I have a confession to make: I watch a lot of TV. It’s pretty excessive. I don’t do it when I should be doing other things. Instead, I just save it all up for a large chunk of time when I catch up on at least 10 different ongoing shows. At the same time, I always have a backup show that I am seasons behind on to eventually catch up on, and then add to the ever-growing list of continuous shows. It’s a very meticulous system. Having such a large collection of television programs that I regularly consume, you can imagine that I enjoy quite a variety of different genres. I’ve watched drama, comedy, procedural, sci-fi, sitcom, fantasy, even musicals. But here comes the really controversial part. A good portion of my television watching is spent watching reality shows.
I guess it’s my guilty pleasure, though I really don’t feel any guilt about it. I prefer to see it as a testament to my character. If I’m spending every spare minute watching Dance Moms or American Idol, at least I’m not out at a kegger or doing cocaine. Everyone has a different path toward the straight and narrow. Mine is led by Tim Gunn and Honey Boo-Boo.
I honestly don’t have a good explanation for my fascination with these people. The only thing I can do is quote my mom who says, “It’s like watching a train wreck. It’s horrible but you can’t look away.” And I haven’t looked away, in some cases for 10+ seasons. But it can be pretty horrible. The strange fact that we find entertainment in simply watching the lives of other people unfold is not lost on me. Yes, it’s an extraordinary story that Kate Gosselin has a set of twins and sextuplets but why does that make me want to watch her do laundry? I’m the first one to announce that average people can be the most interesting. One day, it will be my job to display that. And on second thought, the news is not much different than reality television. Sure, some things are staged and there are probably some scripted moments, but the perceived result is similar. Both aim to portray real stories to the concerned public. I suppose the difference is in the intention. Reality tv mirrors aspects of the worst kind of journalism. It embellishes, exploits, and embraces disaster. In a tv show, these components are acceptable, but only until we remember that these are real people living real lives.
But I like to think that those scandalizing moments are not what keeps me coming back to watch Little Women: LA…and Dallas…and New York…and Atlanta. But I will admit that it is easy to forget that the characters on these shows are not like the fictitious characters for whom we do not apply ethical standards. It’s ok to want the villain in a movie to die. But your least favorite contestant on Survivor has a real family at home too. That’s the hard part that needs to be kept in check. But the opposite is also true. When I root for my favorite dancer on So You Think You Can Dance, or identify with one of the million Duggar children, I am making a real human connection. It may be one-sided, but it still adds a personal aspect to the viewing experience that reaches beyond a television screen. It’s more than I could ever feel for Meredith Grey or Lorelai Gilmore, no matter how much I love the idea of them. They are not real people. But if we can remember that the contestants or families we watch on a reality show are real people, that gives a much more powerful opportunity for people to relate and be inspired. Is it still a train wreck sometimes? Absolutely. But there is a light at the end of it. And as for me, I’ll just take solace in the fact that I have not yet plunged to the depths of no return. After all, I have yet to be sucked in by the Kardashians.