When I began this blog, one thing Beliefnet wanted me to explore was what inspiration or faith lessons could be gleaned from so-called “reality television” shows.
Hmm. Well, there’s no doubt there is a plethora of them. Survivor and Big Brother began the craze more than a decade ago. The shows’ terminology caught on as quickly as their purported morality-in-microcosm appeal (or, as the seasons progress, the lack of morality and/or ethics, some might argue).
Voted Off the Island. Immunity Idol. The Tribe Has Spoken — all Survivor terms that have become part of our cultural language. And don’t forget Big Brother, where the HOH (Head of Household) may nominate you for Eviction, and then only by winning the Power of Veto can you save yourself or an ally.
But as I said earlier, plethora. Reality TV shows propagated like proverbial rabbits, and while they never were true representations of “real” life, they have stretched the believability of even the most ardent, intentionally naive of their viewers.
After all, it’s one thing to be, supposedly, abandoned on an island (or in a desert, jungle, etc.), or locked with strangers in a house (albeit one with cameras monitoring every move and word). Even the rags-to-riches appeal of American Idol, and its unknown singers competing for the favor of celebrity judges and national audiences, seems to fall somewhere within the realm of possibility.
But really — Ghost Hunters? Turn. On. The. Light. No spooks.
It’s not all so bad, though. However contrived, some of these shows appeal to more than greed, backstabbing, lying, cheating and using other human beings for fame and a big cash prize. I suspect for every viewer out there who falls for the “situational” nature of participants’ moral decisions — indeed, the decidedly postmodern ethics (in a nutshell, there is no authority beyond one’s self, and thus morality is relative) — there must be another watcher who sees the emptiness of such a lifestyle.
Well, I hope so.
- Full disclosure: I find myself tuning into Deadliest Catch (I cried a little when Captain Phil died), Ice Road Truckers and Whale Wars (who wouldn’t root for the Sea Shepherds trying to foil the slaughter of these intelligent, social, endangered fellow mammals, right?) And Dirty Jobs? Even my retired minister father likes to see host Mike Rowe up to his ears in muck, while waxing poetic about the hardworking, blue collar men and women of America.
But back to Survivor– and Big Brother-esque shows. Honestly, deep down, don’t we want to see these self-absorbed, rudderless souls take a long, hard fall? We want the “right” to triumph, eventually. It’s our desire for that outcome –perhaps amid our own moral and ethical failures to find someone even more despicable than ourselves — that drives us to tune in, week after week.
Or, is such entertainment as often as not an excuse by projection, as it were, to tell that whole “conscience” thing to give us a break? We’re not, after all, that bad.
Fully realizing there are myriad nuances to this genre and what people take from it, I would love to hear your opinions and observations. Comment away!