Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sound and Fury and Life as a Reality Show

Perhaps little has changed since Shakespeare's time, or even that of Macbeth.  But it's difficult not to recall his words about life in these times, particularly that it is a tale told by an idiot.  Or is it rather a tale told about idiots?

A tale, of course. is something told.  It's generally something that is "made up" as well.  Stories are told.  Stories are typically distinguished from life, however unreal life appears.  Stories are told by someone to someone else.  It's not clear, then, just what Shakespeare (or we) intend when we speak of life as a tale.  Do we ascribe life to God, as a tale he's telling, or do we claim to be telling a tale to him or some other observer?

It may be that we describe life as a tale only when we think of it as a story, either a good one or a bad one.  "My life is like a fairytale."  Or, alternatively, a tragedy, or a comedy, or a farce.  Ideally, I suppose, we might envision ourselves as observing our own lives as a play or story.  That may be the healthiest alternative.  But I suspect we more likely are inclined to think of our lives as if they were being performed for others and for their benefit, one way or another.  As object lessons, or to be admired.  That would be fitting given our self-regard.

No wonder, then, that we are (or so it seems) so inclined to watch what we call with a telling lack of irony "reality shows."  No wonder either that we seem now more and more inclined to behave as if we are participants in one or see each other as participants in one.

It strikes me as characteristic of reality shows that the idea behind them is to put on display as much as possible the more dramatic of our conduct and emotions.  That's to be expected, I would think, as I suspect their producers believe, perhaps rightly, that is what makes them attractive; that is what makes people want to watch them.  Thus situations are contrived to pit people against one another or put them in circumstances where they're most likely to experience stress, which is to say competitive circumstances or dangerous circumstances..   Contrive the scene, insert "normal" people, and see what happens.

In the end, of course, not much does that isn't common, or that is unexpected.  What happens is pretty much what we expect will happen, but is made more pronounced because it is encouraged.  There are the silly little interviews inserted, where each participant gets to vent--I suspect in response to questions which promote venting.  Then, something else happens to disappoint or gladden one or another person on display, giving way to more venting.

Vanitas vanitatum, et Omnia vanitas.  Naturally, this is all to please our sense of self-worth, or to gratify us in one way or another.  The vanity of the participants in the shows is of course unquestionable.  Why else put oneself on display so shamelessly?   But the viewer's vanity is invoked as well, as the viewer is inclined to self-congratulation.  Either the participant viewed is what we think we would be or we're gratified by the fact that they are so pathetic we must be better.

More and more those we observe because they are newsworthy or in the public eye for one reason or another tend to be emotional in one way or another; bombastic, angry, stupidly happy, accusatory, self-righteous, maudlin.  It seems less and less the case that our ideal is a calm, reasonable, impartial person.  Such people are no fun at all, of course.  Nor are they likely to be known or thought of for any purpose.

Instead we see and, it would seem, expect and want to see caricatures, cartoonish versions of ourselves strutting and fretting.  And we do.  And there are more and more of them all the time.

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