Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Everyone Is Not A Celebrity

Is it just me or has this reality show craze gone too far? There was a reason why everyone was not on TV before, because not everyone had talent. While I agree there is hidden talent all across the country, not everyone has it. I am not a fan of the television medium in general and the reality show genre in particular. I find it difficult to watch ordinary people make fools of themselves for their 15 minutes of fame. It seems that with each and every passing year Andy Warhol’s famous for 15 minutes is more and more prophetic. What does it say about a culture when we take the trivial and mediocre and elevate it to celebrity status? Are we so starved for entertainment that watching self-obsessed and obnoxious bores is now considered art?

I am of the opinion that the real attraction to these shows is not the search for unsung talent but that good ole American tradition of watching train wrecks. What is it about the misfortunes of others that we find so enthralling? I shudder to think what future historians and anthropologists will write about our current culture. I wonder will they write about how we have replaced the fine art forms of poetry, painting, and music with rap, tattoos, and reality television. It appears we are rapidly becoming a nation of voyeurs who weekly peer into the lives of others for virtues and calamities that allow us to live vicariously through them. As our modern world relies more and more on technology it is becoming increasingly easier to replace face to face interaction and relationships with these contrived and detached interactions and relationships. We have replaced the virtues of serving the common good and self-sacrifice with this self-absorbed and do anything for a chance to see myself on television mentality.

My biggest concern with this type of entertainment is that it blurs the boundaries of fantasy and reality in the minds of many viewers. It cannot be reality once you introduce a camera. Regardless of the subject or the topic once you include a camera in the proceedings people are no longer spontaneous or real. They respond to the presence of the camera either in overly exaggerated or in understated ways depending on their circumstances and their personalities. I mean how is it spontaneous to watch Paris Hilton performing menial tasks when she is aware of the presence of a camera or for that matter a house full of strangers who know their every move is being recorded? Everyone knows the camera is there so where is the reality? Even with the cop shows their behavior is dictated by the camera. To some degree or another it is all scripted and edited. So what we are witnessing are isolated moments that are designed to illicit the most responses from the viewers and to reinforce previously held stereotypes. These shows for the most part appeal not to our higher natures, but to our lower natures.

Another concern I have is how so many relish in the humiliation of others in front of millions. It is not enough that people are defeated but they must be defeated in the most degrading and shameful ways. We tell ourselves it is just entertainment and no one is hurt, but think about what it is reinforcing in our culture. What are the values that are being offered by these shows; that it is ok to treat others in this way for the purpose of entertainment? In most cases it is success or winning at all costs. These shows glorify dishonesty, selfishness, and spite. Success and fame are to be sought after at the detriment of all other goals. Forget the fact that success as defined by these narrow standards is unobtainable for most people. You can find fame and wealth not through hard work and sacrifice but through displaying the worst traits of our common natures. We no longer celebrate the journey and all of the life lessons learned through it, but instead we celebrate that the ends justify the means. There is nothing to be learned through effort and defeat only in winning is there something of value.

We are allowing our popular culture to lead us astray and in the process we are losing sight of what things are truly important. This popular culture has no values to teach us that are lasting and meaningful. It has only one value money. How one gets it is immaterial to the fact that one has it. We see it in the videos of rappers, the greed of Wall Street, and the behavior of our public and elected officials. According to this culture if you are not white, rich, skinny, and beautiful your worth is diminished and the value of your life is depreciated. If you happened to be one of the unfortunate ones who do not possess all of these qualities not to worry they can still be yours for a price. And once in hand these things will lead you to a life of happiness and popularity. Instead of creating an atmosphere that will bring us closer together this type of entertainment only fosters stereotypes and further alienates us from each other. As we become increasingly separate from each other the easier it will be to humiliate and degrade one another for the sake of entertainment or just for the hell of it.

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