I have a vague recollection of inventing an imaginary friend when I was whatever age kids are when they have imaginary friends. If I recall, the genesis of this fictional play mate was hearing about the idea on a cartoon. My pretend friend didn’t stick around for very long. He rarely talked, if at all, and made for a terrible scapegoat, so I sent him packing. Since then I haven’t gravitated much toward things that are make believe. Things like Santa Clause, my gifted athletic ability or reality TV.
These days you can’t turn on the TV without a reality show smacking you in the face like a glove from a challenger in earlier times, indicating a duel was at hand. Whether it’s the big networks or the annals of cable, to be sure, there is a reality show about something. Some of these shows are informative and educational. I am not referring to these shows. Rather, the moral decay that has become what we perceive as entertainment by way of catty bimbos, fame whores and fame pimps; these are the scourge of TV and society.
I actually heard my Dad one day long ago tell me he had to ride his bike up a hill, in the snow to get to school. My version of this is that I watched sitcoms. As cheesy as sitcoms were, there was a sense of morality to them, and they rarely delved in to the indecent. The fact that previews for these reality shows, the trailers that are meant to get you interested, are women crying, pulling each other’s hair, and men throwing punches, dropping f bombs, makes me think back to a simpler time when we watched shows that were about nothing. Without question, we are confusing this demise of our culture as evolution.
I personally know a reality ‘star’ that is on one of these more popular shows. This run of the mill goofball is eligible for a visit from the IRS, and nothing more. Yet he is hoisted in front of our eyes as something he is not for the purpose of entertainment. And we buy this fantasy as viewers. We trick ourselves that this is real because this type of programming has the word ‘reality’ in it.
I’ve always taken issue with this form of entertainment, and there was a time that I ignorantly chalked it up as stimulating consumption for the uneducated. However, the more I looked around, the more I saw that people much smarter than me were obsessed with this stuff. That’s when I realized the fantasy that is reality TV is not subject merely to the simple-minded; it’s simply for those that wish to escape. This fantasy is escapism and the question we need to be asking is ‘why do we need to escape from our lives’?
It’s not just TV either. Every week my family gets the print versions of these shows in the form of magazines like US Weekly because someone at our house (ahem) subscribes. Flip through any of these periodicals and you’ll instantly see the most vapid quotes, the most pointless pictures. “Here is someone that is out and about getting coffee.” “Here is someone that says their new year’s resolution is to ‘be themselves’.” I cringe when I flip through these pages of literary nonsense and dream of a time when I didn’t know that someone with no discernible talent picked up after her dog at the park.
This obsession with other people seemingly knows no bounds. A thriving business model of today is any medium that caters toward this form of escapism. The most recent example is social networking websites, notably Facebook. I would like to personally not thank Mark Zuckerberg for creating a website that made stalking a perfectly acceptable social norm. My wife spends countless hours each week scouring her Facebook like she’s trying to crack the Da Vinci code. What wondrous joys does she uncover? Pictures of a people that we hardly know or don’t know anymore and their kids. Exes. Where someone went to dinner the night before. I love my wife to no end, and she is considerably smarter than I am, yet her obsession with other people’s lives, as common as it is, leaves me scratching my head worse than if I had a terrible case of lice.
We are burying our heads into these shows, into these magazines, into these websites to satisfy some sick indulgence that does nothing for our development and provides no value of significant worth. I realize this entry comes across as preachy, however I do not look down on anyone who indulges in this form of escapism, but rather blame the collective efforts of the media that dangle this type of immediate gratification that as a society we are so vulnerable to grab.
I feel lucky that reality TV and social networking didn’t exist when I was in high school and/or going through my formative years, I’m sure that I would have consumed both to an egregious level. I can only hope that I am able to teach my kids to avoid hurdles that could interfere with their development; to live life by creating their own reality instead of escaping it.