Reality tv used to be one of my many guilty pleasures of tv watching. (The others are Lifetime movies and Wendy Williams.) But now there is very little pleasure in watching reality tv. Just like an alcoholic remembers that first innocent minty schnapps at grandmas, so does the reality tv addict remember their first reality show.
My viewing started innocently enough, sort of like social drinking, I began watching Survivor just to know what my friends and coworkers were talking about. By the end, I was enamored and rooting for “the old guy” Rudy. After that came The Real World, Flavor of Love, I Love New York, ad nauseum. I watched car wreck after car wreck. Embarrassing moments that would never die. Human beings reduced to caricatures. The worst behavior–violence, anger, humiliation– was endorsed and applauded and got the biggest ratings.
Fast forward to now to a world facing the worst challenges financially, politically, morally, spiritually that seem to have no solution. In the midst of it all reality tv hones in on the worst aspects of the nation’s climate–greed, fear, vanity–and rolls out a veritable feast of human behavior at it’s very worst.
And yet I watch. Like any addict knows, addiction is a progressive disease that leads to a life that has become unmanageable. (Just watch another reality show Intervention and find out more than you want to know about addiction.) I found out my addiction to reality tv was out of control when I was talking about Nene of Real Housewives of Atlanta as if I knew her. I waited for the next show like an alcoholic waiting for the bar to open.
But the shows were becoming increasingly bizarre and violent. There seemed to be no bottom too low to reach. In front of our eyes families were being torn apart, friendships shattered, lives exploding and imploding. And we still talked and laughed about it even though there really wasn’t anything fun anymore (ok, except for the gay guys in Atlanta wearing their high heels and fab outfits who seemed to be the only ones enjoying themselves and staying out of the fray).
Sometimes the offenses simply underlined the clueless and callous nature of the spoiled rich. For example a housewife bragged about her $25,000 sunglasses, while in the same episode the women attended a charity for children with cancer that netted $12,000 in proceeds. Let’s see sunglasses or saving a child’s life? Sunglasses, of course, that she wears on her head.
The pinnacle of how bad it had become was the suicide of one of the husband’s on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. You would think the show would be cancelled for the duration of the season, but instead Bravo decided to cash in on the tragedy and pretended that it was doing some sort of public service educating viewers about suicide and domestic violence.
And yet I watch with dread and guilt. What I once thought were pretty clothes are now gaudy costumes covering an array of fake body parts. The beautiful faces are lifeless masks. Though the women are all ridiculously wealthy, they just look ridiculously cheap–over accessorized (even Jersey girls would wince), overdressed and overbearing.
There’s nothing wrong to watch really rich people do really stupid things, but it seems as if we’re watching the demise of civilization and saying, “Hey pass the popcorn, numbnut!”