Reality TV: Sadism and Shame

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I read an interesting article this morning about the downfall of television. You can imagine the gist: Modern television – horrid. Keeping Up With the Kardashians – horrid. My inner snob shares similar views: “TV. Chewing gum for the eyes. Why, i’d much rather read a book.” 

The intellect in me – if one such exists – fantasizes about a me who consumes books on a daily basis and abhors television.  And while I can say that Keeping Up With the Kardashians is horrid (in my opinion), this admission doesn’t stop me from indulging in similar monstrosities such as Made in Chelsea and The X Factor.  I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’m actually looking forward to The X Factor starting this weekend, despite the fact that every year I watch it I want to tear my face off.  Two things here: 1. Shame 2. Masochism.

The former is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.”  Watching the X Factor, therefore, almost equates to an act of wrong doing.  Let’s consider this further.  For instance, I was catching up on #madeinchelsea yesterday and I literally said to my sister “I’m watching Made in Chelsea even though it’s shit”.  Note: It is always essential to make this disclaimer when watching reality TV or else it might be known to others that you actually enjoy it.  Let’s get to the root of this so-called shame.  It would appear that we think we’re better than reality TV – or at least some of us do (myself included).  I think I am, or at least should be, above the frivolity of talentless fame junkies seeking five minutes of fame.  I should be watching the news or the latest documentary on World War I. That’s that little snob in me. In reality, I have the propensity to like crap TV.  Does that make me an idiot?

Worse still, does that make me a bad person? Does watching these inane examples of television reveal something darker about ourselves? If anyone watched BBC’s Extras, you’ll recall Gervais gave a wonderful dialogue on the evils of fame and reality TV in the Christmas finale.  He compared the concept of Big Brother, X Factor and the like to the Victorian Freak Show, where viewers took pleasure in watching the participants publicly humiliate themselves.  Let’s face it, everyone’s favourite part of the X Factor is watching those without the “X Factor” and the Kardashians wouldn’t be worth keeping up with if it wasn’t for their tears and tantrums.

Inherently tied up in these themes is the concept of judgement.  Whether talent based or following the lives of individuals, we’re given an insight into real people’s lives.  Yes, “some scenes have been created for your entertainment”, but there is an overall guise of reality that previous television never offered us.  Given that luxury, we can get to know people and, most importantly, judge them.  “How could he do that?”, “That bitch”, “They sound like a dead cat” etc etc. Our position of unseen onlooker allows us to jump on our high horses and condemn the behaviour of others as “bad” or “wrong” while proclaiming that we  “would never do that”. 

This idea of judgement is also interesting from another perspective. We judge others who watch these shows, assuming their intellect to be lesser and their standards lower.  A dangerous, prejudiced assumption which leaves us feeling “ashamed” to be watching these shows in the first place.  It seems we’re all too eager to judge from either perspective.

As far as the future is concerned, it is unlikely that reality TV will disappear anytime soon.  Its ever increasing amount only reflects the ever increasing demand for it. Whether rightly or wrongly, this appears to be what society wants from their late night viewing.  According to the aforementioned, this can be attributed to the following:

  1. We’re closet sadists who get a kick out of watching people make idiots of themselves.
  2. We are, in fact, the idiots.
  3. We enjoy judging others as it makes us feel slightly better about ourselves.

That seems awfully condemning, doesn’t it? You’ll be glad to hear, I’m going to offer you a much more appealing alternative: it’s only TV.

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A Generation of Lost Boys – A Robin Williams Tribute

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I write this post in light of the recent passing of Robin Williams. I daren’t delve into questions of suicide and depression – i’ll leave that to the “professionals”.  I think instead what I will do, by way of tribute, is consider, not specifically the works of Robin Williams, but rather the genre, which to me at least, he embodied.  My intention is certainly not to pigeon hole his talent into this one category.  I am well aware of his vast capabilities and how well rounded an actor he was. To me though, Robin Williams is, and always will be, Mrs.Doubtfire… Peter Pan… Jack. 

