Why “Reality TV” is More Real Than Most People Want to Believe
The rapid and sustained rise of “reality television” is one of the most significant shifts in the nature and content for that medium since it came into existence. What started out with a few surprise hits in the late-1990s has become the dominant form of TV programming for the last few years. There were those who thought that reality TV was just another passing fad before people returned to the highly formulaic and bland TV shows which dominated TV for the previous 4-5 decades. However the success of reality TV and its subsequent metamorphosis into various subgenres have relegated conventional TV sitcoms to the background. But this post is not about trends in reality TV or the future of that genre. Instead it focuses on one of the main lines of criticisms leveled at such shows.
Reality-based TV shows are often lambasted for selecting, promoting and rewarding their participants based on their levels of superficiality, obnoxiousness, narcissism and ability to manipulate other people.
To put it another way, some critics of reality TV say that it depicts pretty, petty, egoistic and especially greedy sociopaths winning against ‘normal’ people. According to those same critics, this is supposedly “not realistic” and sets a bad example for viewers. They fear that it might convince ‘normal’ people to behave like vain, greedy, back-stabbing and manipulative assholes.
So, does this criticism hold any water? Does reality TV really reward pretty, vain, greedy and manipulative types more often than in real life? Is the attitude, behavior and mindset of those who win or become popular through reality shows significantly different from those who succeed in contemporary societies? Do we really reward honesty, integrity, competence and ability over looks, image and generic sociopathy?
Look around you. What do you see? What personality types are concentrated in high-earning and high-status professions?
Have you ever seen a competent CEO who is devoted to the future of the company they head or those who work for him (or her)? How many highly-paid CEOs have even a cursory understanding of the products and technologies their corporations make or develop? What about the board of directors and higher levels of management in corporations? How do these people reach those positions in the first place? Is it through knowledge, integrity or competence? Or is it through meeting and socializing with others at “elite” schools, universities and social clubs? How many rise to their positions from inside the corporation and how do they achieve that? Don’t most of them just parachute into their jobs because they know the ‘right’ persons?
Or take businessmen. Most want you to believe that they are truly special and deserve every penny they make. But do they? How many got successful because they were in the right place at the right time? How many benefited from having the ‘right’ contacts? How many were to screw over slightly less-sociopathic competitors or partners? How many inherited their wealth? Hoe many paid legislators to facilitate a ‘legal’ monopoly or oligopoly? How many lives were destroyed to pave their path to success? How many rely on government handouts to run their business well enough to make a profit? How many give anything back to the society that gave them all those handouts, special privileges and supplied their employees?
Some of you might believe that the ‘competence based’ professions such as medicine, law or academia are relatively free of such people. Well.. think again! Ever wonder what factors determine your acceptance into medical school? Sure, there are the so-called “objective” criteria such as your MCAT and GPA scores. But aceing those will only get you interviews. The final decision about admitting somebody into a monopoly-protected area such as medicine is based upon saying the “right” things, kissing the asses of the “right” people, pulling the right strings and generally pretending to be someone you are not.
Law school is not much better. Sure, the admission process in most reasonably good law programs is more meritocratic than medical school. But what about the outcome? Will a lawyer who has graduated from a reasonably good state university have the same career trajectory as someone who graduated from an ivy-league university? and why is that so? Is the lawyer from the reasonably good law school that much inferior to his (or her) counterpart from an ivy league law school? What if they have scored the same on all standardized tests and exams? Which brings me to next question- How do you get into an ivy league law school as opposed to one in an established state university? Is it just your LSAT score and GPA or is it more about knowing the “right” people, getting the “right” references, having the “right” CV profile and saying the “right” things?You get my point..
Academia is very similar to law school. Sure, you can get into a decent post-graduate degree program if you are reasonably smart and motivated. But what happens after that? Are you ever going to get an academic position, let alone one that is somewhat decently paid, unless you studied under the “right” academic in the “right” university? Can you really exercise academic freedom and support viewpoints that are not in fashion or considered to be “un-correct” (not incorrect)? Are you ever going to rise in the academic hierarchy unless you are a ruthless politician, slave driver and conman- all rolled into one.
The same is true in pretty much every other area of life. Society reward the most manipulative, narcissistic, dishonest and superficial with massive rewards that have no relation to the real contribution of those people to that society. At the same time- it also abuses, punishes and impoverishes those who are honest, competent and hard-working while simultaneously insisting that they should keep on playing the rigged game.
The unpleasant truth is that we reward people in real life for exactly the same reasons we reward them in reality TV shows. Therefore these shows are, at best, slight exaggerations of how society actually works in real life.
what do you think? Comments?