people entertaining. A good person with values and principles is not good television."
-Rhonda Rousey, Esquire, December 12, 2012
Television's role in our lives varies. Literature is understood as being that media that, irrespective of the content consumed, has a quality qua literature that television can never achieve qua television. I think this is a generalization that is espoused within American schooling, that unravels only when exceptional television is discussed. Everyone's favorite example is HBO's offerings, such as The Wire, in order to demonstrate the excellence possible in a media that is, by in large, relegated to the role of ceasing the racing, unsettled tendency of the mind when it is in the absence of the glowing screen.
But I love reality television. I like that it is terrible, and I enjoy that I am committing voyeurism while I am watching the events on screen unfold. It is often discussed in film and television theories why we take pleasure in observing those who do not know they are being observed. I won't get into those theories here (or at least not in depth). What I am interested in is the enjoyment of observing people who know that they are being observed, with the addition of the spectator's divide between parties, such that the person being observed cannot interact with the person observing; observers retain anonymity while the observed is allowed the opportunity to control their responses, for the sake of pretense, in a way that is impossible in normal, day to day intercourse.
At least within circles I am part of, it is not well understood why it is that this relationship has become so divisive in our times, in that you either apologize for your affinity of this kind of television or you soapbox its distaste. I rarely meet someone who is on the fence about it. Technology grants its existence, but I'm lead to believe that it's not so much the technology that drives the desire inasmuch as the technology grants access to satisfying the desire. For instance, when I am not watching television, I am worried about whether or not a given social interaction has gone "as well" as it could have. This often leaves me in a cubicle in the basement of my department's building, thinking hard about whether or not what I said was offensive in the sense that any reasonable person would have taken offense to it or if it merely upset the person I was talking with because they are easily frazzled. Reality TV is watching for these situations to unfold as they are unfolding, with the added hilarity of knowing that these concerns are things that are as put on as any other affection. When are we in character, and when does the our character become the person that we are? I doubt very much that there is a person absent the character.
I'm not sure I agree with Rousey's statement, but I get what she's driving at. Those with good principles are often exercising a kind of command over their behavior such that they demonstrate qualities like restraint and temperance. Those are the enemies of bad taste and indecent behavior, which drive things like excitement, the thrill of watching someone dial down or turn off the restrictions that keep us from doing things like saying what's really on our mind or lashing out violently with physical force. Much of television is to witness situations of this nature. After all, their release is ours if we are watching close enough.