Thursday, July 2, 2009

Finding FOUND

Millions of Americans are obsessed with reality, or at least what they perceive as real. They think The Real World could never be scripted and Heidi and Spencer Pratt really were tortured and have a right to be overly dramatic. And come September, there will be a movie that attempts to takes away the invisible line between simulation and reality.

But there is one person (and hopefully a few others) who accepts real instead of creating it. Four years before Frank Warren convinced people to reveal their deepest secrets via postcards, Davy Rothbart realized our obsession with reality and began collecting trash that consisted of letters, pictures, song lyrics, and many other random artifacts.

It all started with FOUND, a magazine he published in 2001. The magazine showcased many of the discarded items he found over the years. The popularity of the magazine then led to publishing two books, one of which was a best seller. There are also two websites, one for FOUND, and one for DIRTY FOUND, a place for all the "adult" trash.

Many of these lost or discarded items are a fascinating look into the real lives of Americans. Among the few that Rothbart shared in an appearance on ABC's 20/20 was a monthly budget list of a man who set aside more money for crack and liquor than for food and a letter from a woman breaking up with a man because she found out they were related.

While readers may find these letters fascinating, it still seems like fake reality is sweeping the nation more than real reality. We're not even going to try to explain why people are fascinated with simulations of reality (Truman Burbank could probably explain it better anyway), but, we are going to say that we're at least pleased with the way Rothbart's trash collecting has turned out.

With a mixture of pure human emotion and voyeurism, Rothbart has taken reality to an entire different level and turned it into a fascinating look not just into the lives of people, but into our entire culture. Television and movies certainly try to show us what reality is, but the odds of us being stuck in a jungle with television cameras following us, or having a choice of dozens of potential mates, is pretty slim. Sure, the key characters are not actors (okay, maybe they are), but that doesn't make it reality. Rothbart collecting trash from unsuspecting litterers is the reality of human nature.

Next time you're looking for something real, WB recommends staying away from Hollywood and instead finding cheaper entertainment by simply opening your mind to the real lives of the everyday people all around us.

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