This is the "Survivor" era. Without a world war, a new style of music or a political upheaval, it seems, reality shows based on human suffering are about the best our society has come up with to keep life interesting.
It all started with "Survivor," which is in its 30th season. "Fear Factor," "The Amazing Race," "Lost," "Naked and Afraid," "Mountain Men," "Remote Survival," "Alone" and all the rest follow.
We've even had a couple of people from our immediate are starring in survivalist shows.
It's an honest to goodness phenomenon.
Never mind the irony of us laying on a comfy couch with a party-size bag of Doritos, ordering pizza with our cell phones and yelling at the kids to turn up the air conditioning, while watching some poor sap starve, freeze or get malaria in exchange for 15 minutes of fame.
The idea is that you put a bunch of strangers on a deserted tropical island, or in the Australian outback, or jogging through a jungle, or whatever, and abuse them until they all go "Lord of the Flies" and start to run around buck nekkid stabbing each other in the butt with bamboo spears.
Imagine - The brutality! The deprivation! The primal screams! The squalid conditions! The stomach-turning things eaten! The wild beasts! The filth! The scheming! The brushes with doom!
No, not the show, silly. That's the situation in your living room, where you watch the survival shows with your children.
Come on - a deserted tropical island, steamy rain forest or a raft out in the sea? That isn't survival to a grizzled parent, that's vacation, skippy.
You want to see tough? You want to be a Survivor?
Try spending the afternoon as a soccer mom with a van-load of eight-year olds hopped up on sports drinks and Dilly Bars. That's surviving.
After spending the whole summer with screaming offspring racing through the house at all hours, spilling and mess-making, I would wager that the concept of being alone in the wilderness is not so daunting.
After long northwest winter months of being cooped up in a small, germ-infested house with ants, pouty kids, I would wager that most parents in this vicinity would not view a little isolation time on a deserted island as a terrible hardship.
So you have to eat a koala or something here or there. Pshaw. Ever choked down a 5-year-old's first attempt at baking a cupcake - with a smile locked on your face even as you realize they substituted mud for frosting?
Children might not conspire to exile you, but they do have the unerring ability to strike their fathers directly in the groin with an 18-year succession of baseballs, footballs, basketballs, golf balls, tennis balls, etc., depending on the season. I am only thankful my kids do not bowl.
Survivor? Ah yes, that is the parent. He or she has choked down six pounds of dust off little league ballfield parking lots and lived to tell about it.
They've consumed food that would make a skewered rat look downright nutritious, in order to obtain those Sappy Meal toys. They've left half their skin on the sidewalk trying out junior's new scooter.
That's survival, baby. Bring it on.
Those poor people on TV's extreme reality shows lose weight due to the rigorous conditions. The parent loses weight due to worry about how they are going to save money for college tuition.
The people on TV get burned and blistered by the tropical sun. The parent gets burned and blistered while volunteering to help out at the 4H show.
The people on TV are reduced to wearing ragged clothes. So are the parents, because they have to buy 20 pairs of kids' jeans a year which always magically develop holes in both knees the day before the school concert, and a never-ending stream of overpriced little Nikes that seem to get outgrown faster than you can lace them up. Thanks a million, Michael Jordan.
The people on TV get angry at each other. Try waking up and finding a tree frog in your shoe, your best tie turned into a headband for the homecoming skit and grape juice in the shape of a map of the Galapagos Islands spilled across your car seat. Take a deep breath, and go ahead, vote a child off the island. In your head. You'll feel better.
On TV they lose control amid the stress and call each other nasty names. Hey, you haven't heard name-calling until you've taken a long car trip with a young brother and sister duo in the back. They raise it to an art level.
The people on TV endure their brief ordeal and then hit the talk show circuit, write books, and pose their beach-buff butts for Playboy and Playgirl. They are rich and sassy and all puffed up with their status as "Survivor."
Parents endure their ordeal and then as a reward hit... the teenage years!
Funny thing, though.
I doubt that when the TV show people get all done Surviving that they will miss their travails in the wilderness. Years later they won't be looking at snapshots and wishing they could do it all over again.
The parenting Survivor ordeal? We wouldn't have missed it for the world.
But the deal should darn well come with a little time alone on a deserted island, just to be fair.