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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, December 27, 2013

REALITY?

"Reality TV looks in only one direction: down."
-James Wolcott

I have watched a few episodes of Duck Dynasty, and its fairly entertaining.  There are some shows that make me feel like I'm wasting my time and I feel guilty for watching them, and almost all "reality television" falls into that category.
If there's not something that I learn or gain from watching in a reality show, I don't care to view it.  I think that's part of why I don't like sitcoms, either.  They feel like a gigantic waste of time to me.
But there's another aspect to "reality television" that bothers me, and I suspect its something that bothers others as well.  A commenter on American Digest summed the problem up like this:
Almost all "reality" tv is the result of so-called liberal conformists holding ordinary people up to ridicule.  The pretext for each show may differ, but the ultimate intent is identical---to laugh at someone else's frailty and enjoy a catharsis of social superiority. Look how funny these peoples' values are! Look how absurd they are! How ridiculous! Don't you feel superior? (That's one of the reasons I hate the Walmart shoppers photographs---they're just unkind. Funny, maybe, but unkind.).
Journalistically, there'a big difference between the Charles Kuralt-style delight in human eccentricity and the frankly condescending and spiritually immature worldview of today's media. In truth, most people are pretty humble in their abilities, interests and aspirations. They are also capable of deep sincerity, generosity and kindness. The left media has no understanding or respect for any of these virtues---which just demonstrates the depth of their moral sickness.
This came up in response to an article in the NC Register which suggested that Duck Dynasty was only picked up by A&E out of an intent to mock and deride.  The show was meant to be a lampooning of the bitter clingers, a display of their stupidity, hypocrisy, and bigotry.  Pat Archbold writes:
This is what happened. The whole idea of the show was to parade these nouveau riche Christian hillbillies around so that we could laugh at them. "Look at them," we were supposed to say. "Look how backward they are! Look what they believe! Can you believe they really live this way and believe this stuff? See how they don't fit in? HAHAHA"
When the producers saw the way the show was shaping up, different than they envisioned it, they tried to change course. They tried to get the Robertson's to tone down their Christianity, but to their eternal credit they refused. They tried to add fake cussin' to the show by inserting bleeps where no cussword was uttered. At best, they wanted to make the Robertson's look like crass buffoons. At worst they wanted them to look like hypocrites. They desperately wanted us to laugh at the Robertsons. Instead, we loved them.
This very well may be true, it certainly has the ring of truth, but at this point it seems merely speculation.  However what is certain is that the primary appeal of "reality" TV for viewers is spectacle and mockery.  People didn't watch the Osborne family out of a love of Ozzy's music and a desire to see what wisdom he would share, but out of the same thing that gathers a crowd when someone is on a ledge pondering suicide.
Back in Victorian England and a bit earlier, the insane asylum Bedlam would raise money by allowing people to visit and watch the insane people.  You could pay a few pennies to go see some loony in a cell doing crazy things and often scandalous stuff that wasn't generally available for viewing.  And that's what reality TV is now.  Its a chance to watch crazy people do strange, ridiculous stuff.
You can tell that this is the case by how the producers will emphasize and even set up ridicuous and outrageous things and try to build conflict.  A few words said in frustration are cut together with an angry look and you suddenly get drama and conflict!  The ordinary work of a job is ignored, but the time when the job gets hard or crazy, that's what gets showed.
According to people who have been on these shows in the past, things are cut and spliced together out of context and without relation to how its showed.  They keep footage of all kinds of things.  A girl is crying because she's homesick, they film it.  A guy gets mad and yells, they film it.  Some guy on the editing floor splices them together and you get a mean guy picking on a girl - that's good television!
The entire purpose of this is to give people a sense of superiority, to give viewers the feeling they aren't so bad after all.  People expressly say that about reality shows.  I used to feel like my family was nuts until I watched [insert show title here].
There's something basically shameful about this attitude, but it is common in all of us, I suspect.  The need to feel better about yourself, even if its at the expense of others.  And since reality TV is so cheap to create, its not going away.  The concept is so cheap and easy to produce, they can ram out dozens of these a season and reap big profits.  As Ace points out at his HQ:
Like the eight reality tv shows about auctioning off the contents of abandoned lockers. Or HGTV's and DIY's six thousand shows about home repair and flipping houses.
Cable TV is becoming more like the Internet -- a quickie burst of shallow information and entertainment which you need no context for, need no investment in, and which you can watch in five minute intervals and then just walk away.
And that makes it very, very good at providing people (like me) with a low-cost, low-investment way to waste precious time, never really realizing how much time is being wasted until one realizes one just spent five hours watching "Holmes Makes It Right."
Duck Dynasty isn't unique in this, its rather typical, and the guys clearly are playing this up to entertain.  They don't need to do all that crazy redneck stuff, Cy really isn't that clueless and loopy, its just good television.  And people eat it up because its fun.  And unlike most of these shows, the guys on the show aren't continually swearing and getting into shameful situations.
In fact, the few shows I've seen have primarily been just the guys doing ordinary stuff, like getting a loaner truck while their own gets worked on because his son banged it up in an accident.  And having the nephew and niece dumped on him so their moms can go shopping.
I can see why this appeals to people other than just "spot the loony" because there's more to these shows than just spectacle and train wreck watching.  They are entertaining because they entertain; an episode of Duck Dynasty is like a comedy bit by Bill Engvall, just describing the silly and crazy stuff that happens in life in an amusing way.
Its just significant to me how many of these shows are about merely feeling superior and mocking different aspects of life.  Marriage, child rearing, family life, work, etc.  These honorable and proper ideas are turned into a target of derision, and I am certain that it is on purpose.  Because that shapes culture and perception.

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