You know what bugs me? Unprovoked self-righteousness. You know what else bugs me? When people disparage "the media," without qualifying it at all, like it's some big multi-headed monster that needs to be spoken of in disdain. I like "the media." I like TV. I like TV a lot. Some of it's garbage, but so what? And I dislike even more this idea that "the media" tells us what to do like we're mindless robot sheep devoid of rational thought or free will. Pisses me off.
So imagine my chagrin when I'm cruising Facebook and I see that a friend of mine has posted a pretty (I thought) conscientious question regarding the marital health of Jon and Kate of that one show where there are like a million kids all crying a lot and the mom emasculates the dad like all the time, Jon & Kate Plus 8. For those of you not suckling at the teat of pop culture like me, Jon was basically caught cheating on Kate recently. He denies it, but come on, we all know he did it, right? I guess they're still doing the show regardless. I'm not sure if they've filmed this season pre-cheat or not, (and to be honest, I have never really seen more than 20 minutes of the show as we have no cable) but in any case, they're having troubles. On TV.
So my friend asked if anybody else was "sincerely concerned" about their marriage. As I said, I thought this was pretty great. I mean, these are real people here, with real emotions and real souls and real feelings and real children - eight of them! - not cartoon or sitcom characters or the kids on The Hills. These are real people whose marriage is flying to pieces like the fiberglass shell of a NASCAR, uh, car in front of a crowd of sweaty spectators, all hooting and hollering while the thing just burns. Sarah at least had the empathy to ask, "Is everybody okay?"
The responses to Sarah's concern ranged from refreshingly honest (one lady admitted that "We watch the ... shows together and discuss how stupid they are. Then we feel so good about ourselves :0)"), to sort of sad ("They chose fame and money from TV. What did you think would happen?"), to downright mean-spirited. ("Kate's a b***h. She treats him like crap. She's worried about her 'job' which is the show. I do not like that woman and I don't feel sorry for her at all." Ouch. Tell us how you really feel, man. Don't hold back.)
And herein lies the problem with reality TV. See, we all know it's more "TV" than "reality." Anyone who has watched more than, say, two hours of the stuff knows that what we're seeing is not even close to any semblance of reality. For one, these people know they're being filmed and eventually watched and therefore their reactions/comments, etc. are filtered through that knowledge. And we as the viewer know that what we're being shown is edited and, in some respects [gasp!] scripted. (A dirty little secret that came out during the recent WGA strike.) The illusion of reality is thin at best and consequently, we begin to relate to these people as we would the cast of Friends: they're just characters, and in some cases, caricatures. Reality TV, more often than not, is just "regular" TV with worse actors.
So it's easy to think that we know these people definitively enough to say, "They asked for it," or "They knew what they were getting into," or worse, "They deserve it." And you know what, that's fine, I guess. As somebody who spends a lot of time worrying about fictional characters and places, (the characters of Lost, the Star Wars universe, the plight of Seaguy, etc.) I really can't begrudge anybody else for doing the same for their semi-fictitious reality show characters.
For example, American Idol. I don't get it. But a lot of people love that show. Personally, I think it's responsible for some pretty rotten music and is a blight on pop culture. It makes me feel crazy when I watch it because I just look at the screen, listen to what's coming out of it and say to myself, "Do people actually like this music? Really?" (Although I'm self-aware enough to know that the show is more about the drama of it than the actual music. It's like a sporting event spread across a season.) But what do I know? Same thing with J&K+8. Never seen more than a bit of an episode, but I can see that attraction, especially for moms. I can see how the exploits of a family of 10 can be of some entertainment and educational value and I can see how one could get wrapped up in the storyline surrounding such a sideshow.
Apparently, there was one commenter that couldn't see it. Allow me to quote:
"seems to me there is a lot of free time on our hands if we can sit here and pick apart this failing marriage. This country is in deeeeep sh!t if we will continue to allow the media to show us what we should be concerned with. The best that could be done, is to shut all of this crap out of our lives and homes, and to put more focus on our own families."
For those of you who don't speak Condescendo, the lingua franca of Piousland, let me translate:
"seems to me there is a lot of free time on our hands if we can sit here and pick apart this failing marriage." means: "I am better than you because I don't waste time on such trivialities as a TV show. And come on, I can't believe that you would actually think or talk about what you watched. That's just crazy. Why would you care about figuring out where this marriage went wrong? How could that help your life at all? I mean, how can watching and discussing another couple's marriage help you in your own marriage? What could you possibly take away from that? That's just crazy. Obviously, entertainment can serve no purpose beyond wasting time and defiling our minds."
"This country is in deeeeep sh!t if we will continue to allow the media to show us what we should be concerned with." means: "We are all sheep and have no control over digesting what we ingest media-wise. I mean, if you see something, you obviously believe it, right? We all know this. Why would you ever question or dissect or filter what you watch, especially if people like me just call you time-wasters for doing so? Also, the media is evil and is secretly trying to turn us all into gays. My neighbor watched an episode of Will & Grace and three months later turned into a gay. The only defense is to be paranoid and self-righteous at all times and to wear this nice tin-foil hat."
"The best that could be done, is to shut all of this crap out of our lives and homes, and to put more focus on our own families." means: "The obvious reaction to things I don't agree with is not to confront them or try and understand them, it is to cloister myself up in my own little bubble and look down on everybody else cuz that's how I roll. Now if you'll excuse me, there's a hermetically-sealed bomb shelter packed with cans of Pork N Beans that I must get back to. The sun. It burns us."
Obviously, I'm not being fair. And if the person who wrote that comment were to read this, I'd feel bad because I'm sure they mean well, but man, why would you go out of your way to tell somebody that, basically, they're dumb for liking and discussing something that they like without at least leavening their statement with a little understanding rather than contempt? Here was my response:
"I'm as guilty as anyone of being sucked in by this kind of stuff (I've watched my fair share of baaad reality TV), but doesn't it start to feel like highway rubbernecking on a societal scale after a while? All of us craning our necks, saying, 'Is anybody hurt? How badly? Is that blood? Was that a foot?! WAS THAT A FOOT!!! Oh man, I'm sure glad that's not me.'
"Like I said, I'm not gonna get all pious here. America's Funniest Home Videos is a family staple in our house, and that's pretty much human pain and misery set to funny sound effects, so I will cast no stones about your J&K+8 fascination."
But I just did what pissed me off, didn't I? I totally just got all high and mighty and said, in not so many words, "I'm better than you because I'm so fair-minded and you're so paranoid and pious," didn't I? I just fought self-righteousness with self-righteousness. [sigh] Dang.
Anyway, so yeah, I blogged. About Jon & Kate + 8. Surely the end is nigh. Also, did anybody actually read all of this? And did I come off like a total condescending jerk or what? Just curious.