It’s naive to be surprised.

“It’s brilliant because I could’ve done it.”

For nearly a generation, now, “Reality T.V.” has been spreading through the minds of Americans like a bizarre virus. When I was a younger, MTV was actually non-stop music videos. Parents of that generation likely felt much the same about the fascination induced by repeatedly watching the same bizarre four-minute sequences to music they found to be shallow–just a bunch of damn noise–over and over and over again. Adults of the MTV Generation must have feared that such time sinks that seemed to hypnotize the teenage brain would mean trouble for society moving forward.

The problem is that this phenomenon is destined to cycle forever. Now, rather than music videos, we have reality television which, rather than a bunch of contrived plot sequences fit together in one of a couple hundred possible ways, seems to draw the attention of teens with its ordinary complexity. They get to watch people who are essentially just as fucked up as the ones they interact with in real life. The shallowness when compared to a carefully scripted program is actually appealing to the target audience because the rich and deeply flawed interactions are actually ordinary and familiar. Rather than watching the flowery fabrication of an ideal romance, family bliss, and scripted conflict that is happily resolved, reality avoids that inevitable perspective that so many get when watching such shows: goddamnit, my life is really fucked up.  Instead, viewers get to watch characters just as messed up, if not worse, than they are. This offers a relieving camradarie that the melodramatic simply cannot touch.

Similarly, when characters are built in television shows which embrace an enviable ideal of some sort, viewers exact tremendous satisfaction when the actors who portray such roles crash and fall because in a way, it allows us to see that the idyllic mode of the program is a mere illusion. No one is really that happy, that clever, that lucky, that fulfilled.

Alas, the curse of the appeal of the ordinary has taken an ugly turn in the political arena with the rise in the appeal of the Palins, Pelosi’s, and Bachman’s, we can see that appeal of the ordinary. We relish the failures of elevated figureheads (the Clinton’s, Schwarzenegger’s, and closeted GOP hypocrites) because we seem to enjoy it when they turn out to be every bit as human as the rest of us. But while those like Clinton marched behind a facade that we finally got to witness collapse much like witnessing the humanity of an actor in a scripted drama, the new strain of politicians are embraced like reality television. They wear their ignorance proudly on their sleeve and with grandiose anti-intellectualism, bash those conversations that require more than a tenth grade education.

“I used to like Palin. But she was a little brainy.
Now I’m a Bachman supporter.”

It is a downward spiral to be sure. Intellectual laziness may well be our undoing; however, the American environment has historically responded well to a crisis. I wonder, though, if we keep deferring the crisis with artificial extensions, is it possible to construct a maelstrom from which we cannot escape? Is the rest of the world watching the American sitcom as if it were Two-and-a-Half Men…just waiting for Charlie Sheen to completely implode and unravel the illusion of an endless supply of hedonistic excess?


2 Comments to “It’s naive to be surprised.”

  1. csyork 31 August 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    Have you seen the movie Idiocracy?

  2. Jon K 1 September 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    Not yet. It’s in my NetFlix queue.

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