We #90skids have a way of sensationalising the nineties.  Weren’t our movies and cartoons – even our toys – just the best? It is not for me to decide whether the nineties trumps the noughties or whether kids today really do have no idea what they’re missing.  At the end of the day, it’s subjective.  There was, however, something undeniably wholesome about this period in time.  Games, for one, generally involved more than one person and occasionally dared us to venture outside; sitcoms focused on the values of family life; and movies offered us a healthy alternative to reality.

Before horror got truly horrifying, before Pixar pixelated our screens, there was a delightful spell of what might best be described as “family films”.  Not animation but live action, fun for the whole family films. Honey! I Shrunk the Kids, The Mighty Ducks, Home Alone… I could go on forever baby (see what I did there?). There is something so quintessentially nineties about these films that it becomes difficult to even imagine them in today’s world.  Have we just outgrown them? Are their adventures not quite adventurous enough for the modern audience? Perhaps they are to the nineties what Westerns were to the sixties.   A time in space that we can appreciate and look fondly upon but will, most likely never, be revived… which, I guess, is fine. We have the DVDs and the memories.

It is these memories which, I believe, contribute such a huge part to our feeling of loss and grief over Williams’ death. People often ask how we can mourn over people we never knew, or why someone’s death is of more significance because they were “famous”. I would argue that we did know Williams. Perhaps not in a conventional sense but nonetheless in a very real way. To any kid who grew up watching this funny, rather hairy, man play an overgrown child, a nanny, a genie, Robin Williams encompassed a world filled with possibility.  He taught us many important lessons: that dude can sometimes look like a lady, that green goo is not a toy, and that under NO circumstances are we to play mysterious board games that appear to be playing the drums. Most importantly, he taught us that it’s ok to be silly. I think this is maybe why we’ll miss him so much. To many of us, he was much more than an actor; to a generation he represents a time in our lives when we felt truly happy.

To paraphrase Tinkerbell:

“You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where (we’ll) always love you, (Robin Williams).”

Unemployed and Unenthused

UnknownI have recently found myself unemployed. My life consists of early nights, naps and sleep ins. There is a prevalent theme here – sleeping.  This begs the question, what does one do when one has no job? It’s a frightening thought that spurs on many more frightening thoughts. Without a job, who are we? What is our purpose? Is our purpose in life inherently tied up in our professional pursuits? Does our personal life warrant so little attention that our identity is reduced to a 9 to 5 job? It sort of feels like it.

I’m 26. I have done everything by the book. I stayed at school until I was 18. I attained the highest possible grades. I went on to study the law because that was the sensible thing to do.  Giving the then precarious economy I completed a Masters. I did “the right thing” and worked with the homeless for a year.  Now, after all this, plus over two years in a “professional” work environment, I find myself unwanted, unneeded and frankly, a little alone.  In my mid twenties, I feel like a washed up has-been.

I am, of course, being slightly overdramatic. I have been officially out of a job for one month now – it just feels an awful lot longer. I’ve interviewed for four jobs – apparently just narrowly missing out to someone slightly more experienced than myself (I’m convinced that’s a just a lie to make me feel less terrible about myself). I’ve now reverted back to the proverbial drawing board, which has begged these larger philosophical questions. With days/weeks to stew over my “talents” and “skills”, I’ve come up with… well, not a lot.  Are these elements of our lives so overlooked that it requires an interview to scare us into remembering what it is that is good about ourselves? 

Surely our job – though entirely essential – should be secondary in our lives. Shouldn’t it follow success and happiness in our personal lives? Aren’t our family and friends, passions and beliefs paramount to anything that can be achieved on a professional level?  Perhaps we all need to take a little time out. Take stock of our lives. Appreciate our values and traits outside of the working environment. Maybe then, if we do find ourselves in this unpredictable position, we won’t be so afraid to answer the question “what are your skills?”

These are all just notions. Notions which have just slapped me in the face very recently. Maybe our jobs are that important. Maybe most people are generally quite balanced in their lives. Maybe I am, after all, quite alone.