This week, in between the coverage of the gun debate, immigration reform and North Korea’s rendition of Rocket Man, CNN, FOX and MSNBC all decided to tackle a hard-hitting news piece on reality-TV star Farrah Abraham. Let me see if I can sum up Farrah’s “career” for those of you who don’t know who she is:
Farrah got pregnant at 16. Pretty and emotionally damaged, MTV cast her on a show that broadcast her struggles to raise a toddler, deal with a tumultuous family life and launch a modeling career. She had plastic surgery, wrote an autobiography (about what, I don’t know), spent week-after-week on the cover of US Weekly, and when her dream of being a model didn’t work out, she decided to take the Kim Kardashian-route to fame and made a sex tape, feigned innocence, got caught in her lie and now claims she had to make pornography to keep her child fed.
I think that about covers it.
Now, this post isn’t specifically about Farrah. I’m just using her as an example of a societal trend that truly terrifies me: young women (and men) who are so obsessed with being famous that they would do anything to have 15-minutes in the spotlight. And even more terrifying, the otherwise normal people who are happy to watch the death-spiral play out on television.
Reality TV has created a class of people who are essentially famous for doing nothing. Jersey Shore, Teen Mom, Buckwild, and Honey Boo Boo are just a few examples of very successful television that are popular because they let us watch other people act a fool. The more dramatic or beguiling a show is, the better it does. We laugh at them, not with them, and they choose not to care because their taking checks to the bank and smiling at us from the glossy pages of the gossip rags.
I’m hardly the first person to decry the promotion of extreme schadenfreude as entertainment, but since this is a blog read primarily by women 18-35, the primary demographic of these shows, I have to ask:
Why do women watch these shows? Isn’t it a bit like repeating the angsty-Mean Girls behavior of junior high from the safety of your couch? Doesn’t it concern you that we’re telling our young people that celebrity is the ultimate brass ring? And how can you actively participate in the exploitation of poor rednecks, troubled teenagers, drunken spring breakers, etc. without feeling a bit spiritually depleted?
It’s so easy to get sucked into these shows. Even I’ve been pulled in by the magnetic tug of trashy reality TV, but lately, I feel like we’ve created a Leviathan that threatens to consume us all.
Our teenage girls and young women see how obsessed our nation is with the lives of these fame-seekers and they emulate that behavior. Where a decade ago young women wanted to be actresses, singers and models (careers that actually take work and talent), they now want to have their own reality show so they can spend their days shopping, drinking and lazing around just “being themselves” and get paid for it. And the more we fill the airwaves with negative examples of how women should behave, the less room there is for positive examples.
We’ve ditched the daytime soap operas for “quasi-reality” shows where the more outrageous and insane you behave the more you are rewarded. And when the show is done, so are the people. Washed up before their 30th birthday. Heidi Montag, anyone?
Bottom line, I don’t think you can honestly say that you’re promoting the advancement of the female gender and watch these shows. MTV, Bravo and others are making boatloads of money turning badly behaved women into celebrities. Their setting a terrible example for impressionable young women, and given that I have little nieces and cousins to worry about, I’m not going to sit idly by and call these shows harmless entertainment.