A fun debate has been going on between Sullivan and Woodward on whether the crap that is presented to us on Reality TV programs (the bulk of what appears on the Networks these days) is, in fact, real at all.
Sullivan says, “yes.” It is the reality of what people are like on reality shows.
Here’s Will Wilkinson on the subject:
I think Woods’ strongest argument would be that reality shows cannot reveal America’s Freudian Id because we are only ever shown people who thought it was a good idea to appear on a reality show. Reality TV selects for vain, emotionally volatile extroverts. Fear Factor doesn’t prove that, as a general matter, Americans will eat bugs for money. It proves that Americans who won’t eat bugs for money don’t show up at casting calls for Fear Factor. Sullivan’s argument that “There are simply too many of them—too many shows and too many people on the shows—for them not to be revealing something endemic” pretty clearly fails to get around the self-selection objection. But it does suggest that America contains a huge number of vain, emotionally volatile extroverts. That’s significant in itself. And surely the verbal and emotional scripts America’s dim, neurotic, self-infatuated chatterboxes most readily deploy are drawn from and thus indicative of the broader culture. “[T]he test-tube babies of Whitman and Poe,” are the monsters among us who most guilelessly channel and enact the ambient American spirit, and a huge swathe of the rest of us want to watch. It’s hard to see that as a “null” reality.
To me, it isn’t just the people ON reality shows that are reflections of who we are. Rather, it’s the people who WATCH them.
What does it say about American’s as a whole that we all watch at least one of this shows?
For me, it’s the Biggest Loser. And while I might defend myself saying things like, “It’s not like other reality TV. They actually DO help people. Contests show up on day 1 and are so fat that they will likely die an early death if they don’t lose the weight. And by the end of the show, they ALL lost the weight! That’s a GOOD thing.”
But, really, part of the fascination is that we like to watch fat people cry and tell us all of their reasons for being the way they are.
That’s true for all the Reality Shows. Reality shows are Soap Operas with real people. They express in over-the-top ways all the things that everyone in this country is actually feeling.
Sure, its ham-handed and “fake” in the ways that all drama is fake. But, sometimes fiction makes for the clearest reality.
I’m not going to go so far as to call this stuff Art. That’s not true. Most of it really is dumb. But, people watch it, and honestly identify with the people on screen because there is something about where America is, today, that is being reflected back accurately.
In my opinion, that “something” is the emotional flavor of life in a America.