First there was reality TV, a vast entertainment wasteland that demeaned all who participated and dulled the minds of millions of Americans and turned a grinning mannequin like Ryan Seacrest into an international celebrity.
Then came reality videos on the Internet, and suddenly you could click on YouTube and MySpace and see everything from Girls Gone Wild on South Padre Island to Michael Richards doing his Klansman impersonation in a comedy club to a blotchy Saddam Hussein with a noose around his neck dropping through a gallows trap door.
Now, God help us, we have reality greeting cards.
OK, maybe this isn't as big a threat to brain cells as Flavor of Love with Flava Flav or that video of the girl showering with her keyboard that was just on MySpace.
But the fact is, Hallmark just rolled out a new line of greeting cards called Journeys designed to buck up all those people faced with challenging -- here we go -- "real-life situations."
These "real-life situations" could involve recovering from cancer or addiction or an eating disorder, bouncing back from a divorce, job loss or depression, or coming out of the closet as a gay person.
It could even involve something as mundane as quitting smoking or achieving a weight-loss goal.
I don't know, does someone who just dropped 20 pounds really want to get a greeting card that says, in effect: "Hey, you're not such a fat tub of goo anymore!" Guess we'll find out soon.
Cynthia Musick, editorial director for Journeys, said the new cards were inspired by a poll Hallmark took of its customers.
"About 90 percent said they wanted a wider selection of encouragement cards that would offer support for these different real-life situations," Musick said over the phone from Hallmark's Kansas City, Mo., headquarters.
And apparently there's no shortage of real-life situations in which receiving a greeting card would be just the thing to lift the spirits, because there are 176 different kinds of Journeys cards.
They're divided into four categories: Give Hope ("for health issues like tests, surgery and chemo"), Show Support ("for coming out, addressing addiction or quitting bad habits"), Help Cope ("with trying to get pregnant, having a miscarriage or an aging parent") and Lift Spirits ("after divorce, job loss, leaving a bad situation or depression").
Some of the Journeys cards are whimsical; some are dopey; some are kind of cute.
For someone who has lost weight -- on a diet, not chained to a radiator as a hostage -- there's this one: "Exercise. Eating right. Positive thoughts. You mean it actually works? You look great!"
But some are mawkish, as if they were dictated by Dr. Phil while he reeled around the house swigging from a fifth of Wild Turkey.
For instance, here's one for the poor soul who just got fired: "I'm sorry you lost your job, but please remember your job is not who you are. You have many great qualities, and that's what really matters."
Then inside: "So until someone appreciates your unique abilities, I hope you'll take pride in all you've accomplished and realize how much you have yet to give."
OK, that one's a little wordy isn't it? By the time a person gets through all that, he could've found another job. Hell, he could have been promoted to CEO by then.
On the other hand, some of the Journeys cards seem deliberately vague, alluding to some unnamed challenge or test of character undertaken by the person receiving it.
My favorite one of this genre says this on the cover: "I think you can. I think you can. I think you can." Open the card and it says: "I know you can."
Which, of course, begs the question: "You know I can what?"
Pass the bar exam?
Stop the compulsive shop-lifting?
Quit being a back-seat driver?
But the Journeys card that really strikes a curious note -- at least with me -- is the one for eating disorders.
The cover says: "All I want is for you to be healthy -- healthy and happy with yourself. Please take it one day at a time until you are."
Now if that were me with an eating disorder and you sent that card, I'd think: All YOU want? Hey, pal, I'M the one with the problem here!
Anyway, the Journeys cards have only been on the market for a month.
But sales are strong and the initial response from the public, says Musick, has been "very positive."
Apparently you can't give people too much reality these days, which probably explains a lot more than just Ryan Seacrest.