Thursday, December 6

Why "reality" shows are bad for us

NPR recently reported on the Honey Boo Boo-ification of American television.  Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs will be no more.  I won't miss it as I never watched it, but I do appreciate what Mike Rowe does and how he celebrated a layer of American worker we choose not to think about, or simply ignore.

I've never watched whatever show has catapulted Honey Boo Boo some level of infamy.  I know she's a child.  I understand, from the NPR piece, that the producers give the show subtitles.  I'm guessing the way it is edited makes those who watch it feel smarter and superior to Honey Boo Boo and her family.

Reality shows are not reality, of course.  They are completely fiction created by adroit editing.  I do watch some shows of that ilk.  I'm a huge fan of Chopped and some of the other competition shows on the Food Network Channel.  I have watched The Glee Project and this is the first year in a while that I haven't watched Amazing Race.  But I'm also very aware there are editors busily choosing and splicing to tell the kind of story they think will bring viewers.  I know that's true even on the Food Network Channel shows even though I think there's more than enough drama without manufacturing it.

So not only do we lose the remotest possibility of any decent story telling with these heavily edited and heavily skewed "reality" shows, but we lose the remotest possibility of being able to experience legitimate drama that gives us some sense of hope in the quality of humanity.  Instead, the garbage tends to make us feel superior to those poor schmoes which encourages us to be condescending, which encourages us to be bullies.

Reality shows are our version of yellow journalism, our version of sensationalism, which even Jon Stewart deplores.  In that article, NYU journalism professors Mitchell Stephens that "sensationalism is unavoidable in news - because we humans are wired, probably for reasons of natural selection, to be alert to sensations, particularly those involving sex and violence."  Stephens also seems to believe that sensationalism "serves a function by promoting the spread of information to less-literate audiences and strengthening the social fabric."  I'm sorry.  That last bit made me throw up in my mouth.

Talk about condescending and talk about misguided.  So less literate people are capable of processing so-called information only if it's in the context of sex and violence?  That's because they are less cultured? less sophisticated? less smart?  Or maybe it's because less literate people are simply more prone to sex and violence.


If this out-of-context paraphrase is remotely accurate, Professor Mitchell is, in my opinion, an idiot.  I'm not sure I have enough energy and heartburn medication to read his book for myself to find out.  But if this is what television programmers believe, then heaven help us all.

We already know that too many politicians think the "average" American is stupid.  With the media believing the same thing, our culture will be increasingly dumbed down and we will be an increasingly bullying society.

It is an appalling commentary on the American public that one of the best ways we seem to have to feel good about ourselves (because some psycho-babble, TV evangelist charlatan told us we needed to feel good about ourselves and we bought into that bullsh*t) is to belittle someone else.

That makes us a culture of bullies.

If you're looking for an anecdote to some of what ails you culturally, check out Jeremiad by Josh Mason.  I have other ideas, but that may be the least controversial.

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