Americans love their reality TV shows--the drama, the insults, the bullying, the callousness, the damaged relationships delivered through the lens of a surveillance camera--and there's no shortage of such dehumanizing spectacles to be found on or off screen, whether it's Cops, Real Housewives or the heavy-handed tactics of police officers who break down doors first and ask questions later.
Where things get tricky is when we start to lose our grasp on what is real vs. unreal and what is an entertainment spectacle that distracts us vs. a real-life drama that impacts us.
Yet it's all spectacle.
Studies suggest that the more reality TV people watch--and I would posit that it's all reality TV--the more difficult it becomes to distinguish between what is real and what is carefully crafted farce.
As journalist Scott Collins notes, "reality is a cheap way to fill prime time."
Yet it's more than just economics at play. As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we're being subjected to a masterful sociological experiment in how to dumb down and desensitize a population.
This doesn't bode well for a citizenry able to sift through masterfully-produced propaganda in order to think critically about the issues of the day.
Concerning reality TV, journalist Chris Weller explains: "Reality TV is fiction sold as nonfiction, to an audience that likes to believe both are possible simultaneously in life. It's entertainment, in the same way Cirque du Soleil enchants and The Hunger Games enthralls. But what are we to make of unreal realness? And what does it make of its viewers? Do they"mimic the medium? Do they become shallow, volatile, mean?"