Privacy is not something guaranteed to us, but it once was a general consideration we liked to make for each other. The world was once a place in which we didn’t know everything about everyone, and we didn’t need to know everything about everyone. At what point this changed I couldn’t begin to guess, but now it seems that the opposite is true: we don’t just need to know everything about everyone, we feel entitled to know. And a big thanks to the various social networks, as well as reality tv networks like Bravo, for allowing us these all-too-familiar glimpses into each other’s lives.
Don’t get me wrong: I love reality shows (inasmuch as they are reality) and Facebook just as much as the next person. However, I am also one of those (few it seems) people who believe in censoring myself. My life is not what I would call fascinating enough to chronicle every bit of it for perusal via hourly status updates, and Facebook will never encapsulate who I really am. But I do indulge in the connectivity, and I have been known to watch a Real Housewives show or two. How could I help myself? Everyone else was doing it.
And although many reality television shows are innocuous (hardly bringing more than bad role models and media-driven substantiation of stereotypes to the table), it’s shows like Hoarders and My Strange Addiction that seem to warrant a closer look at why we want to know what we want to know. What is the attraction? Why do we get sucked into these shows that chronicle people with psychological problems? Certainly there are people suffering from these afflictions who never make it onto tv. Do we care about those people? Do we even notice them in real life?
I can’t help wondering if we aren’t mesmerized by these shows because they make us feel better about ourselves. We see these people grappling with issues like eating couch cushions or collecting hair from shower drains, and it makes us feel a little bit better about our own idiosyncrasies. We see the hoarders or the messiest house in America, and it makes us not feel so guilty that the supper dishes are still soaking in the sink or that the dusting has been neglected for another week.
It’s been suggested that in order to captivate an audience with the attention span of 140 characters, the action has to be extreme. There is no room for middle ground. We don’t want to see shows about average people. We want to see the extreme versions of ourselves, what we would turn into if we just let go. Is this why we feel justified as spectators? Are we just trying to keep ourselves in check, or have we in our quest for never-ending connectivity convinced ourselves that this is entertainment?