A 90s classic Quiz Show produced and directed by Robert Redford examines the moral boundaries of a person on their way to becoming famous. The storyline of the movie revolves around the Twenty-One quiz show scandals that took place in the 1950s. Back then, after observing plummeting TV ratings, producers of the show decided to rig the game to add more thrill and suspense to it. To do that, they had to convince the two most popular players at the time – Herb Stempel and Charles Van Dorren – to play along. This essay examines the destructive effect that fame had on the main character’s lives and shows how fallible human beings are in the face of validation and financial gains.
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Herb Stempel: Victim to Ingenuity
Herb Stempel’s movie arch shows the viewer that being intelligent and generally apt for intellectual game shows are not the end-all-be-all of popularity. The real person whose life story was used for the movie had an outstanding retentive memory – a trait that is rarely encountered in humans. Stempel is a trivia genius, which initially keeps viewers entertained. Stempel does not seek fame per se – instead, he is looking for future opportunities that his humble beginnings might have deprived him of. He never reaches celebrity status, even though at the beginning, he agrees to accept the deception.
Charles Van Dorren: Victim to Fame
As opposed to Stempel, van Dorren comes from a wealthy family and is quite self-confident. The deceptive nature of the show does not contradict his moral values. Quite the opposite: he is not at all hesitant to win adoration and popularity. However, after Stempel has whistle-blown the industry, Van Dorren loses his standing and is fired from his lucrative position. The movie showcases an excellent storytelling method that brings the narration close to reality. As the director himself confessed, the movie may as well be seen as a documentary.
Quiz Show sheds light on many controversial topics: the cult of celebrity, moral boundaries, and human greed. The movie does not ostracize those who seek fame, and yet, it provides a cautionary tale of woe. Fame is a source of power to be reckoned with: it can break or make a man. Stempel and Van Dorren are hardly a classic pair of a protagonist and an antagonist – they display both differences and similarities. However, their life outcomes vastly differ since Stempel chose truth over fame, and Van Dorren did not.