I recently watched Quiz Show, the 1994 movie directed by Robert Redford and starring John Turturro, Ralph Fiennes and Rob Morrow. The story is about how this quiz show in the 50s was rigged -- contestants, including the famous Herb Stemple (Turturro) were given the answers ahead of time so that the network could control the drama: a winning streak, a fall on an easy question, a new player with a winning streak to take over when the ratings on the previous winner plateaued. Rob Marrow plays this government guy who is investigating the show. Morrow tries to push forward without ruining the lives of the contestants but Ralph Fiennes eventually has to testify, leaving his reputation as a Columbia literature professor and nephew of a powerful literary family in ruins. NBC bigwigs makes one of their guys the scapegoat for the scandal, disowning knowledge that they knew the game was rigged, even though we know they did know. In the end Rob Morrow says "I thought we were going to get TV. TV got us." We learn at the end that even the scapegoated employee came back to NBC when the scandal was forgotten about and became a millionaire. There is a voiceover at the end that contrasts that employee saying that it was a victim-less crime, that no one got hurt, that it was all just good tv drama with Fiennes, his life ruined. Herb Stemple was in a similar situation but on a smaller scale: his wife found out the game was rigged and lost all respect for him.
My sense of the end is that Redford wants to attack TV for morally compromising these men, ruining them, and then dumping them to move on to other targets -- all for our entertainment. There is a larger moral indictment here, because as a culture we do love these things, and the drama, and so we as viewers are all morally responsible to a certain extent.
But I could not help siding with the evil NBC stooges on this one. No one made these guys lie to their families, which is really all the bad things that happened to them. It is not hard for me to imagine someone's family being perfectly happy to have that money from a rigged game show. One of the NBC stooges says that this is television and everyone knows that it is fixed, and it is all about the ratings and so on and I could not help but agree that it was really naive to think it was something else. This is, of course, completely unfair as my attitude is the PRODUCT of Morrow's realization that "TV got us" -- TV got me so thoroughly from the moment I was born that I looked at Morrow's crusade to investigate cheating on quiz shows as a ridiculous thing, along the lines of some self important Aaron Sorkin-esque government do-gooder sent to "clean up" the WWF. It is an open secret -- maybe "open secret" is not even going far enough -- that the WWF matches are rigged for ratings, and it is not a real sport, anymore than a quiz show is ever going to be some measure of intelligence. Is this just the result of the fact that I am a product of a more cynical time, totally corrupted by the power of television? Or is it the result of Redford creating a naive 1950s America that took the morality of quiz shows really seriously, when in fact people in the 50s are never as dumb as movies imagine they are? Am I just totally insensitive to the moral corruption the film depicted? Or did I somehow miss the point of this movie entirely?
This is one of those moments when I have no perspective on myself so I turn to the INTERNET to clear it up for me. This is the road to madness.