The craze started around the early 2000s and has been going strong ever since: from idiot box to Oval Office. The gripping appeal of personal space is that it isn’t so personal anymore. Note: that statement could have been written ten years ago and still been relevant.
Through the camera lens we’ve encountered a wide array of characters. Most of them would fit better in a movie plot, rather than a show about everyday life. But people enjoy live drama, as much as they enjoy it on screen.
The list is endless: Jackass, The Real World, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, American Idol, Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of Whatever-city. And, of course, there’s the Apprentice. Why mention the Apprentice? Because one bombastic character stands out above all the rest as an example of Reality culture and its pervasiveness, or rather invasiveness into civilized society.
We’ve come to love watching horrible people make horrible mistakes on camera. Or else being horrible, unbearable assholes. It’s fun to see an old, white businessman berating someone, or two drunken women fighting in clubs. And it’s even better when we get to listen to an interview directly afterwards, replete with angry, four-letter words.
That kind of entertainment has entered the public sector. CNN might as well double for VH1 in 2006. You could intercut showings of the newest 16 and Pregnant with a Breaking News story from Anderson Cooper.
Who’s to blame: us. Ratings have always spiked for Reality shows. Not just the good ones, but the absolute worst. I often hear people talk about how horrible shows like Real Housewives are. Why watch them, then? I don’t. And I’m about as easily distracted by things as most people, probably more. Stupid people aren’t worth time. Or publicity. But they know you’ll watch them, the crazier they are.
Cue Donald Trump: a man who rides on the thrill of the crowd. But not in a Jerry Garcia kind of way. More like a hyper-masculine, jingoistic war cry. It’s an “us vs. them” mentality. And what do you see in the vast majority of reality shows: me versus her/him. Constant self-glorification, at the expense of others.
Trump’s cabinet drama is almost like a living room fiasco on Jersey Shore: shit hits the fan every five minutes. Only now it has global repercussions. Like trade deals. And diplomatic stability.
The public has always loved scandal. They’ve always loved watching scandal. That’s why Reality Culture is so prevalent in the rise of Trumpism: it publicizes scandalous people. It puts them front and center. And now, with Twitter, no one needs to watch VH1 to see the drama. It’s all online.
How can you become famous now: by letting the world know everything. And not having a filter. That’s the raw, Reality-centered approach. Why Trump: because he tells it like “it is”. Or rather the way he feels it. Why the “Cash me outside” girl? Because entertainment demands shitty people with shitty behavior, no matter how old they are.
That’s the culture of politics now: entertainment. Whoever keeps attention keeps the voters. How can you keep attention: by using a Reality-approach: keep ranting to your supporters. Make every private grievance a matter of public knowledge. Turn debates into shouting matches. It helps if you have more people tweeting what you say than the next guy. And always thrive on the prospect that low morals make for higher-than-thou ratings. Every time.
How humdrum is it to watch a candidate who actually explains things and speaks with etiquette? That’s like watching a functional family on MTV: booooooorrring. It doesn’t arouse your synapses. Yours neurons remain depressively idle, while your brain twiddles its thumbs looking for the nearest public scandal.
Your ears are attuned to outrage: it appeals to some primordial beast inside you. It gets your blood boiling, fires those idle neurons, and removes any judgment of character. Any moral filters become retrograde, once you’ve come down from the “high” of the moment.
Reality Culture works by touching the “high”. Or rather extending it as long as possible. It draws on outrage by making it entertainment. So many popular shows are about morally “unpopular” people.
So, why is it any surprise that our president reflects that?