Together with our friend, author Lodro Rinzler, Lion’s Roar is sharing weekly selections from Shambhala Publications’ Under 35 Project, which gathers original writings from younger Buddhist practitioners. This week’s selection is “Reality TV or Wrong Livelihood?” by Angela Gunn.
“Sometimes our work aspirations aren’t realized in the way we want them to manifest. This is a genuine and heart-felt story of taking those lemons and making compassionate lemonade,” Lodro says.
Reality TV or Wrong Livelihood?
“Angela, when we were in Intro to Film class together, did you ever think that one day we’d end up doing porn?
We were laughing and cleaning out the hot tub, my co-workers (who were also friends) and I. You don’t even want to start to think about what was in that water, apart from the vomit. It was messy. We were messy. The TV show we were working on was messy.
It was sex, drinking, fighting and debauchery.
On several nights while the cast members were out at the clubs drinking, I had to make trays full of potent jello shots in preparation for their return. It was my job to get them drunker than they already were in the hopes they would all let their guards down and sleep together. That was where the ratings were. That’s what got me hired again in the future – sex and ratings.
Even though I was getting paid to get people drunk and then clean up (some of) the aftermath I didn’t hate it. In fact, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had professionally to date. Most everyone I worked with on the show told me it was the most poorly run show they’d ever worked on, but I didn’t care. It was my first real industry job and I was thankful for the opportunity as well as the learning experiences.
However, in my downtime when all I had to do was make sure the bathrooms were clean and the craft service area stocked, I had time to think. I had time to feel troubled about the work I was doing.
I was troubled by the insanity that is paying young, beautiful people to live in a house, get drunk, have sex, and wear clothes that help make retailers richer. I was troubled by how far from ‘reality’ Reality TV really is. I was troubled that I was helping to create a TV show that promoted a shock value, hedonistic lifestyle rather than values based in love and compassion for others.
At the same time, I was mindful that I had to appreciate this great opportunity I had been given, even though I had no real previous experience, and if I didn’t there were a hundred people behind me who would jump at the chance. I was also mindful that if I wasn’t careful I could be back to square one, wondering how to break into an industry that’s notoriously close knit while being stuck working a job that required none of the qualifications I had paid a very expensive art school for.
I kept reminding myself that the participants of the show had chosen to take part in Reality TV. They had been participants of shows in the past. They knew what was required of them. They were choosing to the drink the jello shots I made. They were choosing to get drunk and have sex on television (very little of which has been broadcasted).
Still, it got me thinking about my personal vows of practice (I have not officially taken vows yet). Did this break my Bodhisattva vow to help prevent the suffering of others? Was this job a perfect example of ‘wrong’ livelihood? Would the end result of stepping up the career ladder justify the means by which I did so?
A teaching I heard from Gil Fronsdal on the Zencast podcast kept popping up in the back of my mind during the time I worked on the TV show. I don’t remember the exact teaching, but I remember the sentiment being that Right Livelihood depends on the situation you find yourself in rather than a straightforward moral imperative.
So, I questioned myself:
– Should I give up a TV job like the one I was working on because of my beliefs, even though the result would mean that I would have to take a retail job to make ends meet?
– Wouldn’t that mean that I would then be taking another job away from someone else who didn’t have the TV skills and qualifications I had – someone who may also be desperate for a job and a step up the career ladder?
– Wasn’t it better for me to work this job and do my best to come to work smiling and positive, spreading as much compassion and joy as I could (and man did I try) to my fellow crew members?
In the end, I decided that it was better for me to keep my job working in the industry, where I could be a calm, loving force, rather than give it all up for some moral idea of Right Livelihood. I’m not saying I don’t regret some of the aspects of my job that I was involved in, but I know that I did a lot of good to make up for it. I practiced humility and patience every day with some very difficult bosses. I took care of people and made sure they had the food and drink they required when we were shooting (13 hour days). I spoke nicely and respectfully to the drunk locals that got on camera when I needed to get their releases for television. In addition, I met a multitude of new friends who were all really amazing people that taught me a lot about life and myself, and are now new contacts in the industry.
With the cast and crew now gone off to their real lives, all having made new connections and friendships with people they otherwise would never have met, I feel privileged to have experienced all I did. I feel blessed with the lessons on daily mindfulness practice that this job taught me to cultivate, and I know I can take these with me as I venture further along my career path.
I won’t say this job would have been the right choice for everyone and I do wish I could have worked on a project with more social meaning, but you’ve got to start somewhere, even if that means starting at the bottom making jello shots and cleaning up vomit. I definitely don’t feel as if everyone got out of the experience unscathed, but there were so many more benefits to me having taken this job than I would have ended up with had I stood up for ‘principles’ that ultimately would have left me worse off career wise, financially, and spiritually.
The big question for me now is, would I do it all again?