Case in point: My wife and I watch Project Runway. She’s a graphic designer, so she has a clue about how decisions are being made by students and critics. Meanwhile, I get to test my grasp of this new world by predicting the picks and the pans. But right or wrong, I learn something. And I think I’m getting better (though my wife might demur). Incidentally, trial and error is the way anthropologists build up knowledge of other cultures, venturing opinions the world approves or scorns.
Reality TV makes anthropologists of us all.
Some reality TV remains, of course, appalling. Reality TV has a weakness for beautiful people who are too stupid to appreciate that their limitations are better kept from public view. But the rest of us are, I think, well served. And getting smarter because of it.
The problem with this argument is that it ignores one of the strengths of reality TV. It seems to associate the higher-end of reality TV, one that concentrates on intelligent specialization, with the ideal type of reality TV show. But this type of intelligence is already reflected in a great variety of literature. What shows like Jersey Shore have taught us (or maybe just me) is that there is not enough of focus on dumb people in literature. Literature generally focuses on high-octane individuals from the time of the ancient Greeks; why is there not more literature on the chronically out-of-touch, the shallow, the ones that just want to have a good time? Truly, reality TV is the last hurrah of the dumb and the stupid. And I hope this will have a positive effect on high-end literature.