Of course, it’s natural, even good, to engage in a little gossip, people-watching and stargazing once in a while. Without it, life would be cold and quite boring. And without it, we wouldn’t recognize heroes. We need heroes, or at least role models. We also need meaningful human relationships.
But living vicariously in all its forms—reading People magazine, gossiping about others—is a parasite to stable culture when it goes too far. An existence centered on reactions to other peoples’ lives is an existence that lacks meaning. Pathological schadenfreude is the sign of a weak mind and soul.
(Indulge me—I’m getting to my point here…)
We all had high hopes that Reality Television would die a messy, painful death when lame-ass shows like Big Brother didn’t get the ratings media execs thought they would. But now, according to this article in a Pittsburgh paper (one of many articles like it), it’s been given new life. This, apparently, is largely thanks to American Idol, a show which, according to what I’ve heard people say about it, had some socially redeeming value. (Really?)
But the recent shows (Joe Millionaire, Celebrity Mole) reach new lows, drawing more than ever on desperation, embarrassment and voyeurism as key resources. Joe Millionaire adds a new resource: The Outright Lie. I’d like to think that those who watch these shows are victims of “evil executives” out to steal their money and attention and bent on world domination. But people are ultimately responsible for their own actions, so I guess that makes them (me? you?) just poor, bottom-feeding losers.
Cotton candy tastes good, but too much of it rots your teeth.