Reality television never really did it for me. It being the scintillating vis-a-vis titillating effect reality is supposed to produce in viewers 18-49. I suppose the “appeal” (a more accurate phrase might be Kraken-grip-on-America) is rooted in similar mechanisms as those involved in microwave anticipation or freeway rubbernecking. Both of which happen, neither of which are voluntarily reported by responsible parties. Pizza Bagels, Homer Simpson drool.
The “Bachelor” made me ill, “Real Housewives of Various State Capitals” caused an eye roll so hearty my left pupil is still looking up, and “Jersey Shore” made it impossible for me to continue enjoying lasagna/Super Mario/gold chains. I’m trying to wear my gold necklace.
My main issue with the majority of reality TV is that it chronicles, catalogues, generally follows so closely I start to feel weird, a person of either severely limited talent or remarkable stupidity. To echo Mr. DFW, I’d also like to point out the ironic and insurmountable fact that these people know they’re being filmed, act like they’re being filmed, and therefore do not possess the very quality that makes television attractive: the ability to be visibly unself-conscious. Which renders the entire process of watching somebody’s real life extremely disingenuous. It’s a show that pretends to be real for show’s sake, not unlike when an obnoxious friend screams out “you farted” or “you ho” in public. Further illustrative example: think about what broadcasts you overhear in the GSU when you’re waiting for crazy ladies A through C to ring you up.
(Once in a Rich Hall elevator, I heard a girl detailing how she went out, got drunk ie “soooo [like] wasted”, and left her phone in a cab. Upon discovering her phone was missing, she attempted to call herself in order to locate it. Though she allegedly realized she would not be able to hear her phone ring while it was still in a Boston city cab, and was later able to retrieve her phone from what I’m sure was a disgruntled/apathetic cabbie, the resolution of her story did not feel earned.)
Just why would—why?
That being said, I will submit that one boon of reality television is that you can turn your brain off. Like sleeping with your eyes open, which is not all together indecent. Look, I’m only human. Therefore, I do believe that the exception to the diatribe I just produced would be a cross-section of reality competitions (see footnote 1).
Footnote 1: Excluded is America’s Next Top Model or anything else Tyra Banks claims affiliation with. Her need to be the center of attention is pathological and makes me uncomfortable. For additional laughs check out a “Family Guy” clip where in the middle of berating an ANTM contestant, Ms. Banks turns into a large iguana and actually consumes, as in eats, the afore mentioned model. I also firmly turn my back on romance-centric competitions for health reasons already provided.
The notion under which these contests operate is a kind of postmodern Darwinism. I know, talk about the mother of all self-justifications but ride the wave with me. Inside our Mike TeeVees, the ideology of natural selection is taken far out of context, and while the primal energy of survival remains, the biological justification for cutting throats and all around bad Lockian behavior is, well, non-existent. What was in fact, hyper-rational, is warped into something that is meaningfully meaningless, rendered so because the essential competition has become externalized and contestants are fully conscious participants.
So, the “Top Chefs” and “Project Runways” even “Jeopardy” are these virtual, constructed worlds where the ability to do one single thing is the basis for “extinction.” The postmodern facet surfaces when you contemplate the number of people involved with each show that are “in on it.” There are the producers who select personalities in harmony and conflict, there are these personalities themselves, then there’s the viewer. But because each group acts in full awareness of both themselves and the other two groups, ultimately what you’re left with is a Venn diagram of viewer influencing contestant behavior, producer influencing viewer perception, contestant influencing producer editing, and so on until your head falls off.
Somehow, the end result of all this labor is a projection of human motivation that caters simultaneously to our vicarious aspirations and our misanthropic expectations. I mean this in a blanket sense of course, but the formula seems to breed an absence of pretense. The beady-eyed camera is always acknowledged. It is clearly the catalyst for all subsequent activity recorded. I’m not expected to believe anything except what I can see and verify is actually real. It’s both here and not there, which is more or less the very nature of television.