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I Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own October 15, 2012

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
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I remember when the first season of Survivor aired. It was one of the coolest things I’d seen on TV. Real people competing in harsh conditions for a huge prize was fascinating as a premise, and I tuned in personally because one of the girls on the show had been a co-worker of mine only a few weeks earlier and I wanted to cheer Jenna on and see how she did.

I liked how back in the early days of reality TV, it was mostly anthropological. They put the “cast” in a situation and let it unfold. Look at those folks up there. They looked like real people because they were real people. Yeah, it was edited, but remember early on? It was much more raw in those days. I stopped watching the show part way through the second season when I realized they were just copying the basic formula as the first show and manipulating the “cast” into situations that were remarkably similar to the previous season. You could see the thought process behind it. “Okay, we need this type of character and this type of character…” If you look at the cast photos from later seasons, you can see people chosen to fit a script. There’s nothing real about them at all.

On the whole, I can honestly say I’m not even equipped to talk about reality TV because I can’t make myself sit through an episode of anything unscripted. I see so many shows full of nothing but human beings behaving badly. I see greed, ambition, vanity, arrogance, rudeness, self-righteousness, pride, and anger. I see people becoming famous for nothing at all save behaving badly. Or stupidly. Or ignorantly.

I understand the obsession with reality TV. I get the voyeuristic aspect of it. What I don’t understand is why we spend hours watching people behave badly? Would we not tune in to see people behaving nicely? Would we watch a show about the brightest people in the world doing intelligent things? Would we tune in to see people doing well and being kind? Even shows like American Idol and the like are punctuated by episodes where we can watch people perform and fail dismally. We dissect every mishap and make fun of every failing that happens on camera.

Why?

I have no idea. I suspect part of it is our need to feel superior to someone. Life can be a chore some days, and seeing someone else fail makes us feel like less of a failure, perhaps. We watch Real Housewives behaving like painted baboons and we feel better about ourselves. We see the vapid and shallow Kardashians and feel better about ourselves. We watch that little monster Honey Boo Boo and feel better about ourselves.

Beyond that, I just don’t know. On the whole I prefer fiction. I’d rather watch inventive stories and see programs where characters develop and change and grow, rather than a few seasons of real people acting like assholes until the next show and the next crop of assholes comes around as the “next big thing in reality TV.”

Personally, I’ll just put on reruns of Family Guy and knit until my fingers bleed.

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