Reality

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I’ll be the first to admit that I just don’t get the fascination with reality television. The forays into the lives of supposedly ordinary people are of little interest to me. First of all I suspect that the cameras are run for many hours more than the final product. What ends up on the screen is a highly edited version of what actually happened during the filming, which I suppose is necessary to create a good story. Nonetheless, I lose curiosity about the people within a few minutes. I find that I care very little about the superficiality of their lives. 

I am generally an observer of people. I have been constantly watching the passing parade of humanity for all of my life. My own mother often corrected me for staring as I intently watched the people that I encountered. I found the most ordinary incidents to be extraordinary, so one would think that I might be one of the biggest fans of reality programs. I suppose that the fact that they are so highly engineered to created particular stories makes them uninteresting to me. I much prefer to do my people watching in the raw when individuals are not really performing so much as just going about the process of living from day to day. I could sit on a bench watching the passing parade of humanity for hours, not the staged productions of television.

It might be argued as Shakespeare so wisely noted that all the world is a stage. Each of us is a player in our own starring role. There are moments when we allow ourselves to be totally natural unedited versions of ourselves and times when we assume a different persona to fit the circumstances. Even our speech changes based on the uniqueness of each situation that we encounter. We learn over the course of our interactions with the world when it is safe to be unscripted and when we must adopt a more formal mode of acting. In a sense each of us plays different characters depending on the conditions in which we find ourselves. 

As a teacher I had to adopt a high level of professionalism. It was important for me to watch the use of language and learn how to be warm and encouraging to my students without crossing a line of inappropriate familiarity with them. I knew that every word that I spoke mattered and that included carefully guarding my personal points of view. My job was to teach mathematics with respect and understanding, but not to push my personal beliefs or to let my ability to cuss like a sailor find its way into my classroom. Such highly personal moments were reserved for members of my family and friends so trusted and dear that they would forgive me for slips of the tongue or behavior. 

When I write I reveal some of my very private thoughts. Composing my blogs and stories provides me with an outlet for honesty that is not always allowed in the other corners of my life. Still, if I were to be entirely truthful, even my most confessional tracts are as edited as those reality programs. I want to convey a particular belief so I leave out the entire dialogue that runs through my mind and only select what I deem to be most important. Some things in my brain are so raw and painful that I can’t even bring myself to tap the keys on my laptop to describe them. Only the most trusted and forgiving of the people that I know ever hear of those things. 

Perhaps reality television is a way for people to live vicariously with individuals who have a lifestyle that is very like or unlike their own. The stories provide individuals with an outlet for their own feelings or perhaps a way of informing their own curiosity about the world. I suspect that those who watch such programs are as interesting in people as I am, but they are so busy that they rarely have time or the inclination to sit on the sidelines of life simply observing. These shows must provide them with a look into situations that they never imagined, a vicarious way of expanding their own world views. 

When I am conducting my own sleuthing into human nature I am enthralled and I rarely find myself judging the people that I see. For some reason the folks on those reality programs irritate me and sometimes even incense me. I find that I rarely like them or their lifestyles. I become police, judge and jury all in a single moment and quickly change the channel. I think it is because the shows are so highly manufactured that they do not allow me to get to know the people on my own terms without preconceived ideas of who they are. I’m forced into a point of view from the start, which simply does not work for me. 

When I watch a series or a movie I enjoy the creativity. I know that I am watching fiction and within the confines of the story there is room for me to form my own reactions to the characters. If the writing, directing and acting is particularly good I find nuances and humanity in the people that always seems to be missing on reality television. I like dimensional people, not flat cardboard versions of them. We humans are so much more complex than what is shown on reality television.

I always thought that reality programming was a passing phase but it actually seems to be more popular than ever. The characters on these shows become famous for doing nothing but mugging for the camera and adopting personas designed to steal the limelight. Because such shows and their participants somehow become part of the news, the characteristics that create standouts has found its way into our politics. Now all the world is a show, making us somehow believe that we too can become stars of the play. Hopefully we will come to understand that it is not real and return to a more serious and real manner of doing things. We have to relearn the difference between reality and entertainment if civilization is to survive.