Thursday, December 9, 2010

On reality television.

I grew up in a household without cable, so I didn't watch TV as much as many of the children my age. In fact, I got the entirety of my TV fix from either visits to a relative's or my babysitter's house. Luckily, that was enough to instill me with a firm foundation in the pop culture of my generation. From Dexter's Lab to Hey! Arnold to the Power Puff Girls, I experienced what may have been the golden years of children's entertainment on television. Because, let's face it, cartoons these days are not nearly the same caliber as the ones from the 90's.

Once I stopped going to my babysitter's house, however, I stopped watching my after-school cartoons. I was old enough to realize that the internet and Neopets were now more interesting the kids' shows. Besides, the quality of the the shows was already starting to deteriorate with such atrocities as Totally Spies and the new cast of All That. My attention was shifted from one lifeless entertainment machine to another, and I was totally fine with that. Every once in a while when I'd visit my aunt and uncle I'd put on Animal Planet to watch Steve Irwin wrestle some gators. That was enough for me.

For a long time I didn't watch any television at all, save for what I had on DVD and what I could dredge up online. It was tough, though, since the videos I found were either branded with Korean subtitles or pirated and their host websites shut down. With the advent of Hulu, however, I found myself in heaven. I was no longer in danger of my favorite shows being pulled due to copyright violations. This shit was legal. And so I fell comfortably into a new routine, watching episodes of House and Monk as they aired, but never getting too hooked. Online TV was recreational, a quick-fix but nothing that kept me crawling back. I could stop when I wanted.

Then, one lonely Friday night, I came across an episode of Bridezillas. Within the first few moments of the show starting I could feel the rage building up inside me. These women were lunatics, totally batshit crazy, narcissistic, infantile psychopaths. And I got all that before the opening sequence started. But even though watching Valerie smash vases and destroy wedding cakes filled me with anger and disgust, I couldn't bring myself to turn it off. Something about that show wouldn't let me turn it off. It was sick, I felt horrified, and yet I kept watching. I finished the episode, my mouth hanging open in disbelief through all forty minutes. I was practically sick to my stomach, appalled that such a human actually existed somewhere in the world, was married and had a child. I wanted to erase the last hour from my memory, return to a time where I had no knowledge of such revolting creatures as these Bridezillas. I wanted to put on something fun and happy like 30 Rock, or Psych, which I new my good friend Hulu had waiting for me just a few clicks away. But I didn't.

I watched another one.

And another, and another, until I'd exhausted every link, every website with pirated videos of this abomination. I wanted more, but there was nothing left.

Come on, Hulu, I thought. Don't disappoint me.

And disappointed, I was not. There they were, five full episodes of The Real Housewives of New York. So long quality entertainment. Hello, trash.

And so began my sick love affair with reality television. If I were to be in a relationship with it on Facebook, it would be listed as "It's Complicated." Here I am, a relatively intelligent, somewhat well-adjusted college student. I tend to believe that I am somewhat intelligent, have good manners, and know more or less how one should treat other people. Reality TV showcases everything that I vehemently stand against. Pettiness, materialism, and stupidity are among the three personality traits required to be on such a show. And the women are usually complete bitches, too, although many times that actually proves to be the norm. The level of bitchiness, though, is absolutely off the wall. No human should ever behave the way I've seen woman behave on some of these shows. It kind of makes me want to vomit.
Maybe that's what it is that draws me to them. Maybe it's a case of "opposites attract," or something. Since I find myself to be generally not crazy, I am strangely fascinated by watching people who are. Their actions confound me so completely that observing them is almost like a science project.  I'm like Jane Goodall observing chimpanzees. Maybe I should start taking notes.

"The blonde skinny one with large implants made some progress today. She learning that crying, now matter how loud one does, may not achieve anything after all. I am proud of her. She is learning well."

So now when I sit down to watch old episodes of Rock of Love, I don't have to feel so bad. The first time I indulged, I felt horrible about myself. How can I watch this trash? I wondered. But now I think it is a very healthy and natural thing to be drawn to, and probably why there can be such hype about reality shows (Umm, Jersey Shore, anyone?). We are constantly seeking validation that we are normal, we are sane, our choices make sense, and so on. Watching people destroy their lives from the inside out through whatever insanity they are cursed with helps us remember that our heads are, in fact screwed on just fine. 

I always used to think that term was misleading, "reality television." Because, come on, what reality are these people living in? An alternate one, I suspect. But I realized that the name may be accurate, just in a different way than I originally thought. Shows like The Jersey Shore and The Real World help keep us grounded, help keep us grounded in the reality that we should really be worrying about: our own.

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