"The Moment of Truth" is the latest of a long series of despicable Fox reality shows that are based on the premise that all human beings have a price for which they will sell their principles, honor and dignity, and the related assumption that millions of American will want to watch them do so. A mind-numbingly slow-motion version of the game "Truth or Dare," "The Moment of Truth" asks venal contestants embarrassing questions as America and their loved ones look on. A prior session with a lie detector has determined (well, sort of: lie detectors are not very reliable) what the "true" answers are, and as long as the contestants keep answering honestly ("Yes, I belong to Al Qaeda"…"Yes, I once ate a puppy"… "Yes, I believe Roger Clemens never took steroids"…) he or she keeps winning money. One lie, however (at least according to the lie detector) and the winnings vanish.
Lauren Clari was a contestant who was obviously willing to admit to anything and hurt anybody for money. She admitted that she had been fired from a job for stealing. She confessed that she would rather give food to a dog than a homeless person. She said she knows secrets about her father that she keeps from her mother, and said she has avoided sex with her husband by pretending to be asleep. Yes, agreed Clari, she has taken off her wedding ring when out with friends. Yup, she sure was still in love with a former boyfriend on the day of her wedding to poor sap husband Frank, who looked as if he wished he was dead. Finally, the shameless show produced her old boyfriend and had him ask, "If I wanted to get back together with you, would you leave your husband?"
Lauren Clari said "Yes."
Let us pause to say that as entertainment, this is right down there with bear-baiting and using a six-shooter to make drunks dance. Essentially, Fox is using the lure of money to get people to destroy their relationships and reputations on national television. This is exploitive and cruel, even if there is no shortage of greedy fools willing to accept the bait. The program degrades the contestants, anyone who tunes in, the network, the institution of television, the nation, the culture and the human race. This is the kind of morally D.O.A. show the late Paddy Chayevsky predicted would infect TV in his Academy Award-winning satire "Network." I never thought it would get this bad, but Paddy was right, and I was wrong.
Then came the fateful question that undid Lauren. She was asked if she thought she was a good person. Incredibly, the admitted liar, cheater and thief said yes. Now, studies show that about 90% of Americans say they think they are good people, when the evidence would indicate that a substantial number of them are deluded at best. But virtually none of them have also appeared on TV and accepted money to admit stealing from their employers, being unfaithful to their spouses, and lying to their parents in a setting guaranteed to cause their families acute emotional pain. How could a person who did these things actually think of themselves as "good"? If this is good, what is Lauren's definition of bad?
Well, the lie detector said she was lying: she didn't really think she was a good person. In a moment of irony almost too convoluted to decipher, Lauren Clari's lie preserved the hope that she actually had a conscience, while her truth-telling had indicated the converse. The money she had acquired by brutally admitting wrongdoing had been lost in denying the one shred of virtue she still possessed. And the most unethical television show on TV had taught a powerful ethics lesson.
If only I could figure out what it was!