The boom of reality television shows (one in every four TV shows produced at present) is an interesting and more than frightening comment on our times. Yes, these shows are very popular and are much less expensive to produce, but they speak to a cultural trend that, when examined, is not pleasant to observe, much less think about.
What is so intriguing about watching fat people trying to lose weight as they embarrass themselves and are belittled before millions of people? What is so wonderful about watching dysfunctional families switch “heads” in order to observe more mayhem, frustration and pain? Why is it entertaining to watch women and men demean themselves emotionally and physically to “win” the approval of someone of the opposite sex and an anonymously voracious audience out there in “TV land?”
Things private and personal are now flaunted and celebrated as entertainment. What is going on? Are our own lives so filled with pain and a “lack of meaning” that we find fulfillment in watching others struggle with their own mortal angst? We seem to be saying and celebrating the idea that “my life sucks,” and I will feel better if I can watch someone on display who has a “suckier” or more painful life. We are glorifying and delighting in the fact that people are willing to degrade themselves in public. We now have a modern-day Christians-and-lions-Coliseum entertainment for our hi-tech times.
What message are we sending to one another as we nod our heads in laughter and relish this new “reality” arena where nothing is sacred or private; and it is perfectly okay to watch people debase, deface, and demean themselves all for a few misguided minutes of fame-and maybe a few bucks-and for what we now call “entertainment?”
What has happened to dignity and grace? What “gone-by-the-wayside” place have self-respect and personal pride been delivered to? Why are we as a culture finding satisfaction in the disintegration of the “I can do this thing well if I try” mindset that once defined Americans as a people?
Good behavior, the keeping of home and hearth, and pride in appearance seem to be sliding south. Why wear shoes or comb my hair? Why watch my weight or tend to my teeth? Why be polite or curb my tongue or temper? We are saying it is okay to let it “all hang out” because the “other guy” is doing it. And, that “other guy” is now doing it on national television to the approbation of millions and the receipt of millions of dollars. So, if I am outrageous enough, sick enough or simply loud enough, maybe I can be on TV, too!
I do believe we are all in quite some trouble here. There is an unhealthy voyeurism and a sick satisfaction that sits at the heart of these reality shows. It is no longer a “there, but for the grace of God go I” attitude. It is a “let’s pull back the scab” and see how much blood and human debasement we can find entertaining.