In Defense Of Reality TV

Today, in the Washington Post, Robin Givhan writes that "a curse has befallen the best of trash television. It has been afflicted by hubris. It has succumbed to uninspired titillation." And that's a bad thing?

Givhan is a fan of reality TV, but makes a distinction between "high-class" ones and the rest of them. But the line between them, she feels, is becoming blurred. And while I agree that some shows are better than most, I wouldn't exactly say they're "high class." They just have better concepts/casts/editors. Also, our opinions on what shows are "better" than others—and what makes them so—differs.

Frankly I think that shows like American Idol, Top Chef, and Project Runway—all of which Givhan champions—are the biggest offenders when it comes to being afflicted by hubris. These shows actually reference their own "integrity." The fact that they believe that they have any is laughable. I mean, modest success aside, has any winner from Project Runway ever gone on to have their clothes on the cover of Vogue? Has any American Idol winner actually ever achieved idol status in a Madonna/Britney/Mariah sense? Has any Top Chef winner ever been the top chef in America? Let me put it to you this way: In 50 years, will we see anything of these people in the Smithsonian that doesn't involve a display of their respective shows? The titles that they win are about as authentic as the hair dangling from beneath Bret Michaels' bandanna.

That said, I like that Givhan is an unabashed reality TV fan, because I hate when people get all uppity about the genre, particularly when it comes to shows like Rock of Love or Bad Girls Club. Remarks about how such shows are an indication of our society's decline, or "How can anyone watch this crap?" confuse me, because you'd think people who believe they are above that kind of programming would at least be grateful that it exists, as it provides solid evidence in proving their superiority. People can't pretend that they don't like seeing other people act like idiots. Schadenfreude is more real than reality TV itself.

Besides, not only is it id on TV, it's id on our couches, which is probably the healthiest, most cathartic way to deal with our pleasure principle. It provides a forum in which we can laugh at others' misfortune and embarrassment, and be jerks in the privacy of our own homes, without having to be assholes for real.

If anything, I love shows like RoL and Toddlers & Tiaras, as it provides a peek into human behavior I don't encounter in my everyday life. And while Givhan doesn't want to see "paternity testing, toothless protagonists and scenes during which more than 50 percent of the dialogue has to be censored," I live for that shit, because it shows a side of humanity that might not be pleasant, but certainly exists. When it comes to reality, I like it — genital warts and all.

A Wrong Turn On TV's Escape Route [Washington Post]
Earlier: 20 Best Reality TV Show Moments Of 2008