When I was a kid, on occasion I would watch an episode of The Rat Patrol, in which you’d see a group of American commandos battle it out against Erwin Rommel’s forces in the deserts of North Africa. Those guys waged an unorthodox campaign against a formidable yet respected enemy. And it wasn’t anything like the war you see waged in a more current “Rat” show, Animal Planet’s Rat Busters NYC.
Every month, when I get the descriptions for the forthcoming month’s episodes, I can’t help but wonder, like my colleague Tom Comi, Who watches this stuff?? I mean, really — so much of reality TV seems engineered to get people watching and saying to themselves, “Gee, I’m glad my life isn’t like that,” or “I may not be Mensa material, but that person is the definition of an idiot!” Call it the schadenfreude factor or whatever, but are we really so pleased with ourselves and the way we keep our homes and properties that we want to watch other poor unfortunates with their rat infestations?
Admittedly, I suppose there’s a certain thrill factor in watching the Rat Busters go into action and strategizing how to take control of a rat population or other pest problem. (And with that name, it’s kind of hard to separate them from their spirit-seeking cinematic antecedents — don’t you hear that Ray Parker Jr. song whenever someone mentions Rat Busters to you?)
But you have to ask yourself, when you’re watching a show like this and they’re building up to a giant rat infestation: WHY do I want to see them open this wall and let a deluge of furry, filthy rats spill out, teeth bared, eyes wide and crawling all over each other? What kind of disgusting people are we that we have to have that morbid curiosity satisfied? Do we feel better if we see our nightmares exist in real life, only on TV where, to us, they’re “not real” and therefore “safe”? As far as I’m concerned, having spent enough time in the city and having seen rats the size of cats, and nests of them in train tunnels that could probably have consumed a small child in a matter of minutes, I personally can do without a show like Rat Busters NYC. Though I have to say, when you see a description like “Jimmy and Michael head out to Queens for a job, where the guys find that the owner is a hoarder, and she’s lost her seven-foot python in the mess,” I sorta want to see if either of the guys gets eaten by the snake.
Then there’s that Confessions: Animal Hoarding show. Tell me, pet lovers of America: Would you be enticed by an episode of any show that was called “Cats in the Freezer”? Check out this description: “Unable to say goodbye to her deceased cats, Lisa, 27, keeps them in the freezer. But that’s just the beginning …” Well, at least Lisa only has 25 cats — not like the following clip that features a guy foisting 29 dogs on his family
or former chemist Debbie, 63, who has more than 200 cats and 10 raccoons. It’s easy to say, “Well, that’s just sick!” but that’s the point of the show, isn’t it? To point out that these people are sick and need help? So what are we doing getting all voyeuristic and checking out their conditions? It’s a little like having a camera crew on hand when you’re going for your colonoscopy. But in a way, it’s almost worse — they’re being taped at a point when they may not be of the most sound mind to make the decision of whether or not they really want to be taped for something like this. What if, later on, after some rigorous behavioral modification therapy they turn on the TV and see their old selves on the screen in reruns? Am I taking this too seriously?
Wait — what just bit my leg?