America Through the Reality Lens
Culturally, this has been the decade of the reality show. And what do we have to show for it? Not much more than the contestants themselves.
Survey the wreckage.
Which brings us to "Jersey Shore."
The show, which just started
In a teaser for this week's episode, one of the girls is punched in
the face at a bar. But, after "consulting with experts on the issue of
When the not-so-hidden cameras catch one of the girls cheating on her boyfriend with a housemate sporting a pierced you-know-what, that's just pure entertainment. "You have your penis pierced. I love it," the drunken vamp exclaims.
Don't get me wrong; it's great television. But gladiatorial games would be great TV, too.
British historian Arnold Toynbee argued that civilizations thrive when the lower classes aspire to be like the upper classes, and they decay when the upper classes try to be like the lower classes. Looked at through this prism, it's hard not to see America in a prolonged period of decay.
It's not all bad news, to be sure.
The elite minority's general
acceptance of racial and sexual equality as important values has been a
moral triumph. But not without costs. As part of this transformation,
society has embraced what social scientist
Long before the rise of reality shows, ecumenical niceness created a moral vacuum. Out-of-wedlock birth was once a great shame; now it's something of a happy lifestyle choice. The cavalier use of profanity was once crude; now it's increasingly conversational. Self-discipline was once a virtue; now self-expression is king.
Reality-show culture has thrived in that moral vacuum, accelerating
the decay and helping to create a society in which celebrity is the new
nobility. One senses that
Whatever you think of what Toynbee and Murray would call the
"proletarianization of the elites," one point is beyond dispute: The
rich can afford moral lassitude more than the poor can. Hilton, heir to
a hotel fortune, has life as simple as she wants it to be.
The question is: can the rest of us afford to live in a society constantly auditioning to make an ass of itself on TV.
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America Through the Reality Lens | Jonah Goldberg
(c) 2009 Jonah Goldberg