Focusing on the Discovery Channel’s new series Naked and Afraid - which chronicles the experience of “one man and one woman [who] are stranded nude in hostile wilderness without food or water for 21 days” - Joan Marcus examines how she is both drawn in and repulsed by the genre:
Over the years I’ve watched everything from the 2004 makeover show The Swan, in which normal-looking women undergo radical plastic surgery and then compete in a freakish beauty pageant, to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, that grotesque excuse to mock the taste level and dietary habits of the working poor in rural Georgia. I teach a college pop culture seminar, and I like to write about pop culture, which gives me a handy excuse to indulge in reality dreck ad infinitum.
Shows are always upping the ante — increasing the shock factor, finding new ways to traffic in the risqué, the humiliating, the dangerous and disgusting. The more morally questionable a show is, the more likely I am to tune in on the excuse that anything this excessive has to be examined. I do like to think about how, in affording us the pleasure of judging real people in stressful and potentially humiliating situations, these shows palliate us — situating us comfortably in our own realities, reaffirming our cultural norms and making us more satisfied with our own lot in life. But of course my interest is not just intellectual. I’m as rabid a consumer as anyone, and shows like Naked and Afraid that push the boundaries of ethics and decency are on some primal level just a really, really good time.
Obviously I’m not alone here.