The tyranny of ‘reality TV’

The story of the American woman who won a water-drinking contest – the point of which was to drink more water than her competitors – but died of water intoxication upon returning home is not a hymn to the strength of human will but a very slippery path for millions of youngsters trying to stretch themselves in similar ways. Hundreds, if not thousands, of others put themselves through similar discomfort and humiliation – albeit without fatal consequences – when they agree to writhe in muck or eat worms and cockroaches in the name of «extreme sports» on televised shows. This a very dangerous form of entertainment. Youngsters – who form the overwhelming majority of the audience – are bombarded with extreme situations that are packaged as light entertainment and intend to cause a thrill, if not outright disgust, but certainly keep viewers fixed to their screens. And these shows’ tactics ensure that the young viewers identify with the contestants, share their emotions and fears, and integrate these adventures into their lives, into their own personal myths. To paraphrase the US economist Jeremy Rifkin, these people do not have their own lives but a collection of second-hand prefabricated experiences, emotions and dreams. These «reality shows» are not only programs without substance, televisual garbage at the very bottom of the light entertainment ladder, they reflect the gradual degradation of modern life, under the pressure of a culture dictated by the camera and the microphone. The eternal value of art and of human progress through history is substituted by meaningless victories on television. The frenzied search for a key in the pot full of worms or the desperate bobbing of one’s head in a vat teeming with cockroaches traps the spirit of the viewers in the present and turns their attention to the most absurd and base aspects of life. These shows restrict one’s horizons so much that there is no room for the soul to breathe. Reality shows have transformed human life into a plaything in the hands of the programs’ creators, into a «shocking experience» to be sold to television viewers. These shows turn their back on any social problems or issues and simply bolster smalltown mentalities, glorify instant gratification and «create» people without roots who are interested in nothing but their material gain. As French sociologist Edgar Moren observed: «When a person has reached the point of doing his job mechanically and feels defenseless in the face of authority, as soon as the doors of consumption and free time open up before him, he will seek to consume his own life.»

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