A Milder “Hunger Games”

Tricia Romano investigates the sudden rise of redneck reality shows:

[T]here’s an uncomfortable gawking-at-the-scene-of-the-accident element to watching these shows. Call it rubbernecking, or shame watching; in a way, redneck reality-television shows are a sort of travel channel for the cultural elite.

"There is a sense of discovery. One thing people don’t talk about with reality television—the cultural snapshot that reality television takes," said [reality TV-star coach Robert] Galinsky. “Like, wow! As much as we can travel around the world with our digital devices and we get on a plane and go anywhere, a lot of people still don’t travel. A lot of people don’t see the world. There’s a sense of discovery and delight to seeing these stereotypes that we may have heard about and read about. That they are real. They are not that small percentage of what people think that population is like. They are just as powerful as so called ‘normal’ middle-class people."

In a country of rising inequality, something troubles me about this. We watch reality shows about the absurdly rich ("Real Housewives"); and watch them about the cultually and educationally poor ("Honey Boo-Boo"). The equally dysfunctional overclass and the underclass are both products of a disintegrating middle. And yet the middle watches. Maybe treating an unraveling social compact as entertainment is an inevitable response. But there is something empty about it. Something too voyeuristic to be anything but a symptom of surrender, rather than renewal.