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Reality TV Makes You Smarter, Lowers Cholesterol

October 2, 2013


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.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 8.57.24 AMAccording 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.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 9.02.28 AM

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.

from The Guardian 6 Mar 2013

from The Guardian 6 Mar 2013

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.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 9.08.25 AMI 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.

From → Pop Culture

  1. This post made me laugh so much! I am a TV addict as well, and I adore food shows so I get exactly what you mean 🙂

    • It’s good to find fellow TV addicts. Stand up, say your name, proudly declare yourself. Act just like those poor schmucks from competition reality TV who are ALWAYS called upon to rhetorically manifest their desires, their passion to win, their intense feeling of having what it takes–only to then be mercilessly sent home anyways. I love that part. As if saying a thing heartily makes up for material performance deficiencies. In a perfect world it would.

  2. and your time…starts…now.” LOLLLLLLL! THIS IS GREAT!
    I would have never pegged you for a reality TV viewer, and I’m not sure why lol!
    Although for myself personally, the idea of imaginary judges critiquing my food sounds terrible! LOL! Also those cooking shows always seem far too serious for what they’re asking their contestants to do. Those things never happen in a real world setting! Or at least I hope not… This all reminds me of this video.

    • Ha! Thanks for the video. And I know what you mean about the cooking shows in particular. I love ALL of them. Freshman Class on the Cooking Channel. Chef Wanted with Ann Burrell. All the Gordon Ramsey stuff, and every iteration of Top anything you could imagine. I could watch Top Cobbler–a medieval competition show. I could watch Top Assembler–having worked on a line making dirt devil vacuum cleaners back in the day (me and the band had plans of making enough dough to spring for a tour of Prague). I could watch Top Blogger and absolutely YEARN for the chance to do so!

      • TOP BLOGGER. Make it happen Michael! You know you’d have to be the one hosting it, right?
        “You have three hours to create a post with artistic shots of food and an original recipe.”
        “You must create a flash fiction piece that generates 40 likes in 24 hours.”
        “Take pictures of your current attire, the first person to have their post re-blogged by six different fashion bloggers gets immunity this week.”
        I’m still trying to come up with what to say to contestants that are sent home.

      • That’s brilliant. I’m still laughing!

  3. How have I never thought of the “imagining myself as reality show contestant” approach to life? I am inspired. But, damnit, is this comment interesting/original/clearly expressed enough to get me through to the next round?!

    • We’ll have to tune in next time, Yacinamac, to see if you “have what it takes”! Ha! Don’t you love the way these shows seek to quantify talent? As if it’s possible to be systematically good at something if only you can convince Tom Collicheo, or Michael Koors, or my new favorite judge and human cartoon from Face Off, Glenn Hetrick.

      • So true. And as I’ve just had the privilege of being rejected by a slew of important people in publishing, I currently have a whole new understanding of being weighed in the balance and found wanting…Sniff.

      • That’s too bad. Keep the faith, though. And just think, now you’ve got all that experience awaiting sublimation in reality TV watching. –But seriously, though. This is what I mean. Life is at its most competitive when you’re an aspiring creative. It’s not just your work that seems to be crushed by rejection, it’s a part of you. At the same time, we are a stronger crew of artists and writers for braving the fierce winds of rejection, still steering a course for more enchanted climes of improvement, acceptance, success.

      • Absolutely right. And to think when I (temporarily) gave up the day job, I harboured the fantasy that writing would mean I was “self-directed”. Ha! Bring on those enchanted climes.

  4. Michael Andreoni permalink

    My wife and I have become reality T.V. snobs. We proudly remind each other that yes, we do watch “Chopped”, but not that moronic “Top Chef”. We’re too pitiful.

    • Hah! I envy you your discrimination. I watch both and would watch them simultaneously if I could–all my TVs piled on top of each other in honeycomb formation.

  5. Thanks for reminding why I’ve neither owned a nor watched television in 13+ years. 🙂

    • Wow, that’s a monastic vow of televisual celibacy I could not trust myself to keep. But I’ve spent several years of my life doing nothing but reading and writing. I still do that most of the time come to think of it…

  6. Hilarious post! I had been thinking of a cousin post: “Train Wreck Televsion.” I myself am not much for the “reality vote-them-off-the-island stuff” but I try to click past “Who is the daddy?” or Bridezilla, and the remote sticks. I sit there with my chin hanging down and can’t seem to look away. My theory is that it makes me feel better about my life; I am not a spoiled Bridezilla, and I know who my kid’s father is.

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