September 29, 2007

A Culture Of Meanness

First Published on my now defunct Random Acts of Thought blog on August 28 2005
Interestingly it predates the whole shilpah shetty on big Brother, racism brouhaha by quite a while.

Probably one of the biggest developments in television over the last 10 years has been the growth of reality TV.

MTVs Real World, was the grandaddy of reality TV shows. The basic premise was very simple by todays standards. A bunch of goodlooking teenagers are given a fully furnished apartment on the condition that their lives their are filmed and they discuss their experiences on camera. Looking back now the early real worlds look almost quaint.

Perhaps the most patently absurd claim is any correlation between reality and the ever more bizarre and outlandish scenarios into which these shows thrust their "heroes"

Far from being "reality" or unscripted these shows follow formats designed to bring up out very predictable outcome. The humiliation and embarassment of their contestants. Reality television is essentially pornographic.. And as in the case of pornography an increasingly jaded audience requires ever more graphic and vivid thrills. The contestants must be made ever more uncomfortable, the embarassment must be made more accute. And like a lot of pornography it is fundamentally about power dynamics and little else.

Reality TV is not "reality" anymore than hardcore pornography is a full reflection of human sexuality but a crude caricature that debases those who produce and those who consume it.

These shows are fueled almost entirely by negativity. They demean those who take part and those who are titillated by them. Ostensibly shedding light on human nature they are instead designed to bring out the very worst in both their participants and their audience.

Adults should try to be better. Adulthood as a social not just biological reality is very important, and I sometimes worry that we are losing that. Adulthood entails moral as well as finanical responsibilities...

How can a parent teach children respect for other people, when they consume "entertainment"
whos main purpose is to humiliate and tear down other people, and to violate their dignity?

To me Jackass is the bottom of the line... Approaprately its an MTV show the same channel that gave birth to the reality TV genre in the first place.

Jackass is about watching someone getting physically hurt, fired at with Taser guns, walloped with hockey pucks and made to participate in ever more bizarre and painful stunts.
Often it is followed by closeup of the bruises he has aquired doing these stunts as if to verify the authenticity of the pain he is inflicting on himself for other peoples amusement. Again the parallel to the porn industry jumps out at me. I

I really dont know where it will end....

I think the envelope of decency will keep getting pushed until it breaks.

The TV station will misjudge their contestants capacity for mental or physical abuse and someone will seriously harm themselves or another person

Everyone who watches this stuff will be to blame.

A Curious Role Reversal

First published on my now defunct blog Random Acts of Thought
on October 13 2005 in a slightly different form

I was thinking yesterday about how ironic it is that conservatives and liberals in the United States, switch roles on the evolution vs creationism debate.

Conservatives who mostly believe in the creative power of free markets unfettered by topdown government control are often utterly unable to apply this thinking to the evolution vs inteligent design/creationism debate... suddenly structure and order are inconceivable without the existence of a benevolent central planner.

Similarly liberal who snub their noses at anything so crass and unsophisticated as a personal god making design decisions from his government office in the sky, become convinced that just such a figure is necessary to produce a "community"

It seems to me that Charles Darwin and Adam Smith go hand in hand. Both explain how competition creates order even in the absence of design. If you understand The Origin of Species you ought to be able to grasp The Wealth of Nations. Natural selection and the hidden hand of the marketplace are two aspects of the same phenomenon
A great article on reason points out four biases that seem hardwired into human beings and ensure that democratic societies pursue collectively irrational courses of action. Required reading!