Ever wondered what it would be like to be born into a super-rich yet hopelessly-talentless mega family-empire? Maybe you’re curious about being a pageant baby made up head-to-toe in makeup and sparkles… or you’re really desperate to be one of seven strangers picked to live in a house, work together, and have their lives taped? Need to know what it’s like to be a little person in a big world? Have a hankering to get fired by Donald Trump? Or raise eight kids at once? Be a plastic surgery recipient subsequently forced to be a pageant baby made up head-to-toe in makeup and sparkles????
All of the above are premises to some of the most popular reality series ever to be on TV and I’m so sick of them. When did we get so boring as a culture? Are our lives so yawn-inducing that we have to passively watch other peoples’ lives on tv instead of living our own?
When The Real World debuted in 1992, television had never really been shot in that documentary format outside of educational purposes. It was an experiment and a pretty cool one at that. MTV had a hunch that the masses were secretly voyeuristic and they made a killing on that hunch season after season (even that weird lost season movie). Soon, Road Rules was born, and with the turn of the century, every network started banking on reality show mania.
Talent auditions, celebrity rehabs, blind dates, etc., later, and our society has made acceptable the lamentable desire to celebrate mediocrity. I’ve sat through a few episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians (albeit against my will) and I realized that while their lifestyle is incredible, it’s also unattainable, unrealistic and not adding any good to the world. Watching Kim Kardashian get her makeup done for the third time in a day and going shopping for the fifth won’t cure cancer, stop global warming or inspire world peace. The thinly veiled episodes about Khloe “starting a fragrance company” – although we never even see her sampling scents, sitting at a table and writing up a business plan or even pitching her product to buyers – are just as bad.The fact that this show has more than one episode is
impressive shocking. The time we have to dedicate to solving the world’s problems are now absorbed by watching mindless television shows about people who are also not solving the world’s problems. And what’s worse, we have effectively made it plausible to aspire to be cast on one of these shows. After all, if you can be embarrassing entertaining enough, perhaps you’ll get a spin-off series or at least get paid to make an appearance at a dive bar in Minneapolis.
Shows like The Voice, The X Factor and American Idol are just as bad. Sure, sometimes amazingly talented people are discovered between episodes, but extreme schadenfreude (the “seeing other people fail is enjoyable” syndrome) is often the true driver of these shows. Why do you think the audition portion of American Idol is the most-watched until the show’s finale? It’s because we want to feel better than the sad sacks that get torn to shreds by industry heads and divas Tuesday night after Tuesday night.
My real problem with the shows isn’t even the mind-numbing sedative culture it promotes, but rather, that it’s all been done. Every time a producer says, “That oughta be a reality show” a young Neil Degrasse Tyson dies. If you want to waste 10 years of your life figuring out how any niche subset of culture (with formulaic non-characters and non-dramas) lives, there’s a show for that. In fact, those shows are there whether you need them or not! Am I going to drop everything to start a tattoo studio, a custom motorcycle facility, or a millionaire match-making service? No. But if I ever cared about what those people were doing, there’s literally at least 1 season that will tell me in grave detail about the minutiae of these peoples’ lives. Humanity has effectively replaced the charred remains of the Library of Alexandria with a Netflix queue of postmodern garbage.
Suffice it to say that while I don’t think we are necessarily better than the people on these shows, we are better than a culture that pays beaucoup bucks to supply it. We’ve seen enough and perhaps we all should check-in to a reality show rehab where we can find out what’s really important in our lives. The world will not be worse off if the last reality series ever made airs in 2013. Let’s spend some time doing something a little more important, please?
Image from ICanHasCheezburger.com