Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Ponderings Of A Reality TV Junkie

by Candice Carboo-Ofulue (@candaloo)

We all have vices of which we are desperately ashamed. Those guilty delights that we publically denounce but secretly indulge. Seeking solace for our conflicted minds, some of us hide in the shadows of self-delusion, fruitlessly attempting to convince ourselves that we abhor these unspoken pleasures even as we enjoy them. Mine, regrettably, is philanthropic reality TV. Know it? It comes under the guise of “Secret Millionaire” and the rest. At present I am hooked on America’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”, which purports to transform people’s lives by building their dream home. Arguably, this entire ponder is my attempt to delude myself that my interest is purely sociological.

The truth, of course, is that I’m addicted to the anesthetising, happy coma into which I plummet, as I succumb to the improbability that nice guys from television programmes with corporate funding, simply come along and build poor people monstrously large houses. State of the art houses, I might add, fully equipped with solar energy, ensuite bathrooms, gyms, butlers...you name it, they’ve probably done it. Add to this altruistic recipe a deserving poor family that has dedicated itself to teaching sign language to deaf monkeys, or painting classes for armless war veterans.....and the whole experience leaves you...well...fluffy.

But it's precisely this fluffy paralysis that underlies my mental anguish. Is it justified? Why should evidence of extreme poverty and failure of the government’s wealth distribution policies evoke fluffiness? Surely we should be hyperventilating with anger and rushing to the streets in protest?

Which brings me to my ponder: is our obsession with philanthropic reality TV destroying our collective conscience? I mean, are we investing in this falsehood because we’ve abandoned our social obligation to alleviate poverty, amongst other social inequalities? What’s next “Get Me Out of Guantanamo Bay?”

I suspect that this particular happy high we get from philanthropic reality TV appeals to both our modern fixation on sensationalism, as well as our sense of justice? In this fictitious world where poor people prevail and corporations build houses, there is a happy ending. We’ve become more comfortable with depending on the televised generosity of affluent altruists and corporations than the promises of our politicians. If this is the case, then should we explore the possibility that our reality TV obsession is a product of our political apathy?

Needless to say, the probability of a random rich man offering to build your house, or pay your debts is so outrageously non-existent that disillusioned or not, this is really no alternative.

So how to conclude? Call me a cynic but there has to be dangerous consequences in investing in the falsity of philanthropic reality TV. By transforming poverty into entertainment, do we make it an abstraction free from its social determinants? What about our responsibility to address the uncomfortable truths of life: poverty, climate change, terrorism etc?

Personally, I have little faith in a junked up society hooked on a happy high in dealing with our questionable future, which is why my New Year’s resolution is to stop watching philanthropic reality TV and start writing to my local MP. So what are your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm... every time I come to write a comment my opinion changes.

    On the one hand you could argue that the example set by a few rich philanthropes would show the "ordinary Joe" and government just how far a small amount of money can go and so spur them on to action.

    On the other hand, as you say the normality of these shows has perhaps encouraged the idea that one day we're all going to be given a hand up by a rich and mysterious stranger, and so we stop lobbying our government to do their job.

    Either way there are lots of negative behaviours and expectations that reality TV seems to play upon and encourage - and for those reasons alone I think your New Year's resolution is a good one.

    Maybe though, the point of these shows isn't about the receiver but rather about the giver. The success of philanthropic reality TV shows has grown hand in hand with a wave of philanthropic giving more generally and it would be hard to argue that the two aren't linked. So fine, the Pimlico Plumbers magnate might only have directly helped 3 families, but by so doing he might have encouraged 10 others in a simillar position to him to follow in his footsteps.

    What's more, the familiar pattern in these programmes is always that the person goes in thinking that anyone who is poor is inherently lazy / stupid / both, and leaves realising that it is in fact he himself who is stupid for having held such a ridiculous view.. I'm not sure that we can underestimate the social impact of giving air time to someone throwing off their original class judgements.

    Rambling. I'll stop. Very interesting post. As ever.