Line spoken in No Exit, a play by existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. The play deals primarily with the themes of bad faith, self-destruction, and the impossibility of interpersonal relationships.

Thanks to Bruce Kahl

Could Jean-Paul Sartre have foreseen that his vision of hell would, in a not so distant future, become the literary foundation for a whole genre of home entertainment? I think we'll risk a "little did he know".

Little did Jean-Paul Sartre know, when writing his succinct play No Exit (Huis Clos), that the hell he placed his characters in would one day be a tv studio. Sartre's original vision of hell is a far cry from those of Vergil or Dante - which certainly doesn't make it less disturbing. No seven circles and limbo, no roaring fires, just a group of people placed together seemingly haphazardly in a locked room, all ready to get on each other's nerves - and doing just that. Sound familiar?

I am quite surprised that Sartre's play has not been brought up more often in the debate on so-called reality television. The similarities are quite obvious. Anyone who's ever had one or several flatmates can relate to the play. And when simply living with roommates, you are allowed to leave your room, even the house. The goldfish people of Big Brother are locked in together, and they've had no say in choosing their cohabitants. The title of the show refers to the literature of George Orwell, but I dare claim that the concept owes at least as much to Sartre and his cleverly constructed inferno as to Orwell's vision of a society of surveillance.

Of course, Big Brother is not the only show to sport obvious literary allusions while ignoring the literature that seems to show their true nature. The CBS series Survivor, for instance, is based on a Swedish original concept called Expedition: Robinson, that has similar spin-offs in all the Scandinavian countries. The allusion to Robinson Crusoe is obvious - the contestants are "stranded" on a "desert" island, struggling for survival - but hey, they're in a group, rivalling, and doesn't that already sound more like another novel one might have heard of? Survivor and Expedition: Robinson are as least as close to Golding's Lord of the Flies as to Daniel Defoe's shipwrecked hero, but I guess somehow "The Kill Piggy Expedition" sounds slightly less appealing and heroic.

And again, whether the contestants are on an island, in a house, on a farm, in a bar, running a countryside hotel or simply riding the elevator for 101 days, it's all about putting people together on a closed set and seeing what they will do to each other and how long it will take them to get on each other's nerves. L'enfer, c'est les autres indeed.

Of course, Sartre's characters were doomed to spend eternity together. The miniature hell of reality television is over in three weeks or 100 days - for the contestants, that is. For the rest of us, staying on the other side of the screen, it might just look as if we're doomed to an infinity of variations on the reality tv genre.

He put down his book, stretched, and stood up. The key to his room was still on the picnic table, the large brass keychain standing upright in the circular hole designed to hold an umbrella. With his book in one hand, his index finger unconsciously holding his page, and the key in the other he walked past the bar. An ashtray with ice-cream ads printed on its bottom momentarily caught his attention, and he absentmindedly checked his watch. It said 5:45, although it was actually approaching midnight. The stars were obscured by a thin veil of clouds, and it was a pleasantly warm evening. The bartender and his wife were chatting incomprehensibly on the veranda which overlooked the playground on one corner and the lake on the other, while their son rocked side to side on the family motor scooter parked to the front of the building, imagining the wind in his hair.

He walked on into the large dining room, past two defunct radios from the seventies and several dozen bottles of alcohol on shelves to the left of the bar. The darkness of the eating-room combined with its emptiness and its warmth reminded him of his grandparents' house late at night, where the feel of warm linoleum under his feet and the single light above the stove were enough to make him feel comfortable. The only light in the room was the soft fluorescent glow emitted by the small dessert refrigerator.

He passed through the French doors onto the terrace and looked out across the lake at the tiny village high upon a hill, the steeple of the old church visible above all else. The countryside around the village was a uniform black, highlighted occasionally by the headlights of a passing car.

He reentered the building through the glass doors and padded across the springy floor to the stairs which he climbed one at a time, looking first at the pink curtains which glowed like stained glass when the sun hit them and made the stairwell hazy and ethereal, to the old wooden banisters held together by coarse black twine, and finally to the small rugs on each landing that always found their way into the corners by the end of the day.

He reached his floor and glanced down the darkened hallway to the bay window that overlooked the terrace, the lake and the village. Stars were beginning to poke through the cloud cover. He removed his finger from between the pages of his book, let it close, and tucked the large volume under his arm as he unlocked and opened the door to his room. He entered, and walked across the charmingly fake parquet floor to his bed. He sat, and after depositing his book on a nearby chair, listened to the calming sound of his ticking watch as he waited for the others to arrive.

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