Reality TV Makes You Smarter, Lowers Cholesterol
I’ll take ‘Mindless Televisually-Induced Oblivion’ for two thousand, please, Alex.
Educated friends are astonished to find out how serious my addiction is to reality competition TV. If there are teams and eliminations, count me in. If there is ruthless judging of sincere but timed efforts, I’m glued.
But isn’t this stuff the worst kind of drivel? And even if some of it is ‘less terrible,’ how come I watch it all, including the lesser known versions of it like that one about golf (I don’t even like golf) or that one about fishing torturously called Top Hooker?
What’s the matter with me? Why do I watch this stuff?
I’ve heard all the speculations before. Reality TV is both an escape from and a confrontation with our own working stresses. It’s an ideological counterforce to the real pressures of competitive working life. We all wish ourselves to be able to survive the cuts. Likewise, we wish for authority figures as sure and as ruthlessly sharp as the judges who weekly oust the hopefuls, cutting those who are out and not in, and asking the teary losers to pack up their stuff, their knives, their tattoo guns, their fabric shears, their sharpshooter’s duffel bags, and go.
According to this theory, the TV experience is cozening–as all TV watching must be–because we get to de-familiarize ourselves from our own daily, stressful aspirations by watching. We get to gleefully watch others strive and try to survive, or else get eaten by the dinosaur along the primordial cave path of life. Life at its most vicious. It’s nice because it’s always them and never us. But it’s always somebody. Reality competition TV routinizes emotional firing scenarios. It specializes in dreams deferred and brutally destroyed.
I find that to be a chilling theory. I don’t deny it. But it creeps me out a little.
I love reality TV because it represents a modern form of the game show, where every contestant is an expert. Rather than watching along and playing with the contestants as in Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune, I get to watch the spectacle of competition and cheer or jeer where appropriate. It’s like sports with the personality of the players clearly in view. It’s like sports with artists.
It is intrinsically interesting to me to watch creative people do what they do best. I don’t care if it’s making clothes or food, drawing tattoos or a gun. I watch it all. As a creative person myself, I feel a sense of kinship with the contestants. Each one is an artist. A maker. I admire all of them. The humble underdogs and the bold winners and even the inevitable annoying A-holers.
The gameshows I remember watching were never so interesting. Sure, there was that one woman on Password who couldn’t pronounce the correct answer–Thesaurus. She kept trying to say the word over and over, Ther-aur, Thersaur… Throurousourou… I was eight and couldn’t stop laughing.
Years later, I would remember that poor woman’s experience of crumbling under the pressurized moment in front of unseen millions, when I found myself shaking so much during one of my first public speeches that my voice shook and my words stammered uncontrollably. Memory and a melancholic disposition made that sympathy happen. On reality TV, you can witness such moments all the time and feel little to nothing. Their effect happens a little later.
Sometimes, in completing mundane tasks throughout the day, I wonder how I would fare if life were a competition and I was suddenly doing whatever I was doing–pumping gas, ordering coffee, writing a blog, walking to work–in competition against others attempting the exact task.
No banality is exempt from this fantastical conversion into a quick fire challenge. Stapling papers? You’ve got to do them all perfectly or it’s aufwiedersehen for you. Vacuuming a carpet? Better be on point with your cord control or you could go home and your time…starts…now.
Or the worst, making food. I find myself imagining how I would describe whatever I’m making to imaginary judges. I’d have to throw in some of the phony foods, though, that those cooking shows make famous. Something phony like jicama.
I mean, come on. Whoever heard of jicama ten years ago? Or edamame–Oh, they’re so high class with their new names, aren’t they? Do those beans think I’m stupid? Do they actually believe I won’t see them for the al dente lima beans they are? If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a phony. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand worse than that, it’s phony food. Edamame my sweet aspartame!
It’s almost as infuriating as watching a contestant on one of them cooking reality shows rattle off the piquant descriptors of a skimpy plate of “food”. As if we won’t catch the made-up stuff. As if we’re stupid! Yes, today we have Etruscan mushroom fibs blanched with sweet Chichesters and lightly fromandayed with jicama five-points and garnished with bacon fried edamame skin–for texture. Two words, people: Foe – Knee.