Recently, as much as 75% of the television audience is watching reality television. We watch what happens when you put a bunch of people in a house and ask them just to live there.
On the Apprentice we watch competitors vie to be top dog. On an island we watch people struggling to survive. We look at the people on these shows and wonder why they would want to be watched. Why would anyone have millions of voyeurs watching the intimate details of their lives?
Television and pop culture has gone from “pop culture” to “peep culture” scrutinizing the lives and misfortunes of others. How quickly did the scripted format of Desperate Housewives get spun off into all the the versions of The Real Housewives ?
Author Hal Niedviecki, in his book The Peep Diaries, explains how we eat this stuff up: In Peep Culture he writes, “we all have lives worth SELLING“-not worth TELLING!
While we can criticize a culture where everyone can be an instant celebrity…While we can look askance at the Kardashians, instead of asking why they would want to be so watched – maybe we should ask ourselves: Why are we watching? These shows wouldn’t exist if we don’t binge on them.
Looking at these exaggerated characters on reality TV enables us to avoid doing something we really need to do. We need to be able to look at ourselves blemishes and all. And watching the supposedly “real lives” of others lets us off the hook from examining our own lives. We are so enthralled with the lives of others, that we never really look at how WE can be better.
There is a teaching that a person should have two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On the first, we should have written, “I am but dust and ashes.” This is to remind us, when we get too inflated and extreme in our sense of self, that we come from humble beginnings. And on the second slip of paper, we should have written, “For my unique self, the world was created.”
If we have one slip in each pocket, then as we go about our lives we will realize that we are between two extremes. Real life, not reality TV, is lived with the insight to know our worth, to steer clear of the extremes, and to reflect on how we might live better, humbler, but also stronger lives.