Sunday, April 08, 2007

Troubling Moral Underpinnings of "Deal Or No Deal"

Now that the show Deal Or No Deal has clearly become a nationwide sensation, in the top 10 of the Nielsen ratings for the year, perhaps it merits some further analysis. Since a mathematical analysis poses no challenge at all, I now find myself sometimes pondering the show on a philosophical level.

The metaphorical premise of the show seems to have underpinnings of Judeo-Christian religion. The contestant is clearly Everyman, you and I. The suitcases represent the many unpredictable circumstances that fill our lives. An important fact (in the show, and in life) is that these circumstances are relatively known quantities - death, love, injury, success, failure - which inevitably come in each of our lives. But at what time and in what order these items will occur is random.

Howie represents society. He spells out the rules, and forces us to move through the game. But notice that there is no Jesus character. The only salvation comes from lady luck and the contestant making the correct decisions, as it should be. Giving the contestants a "free pass" abosolution of their mistakes would ruin the game, as the need for the contestant to effect good outcomes would be greatly reduced.

Now here is the interesting part. Does the banker represent God or Satan? Clearly he is Satan. This is plain for two reasons. First, he is tempting the contestant to give up on the game in a greedy manner and take a tempting offer. By definition, he offers something that is no better than what the contestant would receive if he proceeded further in the game to accept his random lot. But it is viciously tempting, nonetheless. The second reason the banker clearly represents the devil is how they treat the character on the show as the "evil" banker, cloaked in shadows and hellish red lights, etc.

So here is the problem on the show. Initially, everyone roots for the contestant to withstand the temptations of the banker and press on. The problem occurs when a contestant is doing very well. Toward the end of the game, inevitably the tide turns and the contestant is encouraged, and ultimately begged, to give in and take Satan's offer. When he finally can withstand no more, and presses the "Original Sin" button, the crowd cheers wildly and confetti comes down amid hugs from family and friends. In fact, hardly anyone ever makes it through to the end of the show. This all seems to go against what society/religion claims to value.

One other interesting note I have observed is that the only people who ever seem to make it all the way through to the end (i.e. actually go home with the amount they had in their original case) are the people who did poorly with their selections. After a while, these people have "nothing to lose" (having eliminated all of the largest amounts), so they are more likely to press on to the bitter end. I wonder if there is an analogy between this and real life. You always hear about lottery winners becoming victims of all sort of temptation and ultimately leading miserable lives. Similarly for mega-millionaire celebrities. But the folks with little to moderate amounts of money seem to somehow do better at persevering through life and resisting temptation.


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