, I hope that those of you who are professionally trained won’t read too much into anything disclosed here. Resist, if you will, the temptation to interpret symbols and situations when I say I felt better when I watched “Dark Shadows.” It beat pills or bills. Who knew a vampire could carry get you through rough times. It worked for me and I hope the drama portrayed in “The Days of Our Lives” offers an escape to those who want or need an alternate reality.
That being said, the audience for soap operas has dramatically declined. Originally, it was thought that the drop in viewers was attributable to the return of women to the work-force. That is not true. Reality TV beat soap operas at their own game. The shows are less expensive to produce and because the cast of characters frequently changes, their reality is more relatable than that of soap operas. Interestingly, the titles and substance of the new shows is often borrowed from other sources.
I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked. – Genesis (3:10)
If “Days of Our Lives” owes a debt, albeit unrecognized, to Socrates, the reality program “Naked and Afraid” seems to have relied on the Bible for inspiration and direction. Someone on the production team has obviously read the Book of Genesis and appropriated the title and premise to be found there. Picture, if you will, auditions for the program. Know there is not a fig leaf in sight. That automatically rules out anyone with age spots or excess skin. It may rule out anyone with sense. The lure of fame must at least be equivalent to the call of the wild. Why else would anyone shed their clothes and allow themselves to be dropped into environments where species regularly become endangered? It took mankind eons to emerge from the caves but let our sponsors selling shampoo, soap or sun block take you back to those glorious days of yesteryear.
And while only the name of a character has been appropriated, fairness demands that George Orwell be given credit for the name and theme of another reality program – “Big Brother.” In his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four Big Brother is the leader of a society where every citizen is under constant surveillance by authorities who constantly remind them that “Big Brother is watching you.” Fans of the show get to scrutinize the lives of contestants who live in the Big Brother house. And Alexa, if word activated, can listen to what we all say. It’s been revealed that thousands of Amazon employees are listening to what people say when they talk to Alexa. Amazon said it uses these conversations to improve Alexa’s “understanding of human speech.” Let’s hope that is so, or at some point in the not to distant future we may have a new reality program – The Best of Alexa – brought to you by you. Orwell might love it but it would bring Socrates to his knees.