Sometimes, when I tell people that I occasionally watch Made In Chelsea/The Only Way Is Essex/Britain's Got Talent (delete as appropriate), they look at me as if I've just said, "I like hitting myself repeatedly, in the head, with a brick".
"But you're a smart girl!" they crow, dumbfounded. "You can't possibly enjoy that rubbish."
"Oh, but I can," I say.
And I do.
There's nothing worse than a culture snob: one who considers reality TV shows the horsemen of an apocalypse of stupidity. I object to the idea that one must be a lobotomised idiot to derive any enjoyment from them whatsoever. One day I might read Hermann Hesse and watch Three Colors. The next day, I might read Heat magazine. Liking 'low-brow' pursuits doesn't devalue my understanding of the former works of high art. Sometimes it even enhances it. That's what it means to truly appreciate culture, I think.
Although I have no personal interest in slathering myself in fake tan, I enjoy observing those who do. Like David Attenborough in Sugar Hut or Sigmund Freud at a hoedown, these clown-faced starlets are the equivalent of naked-breasted warrior women with clay plates in their lips. I might watch Made in Chelsea to observe, in their natural habitat, creatures so wildly exotic and unencumbered by mortal plight that looking good in fur is their greatest challenge. They are the natives, with their strange rituals and foreign tongue, and I am the anthropologist, trying to understand, looking for commonalities.
One objection to trash TV is that the people are talentless, but if you watch the aptly-named Britain's Got Talent, for example, you'll find plenty of diverse skills on display: shadow theatre, not-so-stand-up comedy, blind acts of total mentalism... Even if the show's stars are, by definition, talentless, that doesn't mean watching them is futile. Talentless people may be candid, charming, hilarious or compulsively fascinating. I might go so far as to say that being famous for being talentless is a talent in itself. Mark Wright and Stacey Solomon have both made a career out of it. Katie Price is a deranged egotist but that doesn't mean she's not also an extremely clever businesswoman. Same goes for the Kardashian clan.
Western culture has spurned far more horrific and destructive offspring than reality TV and its alumni. There are worse devils in the world than Spencer Matthews or Simon Cowell. I see more bogus bullshit being spouted on the Parliament Channel, or in the Square Mile.
Another objection to trash TV is that it 'isn't really real'. Though admittedly it is produced for entertainment purposes, there is only so much 'acting' these folks can manage. (If you saw Kirk Norcross attempt to locate America on a map, you'd know what I mean.) The unreality of reality shows is what makes them so entertaining, reading between the lines, knowing their stories will run off screen and onto twitter... It's glorious, gluttonous, unabashed muck.
A review of the recently premiered Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on TLC provides a good example: "an excuse to laugh at poor people and farting" says The Independent, ostensibly as a deterrent. But to the intended audience, 'poor people farting' is exactly what they need to expunge the remains of the day. I think it's brilliantly absurd: educated journalists sharpening their tongues on a TV show in which rednecks get paid $50,000 an episode (allegedly) to be rednecks. Their intellectual venom is directed at a tiara-wearing pig named Glitzy and a woman who says "I'm not fat. I only have two chins. Some people have five." (I mean, what about that isn't comedy gold? Seriously.)
Are these people being horribly exploited? I don't think so. It's probably the best (and only) job they'll ever have. Is it pointless and unseemly to rubberneck at the rednecks, at the so-called stupid people, at the common people, the fat, vain, deluded and ridiculous people? Perhaps, but it's more human than denouncing such shows and their performers as subhuman garbage with no value to society whatsoever.
It's arrogant to assume we can learn nothing from the habits and pastimes of 'regular folk', which is reality TV's purpose, after all -- to provide a platform for the ordinary. Though on face value trash television is about singing cat ladies, tiny dogs and people whose grasp of the English language is scarily questionable, it is also about psychology, politics and culture, society and humanity in all their ugly-beautiful glory.
When I was small, smaller than I am now, I learned a wise lesson from my Godmother, who, despite being very learned and cultured, loved nothing more than watching Blind Date on a Saturday night. At first I wondered why; eventually I realised she was interested in people for people's sake. It said a lot about her ability to appreciate the unique charms of different individuals, regardless of where they came from or what they did in life. Personally I find all kinds of people interesting, whether they're Nobel Prize winners, drug-addled lunatics, criminals, artistes or women with plastic anatomies.
Our culture is a product of us. We made it, and therefore it is real. It mirrors us. Every single part of us.
Whether we like it or not.
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