If we are what we eat, our minds and souls must surely be what we read and watch. About five years ago, I gave up watching TV. It wasn’t for a high-minded reason, there just wasn’t a lot coming out of the box that interested me. Not even with 134 channels. The final blow came with reality TV. I couldn’t stand to see the mean girls grown up and thriving, the bad boy bullies being encouraged. Of course the shows are scripted, and bad behavior is encouraged. If the shows were about kindness and satisfaction, no one would tune in.
Yes, I do watch the occasional TV show–and enjoy it. Life After People ia interesting–once you know a Twinkie will remain unchanged for centuries, others puzzling facts of life make sense. The Sopranos had excellent writing and casting, it kept me glued to the screen. And I watch Project Runway because talented people are chosen to create something original within a time limit. And yes, I wish the show concentrated more on sewing and less on snarking.
The shows that made me walk away were the shows that pit women against each other, or worse, elevate one woman to power over others, encouraging verbal and emotional cruelty and hurtful remarks as painful prods to get the contestants to take embarrassing action. Patti Stanger of The Millionaire Matchmaker is proud of her razor sharp tongue. She humiliates the rich into finding mates. I have a sneaking suspicion that the audience loved to see the rich getting yelled at for any reason.
Stanger’s abrasive, abusive style has made Bravo’s senior vice president for original programming, Andy Cohen, gasp, “I can’t believe what comes out of her mouth.” Other people not only can believe it, they love it. Last season, 1.6 people watched the show regularly, and bloggers called it “strangely invigorating” as Stanger yells at women to straighten their hair and grow it long to get a man, and tells men that “I want my dinner paid for and my car door opened for me. . . if you don’t swim an ocean, climb a mountain, and bring back the bacon. . .then snip, snip, I’m on to the next hunter.”
She is still looking for the next hunter. For all her advice, for the more than a million fans, for her straight, glossy hair that she whips like a weapon, Patti Stanger is not married. Nope, not even engaged, although she has been engaged. Her boyfriend of more than six year broke up with her some months ago. In fact, when asked about her inability to land the elusive hunter, she gets annoyed, brushes off the question as unimportant. Anywhere else in the business world, results count. Not on reality TV. If you can’t make it happen for yourself, why should anyone listen to your advice, much less follow it? Stanger staunchly claims that her brick-and-mortar business has a 99 percent success rate. She must be the missing one percent.
What makes reality TV work is that it’s not real. No one would watch a season of patience and kindness. Since the Romans watched lions eat gladiators and Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the fate of Jesus, humans like to watch misery and destruction. Most people claim it’s a release from real life, but it’s not. Our misery fits better if we believe other people have it worse. We rubberneck auto accidents so we can be happy it’s not our car, not our pain. We complain that video games are violent, but the paid-to-be-mean actors of reality TV have become our heroes, and we are following their lead.
Before you go back to your guilty pleasure of reality TV, enjoy this incredible video clip of a woman remembering the childhood question “Will I be pretty?” (she is). And yes, it’s from a TV show that I watch.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and life/creativity coach.